If you're a fan of Ritchie Blackmore, Rainbow, or Ronnie James Dio, you likely have known about the tasty "Live In Germany" 2CD Rainbow 1976 recordings for some time. Many years ago the collection was released to legions of waiting fans eager for more live material from this classic line-up of Rainbow. The band at the time featured Ronnie James Dio on vocals, Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, the late great Cozy Powell on drums, Jimmy Bain on bass, and Tony Carey on keyboards. Rainbow fans, Blackmore enthusiasts, Dio connoisseurs, and other music fans have considered this second line-up of Rainbow the ultimate group to perform under that name. The combination of the young Dio rising, the post-Purple Blackmore looking to shine again, one of rock’s greatest drummers bar none, and two upcoming talents together in a new group is something that offered a savage live vehicle. While they chose a similar set for most dates on each tour, the group could weave and bend through the songs to come up with powerful improvisations and emotional renditions of the handful of songs in their catalog. After all, they only had two records as of Rising, when these live recordings were made during a run of dates in 1976. The recent Purple number Mistreated was also included, and almost every song had a long jam quality. Simply put, it was epic.
The show opens with the standard pre-recorded Wizard of Oz sequence and off into a startling Kill The King. Dio leans into it like it’s his last live performance; Cozy Powell explodes with the force he’s known for; and Tony Carey lays into the organ for Leslie cabinet-fueled wailing. It’s a Rainbow fans dream. Cozy bears down with double-bass thumping and the show is off to an adrenaline-filled start.
Mistreated is the first taste of the improvisation to come. The blues power session opens with the psychedelic delayed guitar lines of Ritchie, who keeps the delay sending torrents of screaming guitar into your face throughout the thirteen minute plus odyssey. A lengthy guitar solo is met with Ronnie coming up with his own emotional climax of vocalizing. Cozy is relentless with a thundering steady drum line that picks up during the songs outro journey on the “losing my mind” refrain. These guys are on fire.
Sixteenth Century Greensleeves has never been one of my favorite lyrical compositions, but the riff is stomping and the band plow it down like they own it, riffing around this classic theme. Dio is right at home with the scene of something out of the era of royalty and medieval times.
One of the bands sort of namesake songs, Catch The Rainbow, wraps up the first disc, with a mellow start and bombastic, over the top finish. Clearly one of the real gems from the first Rainbow album, they smoke it, filled with emotion, and some fine, clean guitar work from Ritchie. His fluid playing is masterful yet experimental. For some this is a signature Dio-era Rainbow anthem. While repeated listening over the course of one’s life does give the song the sort of overplayed feel a Stairway To Heaven has, this live version is one of the most powerful examples of it to be found, commercially or through bootleg trades.
Disc two is powered up with a massive jammy Man On The Silver Mountain. This track contains little of the laid back approach found on the Rainbow debut, and instead launches like a rocket, with the very tempo of the song at a much faster clip. Inside, it’s a journey to the rock n roll roots that started the band, and Ronnie takes a lot of vocal improv and interplay with Ritchie to emotional mountaintops. Cozy rips this thing apart, but then again, every song on the record has his patented, Bonham-with-two-feet approach settling all scores and leaving a listener stunned by his heavy, dead-on playing.
The Dio-era of Rainbow was the one containing the wizards, dragons, witches and medieval themes Ronnie constantly touched on throughout his colorful career. Of those compositions, one in particular, from Rising, has always been a stand-out. Joined by a musical track that is one of Blackmore’s finest, Stargazer tells the story of the wizard who built the tower to the sky, only to, at the end, watch it crumble to the ground. Within, it’s a tale of sacrilege, and the costs of not respecting the forces at work relating to life's harmony and balance. The cost of greed, of megalomania, perhaps. Ritchie Blackmore never quite matches his studio guitar solo for this live, but it’s a lot of fun listening to the heavy metal work-out this true epic gets.
The Yardbirds Still I’m Sad is treated to the typical Rainbow marathon jamming, pushing the limits of song lengths as many of the cuts on this compilation do. Cozy’s drum solo lights up the night, and it’s the one moment for this listener that a video track would have been nice accompaniment. Still I’m Sad is a great cover for these guys.
Do You Close Your Eyes is another Rising track that is not jammed out to the usual 70’s style album-side length, yet the boys tackle it like troopers. Ritchie would often smash his guitar during this one.
Overall, a must-have recording of Rainbow. If you’ve never gotten into the band, this album will deliver the ultimate in-concert listening experience, and perhaps push a new fan to grab the first Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow album, Rising, or perhaps Long Live Rock n’ Roll, the three Dio-fronted studio albums from Rainbow. Rainbow Onstage is the official live release, and also a nice addition to any music fan’s collection.
Here's a little of Rainbow captured live in Germany the following year, to give you an idea what that era of the band was like.