Review by Dwightfryed for Rainbow - On Stage (1977)
There’s just something about the magic of this band, particularly compared to Blackmore’s previous exploits - Purple was classical gas meets heavy blues, that pounding, racing organ just crashing through like a meteor shower on the roof. Rainbow is elegance, fantasy, delicate brush strokes and swinging white Stratocasters. Rainbow is Ronnie Dio’s throaty bluster as a triptych to his world of shining castles and deft sorcery.
“On Stage” is stacked with legendary players Powell, Bain, Blackmore, Tony Carey and RJD spinning their pioneering fantasy metal in front of German and Japanese crowds. The tracklisting is strange right off the bat - just the type of unexplained oddity we would come to expect from Blackmore. Recorded on the Rising tour, but there’s hardly any Rising material. If you’re anything like the rest of us, this represents more than a slight disappointment, but if it’s any consolation, the performances are stellar, and for fans of the man’s impeccable fretburning coupled with that titanic voice, “On Stage” is a must-hear (and incidentally, there’s a dreamy version of “Stargazer” on the ’76 Live in Germany collection, but the drums are sort of buried in the mix on that one).
It may not be cut from a single performance, but it flows like one – with a single exception. The dueling interplay between Carey’s warbling keyboard squiggles and Ritchie’s spacy bends during the blues jam in the “Man on the Silver Mountain” medley is abruptly interrupted by a few bars of “Lady Starstruck” (inaudibly, the crowd murmurs I told you they had a new album!) and an awkward fit of Dio’s vocal improvisation before finishing out the song. Yeah, it’s weirdly forced – like the band didn’t want to include any Rising material at all. I’ve never understood it. Plus, the record starts with “Kill the King” and nobody had even heard that one yet. Clearly, Ritchie is in charge of song selection. Hide the lutes!
“Catch the Rainbow” smooths over the confusion with all the lavish grandeur synonymous with this band, every player swelling the melodrama, from Dio’s perfect vocal to Bain’s warm bass, the majesty of the keys to torrents of guitar licks and volume-knob swells that walk the tightrope between classical and blues. It’s obvious the band is most comfortable with the material from the first album, stretched out here and there, “Still I’m Sad” lengthened from four minutes to about eleven, but those keys dish out more pomp than a Papal ceremony. The addition of Coverdale’s “Mistreated” is another oddity on the record, a song that would be come a regular concert staple. RJD knocks it out of the park, and Ritchie conjures perhaps the most intricate, breathtaking solo of the entire show, expanding an already long song into a scintillating jam.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the megawatt rainbow stage prop so proudly described on the back of this gatefold sleeve, 40-foot span across the stage, 29 feet high in the middle, 3000 light bulbs, first of its kind in the world, yada, yada. Every piece of equipment is also listed from 6 crown DC300A Power Amps to “1 aluminum stand for pipe organ” – there’s no arguing, the guy who did the liner notes was a stickler for detail.
Suffice to say, I’ll never understand the glaring omissions from the band’s greatest album (Rising should be played in its entirety if you ask me), but the material from the first record is performed with such stunning depth and gusto for "On Stage", the studio versions are pretty much rendered flat by comparison.
That’s probably why I have it on CD and vinyl - either means it’s one of my favorite records or I just stole somebody else’s copy while drunk. Wouldn’t be the first time….