It was hard for Judge Bill Gibron to write this review, considering that every time he thought of this terrific heavy metal concert from the '70s, he was throwing hand signs and banging his head.
Like a spiral in the wind, I can hear it screamin' in my mind…LONG LIVE ROCK AND ROLL!
It began with that most basic of rock-and-roll realizations—those long infamous creative differences. But there was actually more to it in this case. Ritchie Blackmore, a founding member of the metal giants Deep Purple, realized that if he didn't quit the band he had helped guide over the last seven years, he was going to slowly go insane. After so much infighting, so many musical, artistic, and personal problems, and so many encores featuring "Smoke on the Water," what he needed was a fresh start. In truth, what he wanted was a new band. After the acrimonious split, Blackmore hooked up with Elf frontman Ronnie James Dio and, together with much of the American's former band, they created Rainbow.
After releasing a well-received debut album in 1975, the group began building a formidable fan base. Then Blackmore ditched many of the original musicians in the backing band. Blackmore and Dio went on to recruit famed names from inside the industry and put out the seminal Rising. A mammoth tour followed, producing a live album entitled On Stage—a surprise hit that confirmed Rainbow's rising supergroup status. Captured as part of a performance in Germany, this new DVD from Eagle Rock Entertainment, Live in Munich 1977 sees Blackmore, Dio, and former Jeff Beck drummer Cozy Powell joined by latest members Bob Daisley and David Stone. All five tear apart the Teutonic crowd with a part hard-rock, part prog set that sees eight songs strung out for over two hours of expert instrumentation. Combined with Dio's still fresh and always angelic chops, along with Blackmore's frenzied fretting, this is the group at its most dynamic and driven.
The set list is stunningly short. Many would see a mere eight songs and wonder how the band manages to extend its time onstage. The answer, of course, is improvisation and jamming. Rainbow was never really a single unit. Instead, it was a collection of virtuosos—including Dio, who confirms his status here as one of rock's truly legendary voices—all of whom could handle any length in the concert limelight with skill and fire. That is why the selections presented never seem dragged out or purposefully prolonged. Even the goofing around between songs seems to have purpose. For anyone interested in the specific material made available, we see Rainbow redefine the following classic tracks:
• "Kill the King"—from the 1978 album Long
Live Rock and Roll
In a move that many modern music fans would probably find confusing, Rainbow uses this opportunity to road test a few tracks from its upcoming album Long Live Rock and Roll (the title track, and "Kill the King") as well as digging back into Blackmore's previous Deep Purple canon ("Mistreated"). The inclusion of songs from the debut album highlights the group's growing relevance as metal gods, and a single selection from Rising ("Do You Close Your Eyes") argues for the albums' validity as a single sonic unit. It must have been hard to pick just one track from a piece that many feel is a major masterwork by the band. After you get past the retro look of the musicians—lots of flared slacks, billowy shirts, and tussled hair from the mid-'70s—you start to see how timeless Rainbow is, and begin to notice little things about the playing. Blackmore is possessed as he picks at his guitar, running lines up and down the frets like he's frightened he'll miss a note. Stone stands behind his keyboards, more or less motionless, and yet he totally complements the mood. Paisley plays to the crowd, as does Powell (even behind his kit), but it's evident from the moment he steps on stage that our main man Ronnie James is large and in charge. Compensating for his diminutive stature with a stage presence that is titanic in talent and control, Dio dominates, using his amazing voice and ability to communicate clearly with the crowd to get us past the more progressive, experimental moments in the set.
Certainly, there are standout sequences among the typical head-banging and cock-rocking. "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves" may portend Blackmore's current professional phase as a well-meaning preserver of medieval minstrel music, but there is nothing sweet or subtle about this balls-to-the-wall workout. Similarly, the opening number and "Man on the Silver Mountain" sound amazing, a cacophony of contradictory noises coming together to form a considered sonic boom. With the final two tracks clocking in at an incredible 44 minutes, you may think that there is too much self-important canoodling involved in this show. Actually, these songs benefit from their longer length. It gives Dio a chance to amuse the audience, Powell an opportunity to move outside the standard ballistic backbeat—and, more importantly, it gives Blackmore a chance to stop all the hyperactive soloing and slow down, delivering wonderfully melodious phases that propel the songs into visionary realms. For anyone unfamiliar with this Me Decade staple (the more pop-oriented version which arrived with the advent of MTV is probably best forgotten) may have trouble getting around some of this concert's more inflated aspects. For true aficionados of Blackmore and Dio's definitive collaboration, Live in Munich is astounding. It argues not only for the greatness of the duo, but the band built out of the duo's desire to redefine rock.
Offered in an occasionally defect-filled transfer, Live in Munich still looks pretty good for its age (almost 30 years) and technological make-up (old analog video). There is quite a bit of interference near the beginning, especially when the 1.33:1 full-screen picture goes black for song-ending fade outs. There is also bleeding and flaring from the brightly-colored stage lights, and feedback frequently gives the image a slight shiver during moments of major visual overload. As for the sound side, things are far more impressive. Typical of Eagle Rock Entertainment's treatment of these concert titles, we get a DTS and 5.1 Surround Sound mix, as well as a Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 presentation. All are absolutely amazing, with the first two offering a definitive version of this show. The speaker use, topped off with the spatial separation between the players and the audience makes for a realistic recreation of the live experience. Add in a series of sensational extras (three Rainbow videos, along with interviews with Rainbow tour manager Colin Hart and Bob Daisley), and a photo gallery slideshow with audio commentary from members of the band, and you've got a great sonic souvenir of important rock-and-roll royalty.
As a symbol, a rainbow can stand for many things—the calm after the storm, the courage to rise above and be counted, peace and equality, acceptance and inclusion. In retrospect it seems that Blackmore picked the perfect name for his new band. While its membership was just as scattered as during the days with his old Purple pals, the addition of Dio provided the last stripe in his multicolored musical world. The proof is in this amazing concert DVD, which acquits itself excellently.
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