It has been 30 years since Deep Purple reunited. I was a freshman in college and made the trek from Boston to Worcester to see them live. In all those years there have been no official albums from that tour. Now there is. In late 2013 the audio and video of one of their Australian shows was released. They had a stripped down show in terms of effects. The lasers would come later in the tour. Here the focus was on the music. And the music was great.
I bought the “box set” that had the 2 discs of the audio as well as the concert DVD along with a booklet. “Box set” is a bit of an overstatement. It is a normal CD case in which I have a hard time removing the CDs but the DVD seems to slide around a bit too free and easy. I’m hoping it doesn’t end up getting scratched.
While the packaging was disappointing, the concert itself did not disappoint. The mix seemed to favor Blackmore’s guitar and Ian’s singing over the other instruments. Blackmore seemed reinvigorated with the reunion. His sound on this concert is fatter due to the effects than I am used to it being. He was aggressive much of the night. I wouldn’t say these were his best solos, but he’s leaving nothing back. Ian Gillan had an uneven night as his voice seemed to have some rough spots.. This is part of what drove Ritchie crazy, Ian didn’t seem to take care of his money maker. At times he seemed to forget some the lyrics as well. He discovered effects too, and there are songs with lots of echo on his voice.
There are some differences between the 70’s edition of Deep Purple Mach II and this edition in addition to the technology. They seemed to up the tempo on many of the old songs. The solos were not as long either. As a result, they played far more songs than you’d find on any of their concert albums from the 70’s. They had 5 songs from the new album, Perfect Strangers, as well as some old standards taken mostly from In Rock and Machine Head. So there is something for everyone, and no one should be disappointed. This was a great concert.
As you might expect, they kicked off the show, with a little fog, and Highway Star. As I mentioned you can hear more of Blackmore’s fills and added touches. Ritchie even seemed to enjoy playing with Gillan again as Ian echoed back some of the part of his solo. Then again, their problems were never really on stage.
The immediately rip into Nobody’s Home, and Ian’s voice seems a bit rough. Ritchie looks very focused as he plays the new song. After a brief solo by Ritchie, Jon has his solo. Ritchie returns for a longer solo as the song moves toward the end.
To introduce Strange Kind of Woman, Ian takes up a take from Knocking at Your Back Door. As a “cunning linguist” he introduces the songs in other “languages”. In this case it just means a French-ish accent. His voice sounds better on SKoW. Ritchie’s first solo is similar to the older versions, but with more distortion. His second solo on the song is extended and he and Ian revive their “call and response” as Ian repeats the notes Ritchie plays. At one point Ian is smiling and pointing at him like “you got me” or perhaps it was “great idea” as Ritchie plays a bit of Jesus Christ Superstar and Ian sings along before they both get back to SKoW. They end the song with Ian screaming, a bit rough throated just not quite able to hit the notes he wants, to the echo.
They play a little blues, with Ritchie soloing, as an intro to Gypsy’s Kiss, another uptempo song. Ritchie goofs off with Roger during one of the verses. Blackmore kept looking back at little Ian as if to give him some clues before ripping into another extended solo. Then Jon gets his turn to play a solo. After the last verse, there is another Blackmore solo to end the song.
He introduces Perfect Strangers in “Swahili.” Compared to the other live versions I have heard, there is far more guitar. This is the perfect song for a reunion, yet almost as if he’s telling Blackmore they can’t get to close or the band will implode again. Sadly it would. Again Ian was forgetting lyrics or perhaps having some breathing problems. At times in the video he seems to be clearing his nose. Jon gets plenty of time to solo this time around as he moves around his banks of keyboards.
He introduces the “anti-war” song Under the Gun in German changing “the” to “ze”. Appropriate for a Brit to think of Germany when singing an anti-war song. It is another aggressive song. During the promotional interviews for the new album, Blackmore mentioned this solo as one of this favorites. Gillan has some more vocal issues. Interesting to note that sometimes Ritchie talks to himself as he solos. He also introduces the guitar to the monitor during his lengthy solo.
Then they move into the final new song, “about backwoods morals” Knocking at Your Back Door with Jon leading the way before Blackmore’s guitar takes center stage. As Gillan notes, they changed the key, perhaps to accommodate his vocals. They moved from a political song to one filled with double entendres. Yes, rock and roll is a strange business. In the video, you just can’t tell what Ritchie is using to play slide. Despite Ian’s vocal issues, this is probably a the best live version of this particular song that I’ve heard.
Next they slide into old concert standard Lazy. This time it isn’t Jon destroying his Hammond that kicks it off, but Blackmore launching into another solo before relinquishing the floor to Jon. They break during the song for little Ian’s drum solo. Good, not great, particularly considering how talented he is.
Time to slow things down with Child in Time, another of Ian’s anti-war songs. His voice seems to hold up well until he begins to wail. His style playing the congo drums is pretty interesting. There were some fists and elbows thrown in there as if in a MMA match. Blackmore unleashed untold fury in his blistering solo before things quiet back down for another verse.
From there they moved into a hold over from Ritchie and Roger’s days in Rainbow- Difficult to Cure. This, of course, is a showcase for Blackmore as he amps up Beethoven’s 9th symphony. This is by far his most melodic solo in the concert. It also features some good slide guitar. Big Ian is playing around on the congo drums which doesn’t seem to quite fit the 9th. But this is rock and roll, people. They then slide into Jon’s solo piece for the night. He interweaves a number of classical pieces and We Wish You a Merry Christmas and the theme to Jaws along the way. The drums return as Jon plays some funky piano. Then he tries to tip the Hammond, aka the Beast.
They shift into Space Trucking from there. It is a slightly less indulgent Space Trucking, about half of the time as on many older concert albums. On the CD Ritchie’s solo sounds really different and strange. It would interesting to see what he actually did. Turns out I was right, he was playing with the feedback and tremolo. This is the last song of the main body of the concert which was about 90 minutes.
The encore would be a long one. They would start with Black Night with Blackmore playing more aggressively than I am used to hearing him play on the song. He would use the slide again for the solo, and then Jon had his solo. After introducing the other band members, Ian mentions they are not known for slow songs, and they break into Speed King. In the midst of his solo Blackmore breaks into the riff for Burn and then Jingle Bells. Much of the time, though, he and Lord are playing and repeating riffs. So ends the first encore.
The second encore is, of course, their signature song, Smoke on the Water introduced as “a song written in Montreux, Switzerland a long time ago.” It starts very slow with Ritchie quietly playing the riff and finally he cranks it up. When it comes time for the solo, he pulled out the slide again. I’ve never been a fan of the versions when they have the audience sing the chorus. Maybe it is just me. This is one of those versions. The show clocked in at about 1:55 which is a whole lot of great music by some great musicians. One thing was missing, a solo from Roger.
The DVD also has a 23 minute or so tour documentary as a special feature. It includes part of their first press conference when Perfect Strangers was released. There is Gillan with a cigarette in his hand. That’s not so good for the voice. There is an interview with Jon Lord comparing Under the Gun to Culture Club’s simplistic anti-war. Gillan downplayed the fractured relationships. There is some video of them jamming as well.