Ritchie Blackmore had run afoul of the law in Vienna, Austria, after attacking a bouncer and dousing him in beer because Blackmore didn’t like the way he was manhandling the patrons. The only problem was his post-Deep Purple project, Rainbow, was supposed to head to Munich, Germany, for a highly anticipated performance that was going to be filmed for German TV.

While Rainbow’s people tried desperately to free Blackmore, they were able to reschedule the event for September 20, 1977, a day after it was originally slated to take place. After much legal wrangling and delays, Blackmore got out, and although he was late in arriving, the legendary guitarist finally made it, none the worse for wear. Motivated to go out onstage and channel any lingering frustration into a performance for the ages, Blackmore is simply mesmerizing on Live in Munich 1977, the only known live concert film featuring Rainbow’s Blackmore-Ronnie James Dio-Cozy Powell lineup.

Out on a rather darkly filmed, yet absolutely captivating, DVD and released as both a double CD and two LPs, the archival Live in Munich 1977 is dazzling, as Blackmore puts on a jaw-dropping display of technical brilliance, sounding remarkably soulful in parts – especially during a meditative, bluesy interlude in an otherwise explosive 16:25 version of “Man on the Silver Mountain” that blows your hair back – and electrifying in others. It’s not just his agility and quickness that astounds, but also his economy of motion and the sense of purpose in every searing solo or tasty riff. He’s like a calm sniper who never misses his target, and yet he’s capable of unpredictable, noisy outbursts that fuel the energetic, raucous romps through “Kill the King” and “Long Live Rock ‘n Roll” – fueled also by David Stone’s boiling keyboards.

And he’s got amazing endurance. Not bound by time restrictions, Rainbow goes off on long, extended journeys through the 27:33 cathedral of sound “Still I’m Sad” and sets their controls for a cosmological, almost supernatural exploration of “Catch the Rainbow” that lasts more than 18 minutes – and not a second of either seems calculated or pretentious. Neither does their smoky treatment of the Deep Purple number “Mistreated,” which morphs from hard-hitting blues-rock into something more melodic and indescribably spiritual. It’s a devastating performance from Rainbow’s 1977 European tour, given to a frenzied, clapping, packed crowd that is on the verge of jumping out of its collective skin.

That’s the advantage of actually watching this concert, as opposed to simply experiencing it one-dimensionally with your ears. Despite the aged quality of the video, it holds up and the camera work is smart, capturing the intensity and spectacle of Rainbow live with warm, exciting imagery – made all the more colorful by the massive rainbow lighting rig hanging over the stage, washing it in bright neon. The close-up shots of a younger Dio savoring every lyric, shaping the words to his will like a sculptor and delivering them with such deep, almost shamanistic expression, are riveting, as are the images of Powell laying waste to his drum kit with complex, yet punishing, patterns and Blackmore blazing away.

An absolute barn-burner of a live set, Live in Munich 1977 also carries with it historical significance, as Simon Robinson’s superbly written and well-researched liner notes so effectively illustrate. Augmenting the DVD release are vintage promotional videos of “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Gates of Babylon” and “L.A. Connection” – all of them indispensible pieces of heavy-metal nostalgia from a band at the peak of their powers – and in-depth interviews with Rainbow bassist Bob Daisley and tour manager Colin Hart. A fascinating feature titled “Rainbow over Texas ‘76” is also included that offers more in the way of incredibly raw and vital – although very poor quality – concert footage, as well as insightful commentary and more contextual artifacts for viewers to pore through. Powell’s manic drum solo and Blackmore’s violent mistreatment of his guitar are visceral delights.

Though it does not feature the kind of high-definition photography expected of live DVDs these days, Live in Munich 1977 – filmed at Munich Olympiahalle – is stunning, an essential archeological treasure that’s been wonderfully preserved. Long live rock ‘n roll, indeed.

Label: Eagle Rock Entertainment