After arriving into Germany late on the Thursday night and spending the evening drinking too much of the local brew whilst watching Die Mannschaft being frustrated by a resolute Poland in Euro 2016, your Sentinel Daily press corps (myself and the wife) find themselves feeling a little ring rusty as we enter the picturesque surroundings of the Loreley. I haven’t been here since the eighties, but little has changed – even the bill, as tonight’s main attraction are supported by fellow throwbacks such as Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and Thin Lizzy.
Still, the man in charge didn’t want reviews of those bands, so we spend the afternoon rehydrating and waiting for the weather to warm up a bit. It doesn’t, but the schnapps in the water that I’ve taken the liberty of adding does help matters and, as the watery sun starts its downward descent we look stagewards and await the arrival of one of the great guitarists of heavy rock history, back in full electric mode for the first time in aeons and ready to rock.
At least that’s the idea. Opener Highway Star starts slowly but even when the band warm up a little the song is still curiously bereft of energy. Singer Ronnie Romero, brought in presumably (a) because he isn’t Joe Lynn Turner and (b) because of his extreme vocal resemblance to deceased Rainbow alumnus Ronnie James Dio does his best but can’t really raise the song to the heights as the rest of the band feel their way in to the evening’s proceedings. Spotlight Kid fares little better, Ritchie Blackmore opting to not really play the meat of the riffs but half heartedly noodle along instead. This seriously depletes the impact of the song; Romero again puts in a manful effort, whilst keyboardist Jens Johansson does his best to inject a bit of excitement, but the overall feeling amongst the bearded faithful around me is one of disappointment.
However things seem to click as the band moves slowly into Mistreated; Blackmore finally decides to get involved and peels off some wonderful soloing throughout and as the song picks up tempo towards the end drummer David Keith propels things nicely. Right – that’s three songs down, two of them Deep Purple ones. Where will we go next? I’d heard a lot of chat in the crowd before the gig wondering whether any of the big hits would be played tonight. The general consensus was no, they wouldn’t, so a happy roar breaks out as the band take a stripped down approach to Since You Been Gone. This is the biggest reaction the band has received so far, but that doesn’t particularly cut any ice with Ritchie, who puts in another largely disinterested performance which is balanced by the commitment with which Romero addresses the song. However Man on the Silver Mountain is a BIG improvement, with the whole band getting behind the song and the crowd rewarding them with a loud backup vocal. Blackmore riffs with conviction, Romero graciously namechecks Ronnie James Dio. Are we finally firing on all cylinders? It would seem so, as Catch the Rainbow maintains the momentum. Romero, whilst not exactly making the song his own, certainly gives a faultless performance, and this is the best song so far in terms of performance, even if Blackmore does seem just a little too happy to stand in the shadows noodling when all we want from him is for him to stride forward and take us by the scruff of the neck.
A twelve minute Difficult to Cure completely diffuses matters however, even if it does allow for a quick sprint to the bar. Pointless time wasted in a set already looking a bit light on memorable moments, it’s difficult to see the point of this song’s inclusion. In the band’s pomp Difficult to Cure was a tour de force showing off the chops of everyone involved. Today it does little but cause people to realise how chilly the air has become. Perfect Strangers is up next, which is a shame because it’s another Deep Purple song and thus far Ronnie Romero hasn’t handled the Ian Gillan material with nearly as much aplomb as the Turner or Dio songs. He’s giving it his all, of that there’s no doubt, but something about it is just not quite right. The song itself threatens to take off a couple of times but never follows through on the promise. Child in Time fares slightly better, but the crowd – at least the crowd where I’m standing – is really getting antsy now, and we really need something a little more uptempo – and preferably by Rainbow – to draw us back in.
Luckily the next song is Long Live Rock n’Roll. Gotta be a winner, yes? For the first five minutes it is, everyone again seeming to lock in to a groove on the Dio material lacking elsewhere, and things really start looking up. Until, that is, the band again let things slip through their fingers by inserting a dull and unnecessary call-and-response routine which once again dissipates the momentum. Is it Ritchie? I’m starting to think it must be by this point – and certainly during the latter part of the set I see him taking his left hand off the fretboard a couple of times and flex his fingers, maybe cramping a little, and if that’s the case then I guess the band has no alternative. However he has no such trouble during Stargazer, although again he seems to purposely ‘de-heavy’ the song by not playing the riffs properly in the verses; However Romero sings the song better than anyone I’ve ever heard apart from Ronnie James and so all is largely forgiven.
The band trot through Black Night and Smoke on the Water after this, though for me at least the set closes with Stargazer. I’m glad I made the effort to travel to see the great man one more time, though in the final washup I’d have to say that overall this won’t be seen as a particularly glorious swansong for Ritchie Blackmore.