Detailing almost the precise moment that Ritchie Blackmore began his transition toward ren-faire rock, this 1995 Rainbow performance for Germany’s Rockpalast isn’t by any means essential — but it sure is interesting.
We find Blackmore, not long after his second (and apparently final) departure from Deep Purple, touring behind a new album called Stranger in Us All with a reconstituted edition of Rainbow fronted by Doogie White, a straight-forward Dio-influenced metal singer who’s also worked with Yngwie Malmsteen and Michael Schenker. More intriguing, however, is the spectral presence — often side stage, but still very much contributing — of Blackmore’s wife Candice Night. Two years later, the couple would found Blackmore’s Night, and they’ve since released some eight albums (including this year’s Dancer and the Moon) that couldn’t be further away from the heady mix of rock styles found on Black Masquerade.
Blackmore, whose playing suddenly feels so flinty and free after so long away, adds a series of knowing winks throughout. There’s a nod to Deep Purple’s “Black Night” during “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and a bit of Beethoven on the instrumental “Difficult to Cure.” His tough performance on the ageless “Man on the Silver Mountain” might have been reason enough to recommend Black Masquerade, if not for Blackmore’s molten closing groove on “Hall of the Mountain King.” And then there’s a searing trip through Deep Purple’s “Burn,” and that masterpiece riff from “Smoke on the Water.”
Still, away from brawny rockers (this concert positively leaps to life with the opening “Spotlight Kid,” co-written by Blackmore’s former Deep Purple mate Roger Glover for the 1981 Rainbow disc Difficult to Cure), the growing influence of Night and their shared interest in legacy folk music is already quite clear. Night, of course, co-wrote “Wolf to the Moon,” from Stranger in Us All, as well as “Ariel” and this DVD/CD set’s title track — in which Blackmore threw what seemed like a dramatic curve ball when he switched to a classical-influenced acoustic. Really, it was a telegraph from the future. If there was any doubt, this final edition of Rainbow offers a fun update of the Renaissance-era folk standard “Greensleeves” in Dusseldorf.
As such, Black Masquerade (due August 27, 2013, from Eagle Rock) might not represent the absolute best of Rainbow — for that, you’ll still have to trace back to the Ronnie James Dio/Cozy Powell era — but it remains the last testimony to Blackmore’s wit, power and stunning dynamism in the standard rock format.