RAINBOW – On Stage
A SHORT FEATURE ON THE RAINBOW ”ON STAGE” LIVE ALBUM
Forty years ago, the classic hard rock powerhouse that is Rainbow released the spectacular "On Stage" live album, which included various cuts from their 1976 European and Japanese tours. With the inhumanly talented and much-missed Ronnie James Dio at the vocal helm and a supremely talented line-up consisting of former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, legendary drummer Cozy Powell, sometime DIO-bassist Jimmy Bain, and keyboardist Tony Carey, "On Stage" benefits from not only brilliant live renditions of classic tracks, but also superb musicianship. It feels somewhat pointless to point out just how stellar the musicianship is. I mean, have a look at that line-up. It speaks for itself, I think. I mentioned that the songs were culled from the band’s European and Japanese tours, but instead of European, I probably should have said German as they are pulled from different recordings of shows in Munich, Cologne, and Nuremberg that took place in September of 1976. As to Japan, certain cuts from the shows in Osaka and Tokyo in December that same year were used for the "On Stage" opus. The Tokyo gig marked the end of the "Rainbow Rising" tour. In his autobiography entitled "A Hart Life", former Rainbow tour manager Colin Hart seems to indicate that the taping of the Japanese shows were recorded as an insurance of sorts, but to me that sounds slightly cryptic; were they recorded in case the Rainbow line-up suddenly imploded or in case the recordings of the European shows were not up to par? Here is how he puts it:
The Japanese dates went off flawlessly with dear old Martin Birch yet again recording the live show for posterity at Bruce’s (Ed. Note: Bruce Payne, the Rainbow manager) behest, more I think as insurance in case it all went tits up for some reason. Bruce is nothing if not cautious, but maybe he knew something I didn’t? The ‘Rainbow Rising’ tour came to a final halt at the renowned Budokan in Tokyo on December 16th after an arduous six months non-stop touring. We all went our separate ways. (71)
Boasting a crisp and powerful sound, the band plows through such monumental songs as "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves", "Still I’m Sad", and the bluesy "Mistreated" that was originally composed and recorded by Deep Purple whilst Blackmore was still a member of that outfit. It is a shame that the epic "Stargazer" does not appear on the disc, as that is undoubtedly one of the greatest hard rock tunes of all time, way up there with the very best of them. Still, it is impossible not to be swept away by the mournful and haunting "Catch the Rainbow" or the power and majesty of "Kill the King".
Given the era in which these live renditions were taped, it should come as no surprise that each song is extended and expanded upon. "Catch the Rainbow" and "Mistreated" clock in at an amazing 15 and 13 minutes respectively. Back then that was perfectly natural, but it also serves a very important purpose; it made the shows dangerous, unpredictable, and edgy. The spontaneous and intuitive feel of "On Stage" is a blessing and you can never tell what is waiting right around the corner. Blackmore’s playing covers just about every conceivable mood in that it ranges from the bombastic and wild to the mellow, gentle, and even subtle.
Interestingly, the vicious "Kill the King" that opens the album following the customary "Wizard of Oz" introduction did not appear on a studio album until 1978’s "Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll", thus "On Stage" was the first time ever that this particular track was captured on tape, at least officially. The only single that was released to promote the album, namely the "Live" single that was released in September 1977, contained "Kill the King" on the A-side along with "Man on the Silver Mountain". The B-side consisted of "Mistreated".
In an interview with Jeff Cramer, keyboardist David Stone (who replaced Tony Carey in Rainbow) once claimed that he also figured on the "On Stage" album:
[…] The album before that, Rainbow on Stage, was a live album by Rainbow. What they had done, I don’t know if I got credit for it or not. I think in some prints, I don’t. That was when Tony Carey had left the band and the album was two-thirds done […] What they had done was take more recordings with me in the band and used those as well […] In Japan, January of 1978, I got a gold album for being on Rainbow on Stage […] I’m there. Tony’s there. That’s a half-and-half album […] I can’t tell you what tracks I am on. I haven’t listened to the album in 25 years.
Whether this is true or not I cannot say. He is not listed anywhere in the album credits and I have never come across any other rumors or sources that indicate that Mr. Stone was involved in the live album offering. However, it would not surprise me if he did appear on the album despite not being credited anywhere. Things like that have happened before, sometimes to retain the illusion of a certain line-up sticking together or to keep things coherent and cohesive on the surface of things. Who knows what the truth of the matter is?
It is amazing to think that forty years after "On Stage" was recorded, Blackmore decided to resurrect Rainbow and once again wield his magic on stage together with a handful of highly talented musicians for three European dates, more specifically two in Germany (check out the "Memories in Rock – Live in Germany" album) and one in Birmingham (check out the "Live in Birmingham 2016" album). What is even more cool is that yesterday, June 17th, Rainbow played a brilliant show in front of an ecstatic crowd at the O2 Arena in London as part of the Stone Free Festival. After all these years, the legendary guitarist still has it and remains one of the most enigmatic and intriguing characters in rock ‘n’ roll. What these 2016 and 2017 gigs also prove is that those forty-something year old songs still mean an awful lot to fans of classic rock and that they have lost none of their potency and meaning. Whether you put the "On Stage" album on and immerse yourself in that with your eyes closed or opt for the relativey recent "Memories in Rock – Live in Germany" record from last year, the indefinable spark, energy, and otherworldly magic of a Rainbow live performance cannot be denied. Having said that, I think it is fair to say that to many of us, nothing will ever top the classic Bain/Blackmore/Carey/Dio/Powell line-up and the monumental "Rising" album and tours of 1976.
"On Stage" was released on July 7th, 1977, via Polydor and produced by the legendary Martin Birch.
Jimmy Bain (R.I.P.) – Bass
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Tony Carey – Keyboards
Ronnie James Dio (R.I.P.) – Vocals
Cozy Powell (R.I.P.) – Drums
"On Stage" on Spotify:
Hart. Colin (2012). A Hart Life. Wymer Publishing