We’ve all lost count how many iterations of Rainbow there have been since 1975, and this current line-up came together over twenty years after the last one: since that time, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, now aged 72, has made several albums with his Renaissance project Blackmore’s Night (featuring his wife Candice on lead vocals, she appears as one of the backing singers here tonight).
Ronnie Romero fills the large shoes of big former voices of both Rainbow (Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet, Joe Lynn Turner) and Deep Purple (Ian Gillan, David Coverdale), and does admirably well, with a set list which opens with ‘Spotlight Kid’ and then goes through ‘Mistreated’, ‘Soldier of Fortune’, ‘Since You Been Gone’ (featuring writer and musician Russ Ballard on guest back-up vocals and guitar), ‘Stargazer’, ‘Child In Time’, ‘Burn’, ‘Black Night’, ‘Long Live Rock ‘n Roll’, ‘Catch The Rainbow’ and (of course), ‘Smoke on the Water’.
Supported by the Sweet, who, like Deep Purple, formed fifty years ago next year, and retaining just one original member (Andy Scott) entertained with a mix of glam and hard rock numbers from ‘Hellraiser’ to ‘Little Willy’.
But Rainbow, and the return of Blackmore to rock, was the main event here, and they didn’t disappoint: I was also really pleased to see Dio and Cozy Powell remembered by video footage in the background during ‘Long Live Rock ‘n Roll’, a lovely moment. I hope this isn’t the last hurrah, but if it was, I’m going away happy.
Just over thirty years ago a trio of Norwegians hit the charts with a synth-pop tune with a quirky and clever video which was shown a lot on MTV: the song was ‘Take On Me’ and they were a-ha, Morten, Mags and Pal.
Fast-forward to 2016 and they are back together again following their retirement in 2010 as a band, and in their video projections and tightly professional set they are still highly entertaining. Hits and familiar songs (‘Crying in the Rain’, ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’, ‘The Living Daylights’, ‘Cry Wolf’, ‘Hunting High and Low’) are mixed with the new (‘Cast in Steel’) and some solo efforts (‘Velvet’, ‘Lifelines’).
Morten’s voice is still reaching the high notes, and if he is still aloof and leaving the interaction with the crowd to Magne, then that’s OK. The set is short – less than 100 minutes – but is crowd-pleasing, and even veers into the ‘getting the arena to sing’ and ‘getting the arena to wave their phones’ territory.
We elected to watch this final show from the now septuagenarian Python team at Vue cinemas, where proceedings were unfortunately transmitted with a weird yellow hue throughout (but kudos to the cinema, who gave everyone in the audience a voucher to come back to a screening for free).
However, on making that choice we got to see the ‘naughty’ song and dance number snipped from the live TV broadcast, which was replaced by Palin in drag wittering on about sheep. What the TV audience missed was a glorious celebration of naughty bits (but why slang names for female genitalia could not be broadcast and slang names for male ones could is a bit of a mystery, as it would have been simple enough to bleep the offending c-word).
The show begins with orchestral overture with John Du Prez, long time musical collaborator with Eric Idle, conducting, before we see a headshot of the late and much-missed Python member Dr Graham Chapman kicked like a football into space to welcome a ‘re-tardis’ holding the five remaining members of the team. ‘One Down – Five To Go’ is the nominal title of the show.
All the classic sketches are present and correct – Parrot/Cheese Shop crop up in the second half with Nudge, Nudge (which turns into a sleazy hip-hop number leading into the ‘Blackmail’ show), and we have the Spanish Inquisition, The Death of Mary Queen of Scots, The Argument, and a reboot of the Silly Walks idea with the song ‘money is the root of evil’ (ironic given the Pythons are all millionaires who will make another cool £2.5m each from these shows).
First up though was Four Yorkshiremen, perhaps a little creaky now but still funny, and a queerly poignant Lumberjack song (probably Palin’s last hurrah in this role, and he did it well). Whizzo Chocolates was a blast, especially Gilliam’s ailing policeman, despite a bit of corpsing and losing the thread of the sketch. Anne Elk, not performed on stage before, suffered from the absence of Graham Chapman IMO, although Cleese’s spluttering theorist was amusing.
This show sometimes felt like it was ‘Eric Idle and friends’. He’s clearly in good form and has the bulk of the songs (The Galaxy Song, I Like Chinese, etc.), and of course ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’. Terry Gilliam has more to do than usual and seemed to be enjoying himself, although Terry Jones was muted and his line deliveries were not what they were at his peak – John Cleese though was better than I expected, growing into the rhythm of the sketches and especially good in the Michelangelo sketch: ‘what in God’s name possessed you to paint three Christs?’ – a sketch which segues into the Roman Catholic/Every Sperm is Sacred piece from ‘The Meaning of Life’.
The energy of the young singers and dancers give this show the life which might be missing had we simply been watching a quintet of pensioners reliving their greatest hits, although all the team have their chance to shine, as well as rib each other (Palin and Idle’s camp judges discuss ‘the Cleese divorces’; the two Mary Queen of Scots pepperpots talk about Palin’s travel programmes, suppressing yawns).
Carol Cleveland was here, too, and for a while it almost felt as if we were back in the 1970s at the peak of the show. The team were on fine and cheeky form, from the Bruces song through to the final ‘piss off’ slide letting the audience know it was over. Nice reference to Graham too in the Parrot sketch, accompanied by thumbs up to heaven from Palin and Cleese for their absent colleague.
I enjoyed this. I was in two minds about whether it would work, but Idle’s decision to stage this as a huge spectacle was inspired, as was Arlene Phillips’ choreography (for those who missed it on GOLD, the sailor’s dance had British Sign Language accompanying the naughty words). What a lovely and fitting way to say goodbye – my only change would be to run the ‘Christmas in Heaven’ film in its entirety as a tribute to Graham, whose presence was felt throughout this show even though he was not physically there.
It’s been five years since ‘Field Commander Cohen’ has appeared at the O2, and although the man often referred to as ‘laughing Len’ hasn’t lightened up one bit, his poetic musings on love, sexuality, politics and religion still provide a potent mixture of melody and charisma.
One commentator on Cohen’s work said ‘no one can sing a Leonard Cohen song as he can’t’ and, now the trademark baritone has developed into a smoky growl, often talking rather than singing through songs, you can see what they mean. He delivers his songs with the emotional engagement of one who has lived them. Many people have covered his titles, particularly ‘Hallelujah’, but the originals remain the best.
Backed by the vocal harmonies of his long-time collaborator Sharon Robinson, and the Webb Sisters, and a set of peerless musicians on bass, violin, keyboards, etc., the old numbers (the opener ‘Dance Me To The End of Love’, ‘Everybody Knows’, ‘Bird on a Wire’, ‘Sisters of Mercy’, ‘The Future’, ‘Anthem’ (which closed the first half of the show), ‘So Long Marianne’, ‘The Partisan’, ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’, ‘Tower of Song’ (with the famous and tongue in cheek solo), ‘I’m Your Man’ and of course, ‘Hallelujah’) and newer cuts (‘Anyhow’, ‘Darkness’) continue to shine.
During the recitation of the poem ‘A Thousand Kisses Deep’ it was purely the poet (or as he puts it himself, ‘a lazy bastard living in a suit’) who was on show. The melodies are just window dressing (albeit excellent window dressing) to the powerful and curious lyrics which have become a trademark of Cohen’s career. In a suit and fedora, often singing on his knees, or with head bowed and eyes closed, this frail old troubadour still displays the skill of making a large arena feel like an intimate lounge bar, and in his 79th year has lost none of his ability to please his fans with a slick three-hour set.
Cohen may be slowing down, just a little, and we ‘may not meet again’, but this was a quality show, in support of his latest album ‘Old Ideas’ (the first in eight years – in a career approaching fifty years, he has only made twelve studio albums). He returns to the O2 for a further date in September.