“I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. We must be over the rainbow!” The famous Wizard of Oz introduction sets the mood for the thrills, imagination, and aural adventurous that is Rainbow’s classic double live album On Stage. Recorded in late 1976, approximately one year before front man Ronnie James Dio’s departure from the band, the set stands as one of the decade’s pivotal concert records. On par with Kiss’ Alive, UFO’s Strangers in the Night, and Deep Purple’s Made In Japan, the effort teems with blistering performances and unfettered energy.
Freed from the confines of the studio, Dio and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore instill passionate bravado and swagger to every song they attack. At the peak of his powers, Dio sings with leather-lunged gusto and theatrical purpose, hitting seemingly impossible highs and reaching down to bring dark overtones to the lows. His melancholic showing on a cover of Deep Purple’s “Mistreated” blows away the original. As a perfect foil, Blackmore takes the opportunity to stretch out solos and indulge in bluesy improvisations, turning “Man on the Silver Mountain” into a multi-part medley and the slowly building, fantasy-themed “Catch the Rainbow” into an epic workout.
Rainbow’s rhythm section is equally inspired. Drummer Cozy Powell jump-starts high-voltage passages with urgent beats and timely playing. In sync with the irreplaceable contributions of organist/keyboardist Tony Carey, bassist Jimmy Bain supplies a taut foundation. On Stage is in effect a document of a vital hard-rock band pushing itself to the maximum and succeeding in taking its audiences on an unforgettable journey. Blackmore’s inventive passages and colorful tones are alone worth the price of admission.
Martin Birch’s steady, lively production puts it over the top. Unlike many heavily edited albums from the era, Powell is heard front and center, the drums given as much space and presence as Blackmore’s humming guitar, Dio’s inimitable singing, and Carey’s howling organ. You’re given an invitation to stand onstage with the quintet.
Pressed on green-colored vinyl at RTI and presented in a faithful reproduction of the original gatefold sleeve, Wax Cathedral’s deluxe reissue of this live scorcher renders the music in the highest fidelity it’s ever enjoyed.
Always meant to be heard since its original release in 1977, On Stage is restored to all its glory.