By Adam Waldman
Life is filled with missed opportunities that end up in regret. I’ve missed out on a number of concert opportunities through the years, but the one that has haunted me most was not seeing Rainbow on June 19, 1982 at Madison Square Garden. As a parent, I can understand why my parents didn’t let me travel into New York City from Long Island to attend the concert. However, it ended up being one of the greatest disappointments of my teenage years. Although I got the chance to see Joe Lynn Turner fronting Deep Purple, it wasn’t the same as seeing Rainbow.
When Ritchie Blackmore started dropping hints that he was thinking about playing rock music again, I had no doubt that he would do so with Turner (the only singer to front both Rainbow and Deep Purple). Like the rest of the rock world, I was shocked when Blackmore announced the members of the band that he put together as a “Rainbow reunion.”
All hope that I had of finally seeing one of my favorite all-time bands seemed to have been lost. But on February 27, 2016, at Revolution (a Long Island rock club), I finally got the opportunity to see the show that I had missed out on nearly 34 years ago.
Although this was not a Rainbow reunion per se, seeing JLT perform a number of classic Rainbow songs in an intimate setting might have been even better (in some respects) than seeing a full-blown reunion in a large venue.
Steve Brown (Trixter) didn’t try to copy Blackmore’s signature guitar sound, but he nailed every song, and showcased an entertaining stage presence. “Nailed” would also be an accurate description of Charlie Zeleny’s thunderous drumming, which helped to set the tone for a high octane version of Rainbow. Rob Demartino’s bass playing provided a heavy bottom, and Paul Morris’ keyboards added another layer of depth to the overall sound.
Of course, the star of the show was JLT himself, who is every bit as good today as he was back in 1982 (when I missed out on seeing Rainbow), and in 1991 (when I saw him fronting Deep Purple). From the stellar vocals to the engaging showmanship to the deep connection with the fans in attendance, JLT proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that age is nothing more than a number. He is a true rock star in every sense of the word. For his sake, I wish that Blackmore’s decision-making wasn’t so misguided, but selfishly speaking, I couldn’t have asked for a better Rainbow concert experience.
Even though the performance took place in a modest sized rock club, this truly was the type of show that made you feel like you were watching an arena concert from the glory days of hard rock. Had this been an actual arena show, the experience would have been much different. I certainly wouldn’t have been close enough to get hit with any droplets of spit as JLT belted out a setlist comprised of numerous personal favorites. But there I stood, dead-center, bellied-up against the stage, singing along with the rest of the frenzied crowd to the collective soundtrack of our youth with JLT only inches away from me.
To my right, was a girl who was noticeably swooning in the presence of one of her rock heroes. In between songs, we shared our enthusiasm for the show, and she told me that “it was like having an outer body experience.” Words can’t accurately portray the glow on her face when JLT handed her a copy of the setlist as a souvenir. I would come to find out later that her husband and 13-year old daughter were standing right behind her. It’s hard to think of a better family night out than seeing JLT up-close-and-personal. She too was forbidden by her parents to attend the Rainbow concert in June of 1982. Imagine, two strangers sharing an incredible bond over the music that we love, and the disappointment of missing out on seeing the same Rainbow concert at Madison Square Garden.
It would be impossible to highlight the best moments of the show because there was never a dull moment. However, a few moments stood out for me on a personal level. The first was when JLT talked about all of the recent rock star deaths, and then paid a heartfelt tribute to his friend (and fellow Rainbow alum) Ronnie James Dio, before launching into an energetic version of “Man On The Silver Mountain.” Having had the opportunity to have lengthy conversations with both RJD and JLT, I found this tribute to be particularly poignant. After JLT bowed his head and then looked up to salute RJD, he gave me a fist bump. It was as if he felt the meaning that the song had to me.
One of the things that you have to love about JLT is his willingness to be outspoken about the problems of the world. Now, more than ever, his introduction to “Can’t Happen Here” really hit home, as our country is in a state of turmoil. It also happens to be the song that started me on my Rainbow journey, so it had special meaning for me that goes beyond the troubled world of politics. It was serendipitous that he was introducing this song in a club called Revolution (a point that he made to the crowd).
The show, affectionately dubbed “Boys Night Out” by JLT (to describe playing with the band), not only featured a collection of Rainbow hits, but also some classic Deep Purple songs and a powerful version of “Rising Force” (Yngwie Malmsteen).
Although I had hoped that I would get to see a true Rainbow reunion, it wasn’t in the cards because of Blackmore’s decision to form an entirely new band. The disappointment of that decision, and the missed opportunity to see Rainbow in 1982, have both been alleviated by seeing JLT deliver a performance that will be remembered for many years to come. If you’re a true Rainbow fan, do whatever it takes to see this show.