Eagle Records [Release date 18.11.16]
If Ritchie Blackmore’s arena comeback this summer is a one-off, an estimated 60,000 fans will have been left happy men (or women). Even better now they have a 2-CD souvenir, plus DVD and Bluray versions.
Once we got over the presence (and perhaps unlikely choice) of vocalist Ronnie Romero and the slight worry that Ritchie himself might not be the “speed king” of yore, the audience could settle down into a metronomic trawl through the standard back catalogue.
It’s plainly evident when Blackmore’s guitar solo cuts in on ‘Highway Star’ that this is a more stately version of the old trooper. Some might also question Romero. By all accounts he acquitted himself well and certainly engaged the crowd but in truth his voice lacks the warmth and sonority of a Joe Lynn Turner. In the cold light of day he merely seems like a good singer fronting a damn good covers band, although admittedly better on the Dio-era stuff.
Blackmore’s band are essentially the guys (and girls) he has worked with for several years in Blackmore’s Night although keyboard player Jens Johansson (moonlighting from Finnish power metallers Stratovarius) is particularly impressive.
This leaves the setlist. Even in a two-hour show It would be difficult to fully reflect the Blackmore canon and inevitably the gig centres around the tried and tested old faithfuls. When you add in the set-pieces of ‘Catch The Rainbow’ and ‘Difficult To Cure’ (drum solo alert) frankly there’s a lot of noodling. But then wasn’t it always like that?
Even that sacred of sacreds ‘Smoke On The Water’ is given perfunctory treatment with a slighty different build-up/intro and Romero’s enthusiastic holler a definite spoiler. And with an absence of pumping bass and hi-hat fizz that’s an integral part of that classic opening riff. This is less an authentic rendition for the aficionado than a chance for celebration and crowd interaction. It works well in the live context but not on a recording, unless of course you were there.
The Rainbow/Ritchie cognoscenti will pore over the whys and the wherefores but ‘Since You Been Gone’ is similarly disappointing (and plodding) and chronologically it all stops with Deep Purple’s ‘Perfect Strangers’ in 1984.
The second CD adds “bonus tracks” from an alternative night but they are merely duplicates. ‘Soldier Of Fortune’ and ‘Burn’ were missing from the German sets so are absent here but I assume they would have been recorded in Birmingham and so could have been included for completism?
There are better versions available of all these tracks. As a souvenir of one of the more intriguing comebacks of recent times, an essential purchase – but only for those of a certain persuasion. ***
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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