On Stage is one of those albums which frustrates now because as the 1976 German tour set and the various bootlegs prove there has been a little amount of cutting and splicing. We can only hope On Stage is revisited someday and the full versions of the doctored songs are released in their raw glory and in the right order (Mistreated, Man On the Silver Mountain, Still I'm Sad). Quite possible the main reason for the cutting was purely down to the time and quality limitations of vinyl because if you search out the original versions you will not be disappointed. Thankfully there is none of the overdubs that blight other alleged 'live' albums but considering what it could have been I should remove a star but I haven't because the quality od performance on offer is remarkable.
Not that the cutting takes anything away from the pleasure of hearing a band in complete control. Ritchie dominates proceedings with some amazing playing and Dio never sounded better than he did with Rainbow. This paring along with Cozy's drums looked set to propel this band to world domination.
The qualities displayed live by this band are almost spiritual. By leaving one of the best live bands on the planet to create another in Rainbow is something Mr Blackmore should be celebrated for. Listen to Scandinavian Nights, Made In Japan and Live In London followed by On Stage and be astounded how much his playing changed and developed over the six years. Sidekicks, Cozy Powell with his relentless drumming, and Dio, inpirational soaring vocals were perfect for the balance of this band. Unfortunately the colaboration would only last one more studio album after this live affair and fans of the band would be polarised by the future direction.
After the Judy Garland/Wizard of Oz intro, as a starter, Kill the King rips your head off, this song being purposely written as a show opener: it delivers exactly what they set out to do. Ritchie flys through an electrifying solo at breakneck speed yet still displays feel and melody. RLD roars the words with fire and passion.
Next up is a heavily doctored Man on the Silver Mountain from the Japanese tour minus around 4 minutes, the usual frantic Lazy intro has been discarded among other parts. Despite the culling this song rocks, Ritchie cranking out the riff with a much different feel to the studio original. The Blues sector in the middle, something Ritchie introduced on stage with MK III Purple, is brilliant, quite possibly the best version captured for us to enjoy with Carey complimenting the guitar with his keys. Dio is as ever powerful, poised and pure.
On the original vinyl Catch The Rainbow's 15 minutes or so takes up a whole side and is simply magnificent. Where the studio version saunters along with Richie's subtle guitar the live version spirals to a crescendo after another blinding solo before the ethereal ending. Modern rock is awash with drippy power ballads but none can match the majesty of Catch The Rainbow.
Taken from Cologne 1976 we have the blues call of Mistreated, transformed from the original Deep Purple version into a different realm. Ronnie makes the song his own in some style and Ritchie's liquid fingers return a solo of unequalled genius. Cut from the end is Dio and Ritchie's duelling which is a shame but the On Stage version is still amazing. Coverdale fans can argue all they want about the original being best whereas for once I have to disagree, this is Rainbow.
Another Japan tour version is Sixteenth Century Greensleeves. If the original is a classic then the live version is a magnum opus. Ritchie's jaw dropping intro making way for the familiar riff. Quite a short song in comparison to some of the fare on offer yet we still get several guitar solos and that spell binding intro.
Set closer Still I'm Sad is yet another inspired piece, the band as a whole injecting life into the old Yardbird classic in ways which astound. Sadly Cozy's 1812 drum solo is another cut, which is a shame because although drum solos are considered passé (ok they have for decades) Cozy always delivered more than just a solo.
So despite the obvious trimming there is a lot to listen to here.