Rainbow – Down To Earth Tour 1979 (3CD via Cleopatra)

Rainbow – Down To Earth Tour 1979 (3CD via Cleopatra)

One of the most renowned (as well as successful) rock bands to come out of the UK, and led by guitarist firebrand and founder member of Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore, there’s already been plenty written on this fantastic band. Renowned for featuring (at various times during Blackmore’s search for commercial sounds and success) Ronnie James Dio, Cozy Powell, Don Airey, Roger Glover, Graham Bonnet and Joe Lyn Turner, there was a revolving door of personnel in their original 1975-1984 lifespan.

This 3CD covers 3 shows from the very under represented Down To Earth era, the only album to feature vocalist Graham Bonnet, and is originally much anticipated and very welcome as the line-up of Blackmore, Bonnet, drummer Cozy Powell, pianist Don Airey and bassist (and former Purple teammate) Roger Glover were always solid and rocking, in fact blistering. And the history of Rainbow’s live work is largely exemplary.

Although the first recordings date back to late 1974, when Blackmore was still playing with Deep Purple, Rainbow were formerly formed in 1975, with singer Dio and members of his band Elf, who had toured with Purple. The desire to cover Quatermass’ Black Sheep Of The Family largely responsible for this. Their second album was the musical breakthrough and magnum opus Rainbow Rising, featuring Cozy Powell, bassist Jimmy Bain and keyboard player Tony Carey. With new bassist Bob Daisley and pianist David Stone, Long Live Rock’n’Roll followed in 1978. This live set comes from 1979’s Down To Earth, a line-up that split in 1980 and the band, fronted by American vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, went in an even more commercial direction before the band split and Blackmore reformed Deep Purple. But that’s another story.

After the amount of (largely) excellent work on the Dio era, live material from this line-up is sorely missing; even the line-up’s final show at 1980’s Monsters Of Rock remains unreleased in its entirety. So we come to these 1979 shows from the US leg of the Down To Earth tour.

The classic solid mystical hard rock had been moving in a more commercial direction (hence Dio’s departure) and this album took the band into the singles charts with Since You Been Gone and All Night Long.

The Denver show opens with the epic Eyes Of The World, Don’s keyboard building and whipping up the crowd, before the band crash in with a storm. Musically? This will blow you away. Assuming you can actually hear it. The sound quality instantly hits you as poor. It is thin, poorly mixed, the band sound distant, the backing vocals clearer than the lead.

That said, Bonnet’s vocal power and energy are obvious enough. And through the variable sound (some tracks are better than others). Love’s No Friend is a strange inclusion given what’s missing, and Since You Been Gone has a better sound quality, but includes a segment of Somewhere Over The Rainbow that the band normally hit the stage to.

‘Lost In Hollywood’ opens with some classical Don keyboard work, this 20 minute workout features plenty from the whole band, even a few bars of Beethoven’s Ninth in what would become ‘Difficult To Cure’ a year or so later. And don’t forget the drum solo that culminates in Cozy Powell’s signature 1812 Overture. While this kind of extension worked better with the less commercial line-ups, it is still fantastic to hear and such a shame the sound isn’t better.

‘Man On The Silver Mountain’ and Long Live Rock’n’Roll close the show nicely.

Long Island runs with the same setlist, but the opening bars had me hitting the skip button with the atrocious quality, adding distortion to the already bad sound quality. ‘Love’s No Friend’ runs to over 8 minutes and features a bit of banter, and the beautiful 26 minute ‘Lost in Hollywood’ (DTC, 1812, several kitchen sinks) really will have you cursing the poor sound quality.

While the first 2 shows here ran to 7 tracks each, Chicago has just 5. We all know how much of ‘Eyes Of The World’ builds with the keyboard intro, well the definition of both that and the band coming in are lost in the recording quality. Sadly. That said, the 5 tracks are all variously extended, with ‘Lost In Hollywood’ (24 minutes here) again opening with a bit of Bach.

Not having seen the package (I got a download 2 weeks after release), there are good and extravagant elements but pics from the following tour, and the price (certainly on Amazon) is ridiculously high.

The music is of the upmost quality, no question, but the representation of it is poor. The shows are short, either edited or that of a support band (could be both??), and over £30 for a catalogue 3CD far from value for money. We all know fans of Rainbow’s ilk will purchase, and that’s been played on here. I am a fan. A serious fan, it was hearing Rainbow Rising that led me to run Cozy Powell’s fanclub, and I feel short changed just on the download.

Such potential, an opportunity seriously missed.

10/10 for the music and performance (one of THE classic rock bands, at their best)

1/10 for the quality (official bootleg).

Joe Gessin

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Rainbow – Down To Earth Tour 1979 (3CD via Cleopatra)