Perfect Strangers Live

Deep Purple

In 1984, what was once deemed impossible actually happened: The classic second lineup of Deep Purple reconvened, cut an album and hit the road. It wasn't easy, especially when you consider the tensions between guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and singer Ian Gillan. Somehow, some way, they were able to put their differences aside and record the brilliant Perfect Strangers album. The follow-up, The House Of Blue Light, didn't quite measure up with its predecessor and 1988's Nobody's Perfect, a live album based on their 1987 The House Of Blue Light tour, didn't little to temper a situation already on a downward spiral. It's taken nearly 30 years, but Perfect Strangers Live, a double CD, DVD and Blu-ray Disc release that captures that first reunion tour, is finally here to show the cynics how it was done.

Although this isn't exactly the only footage available from the Perfect Strangers tour as claimed (a sweet bootleg from Paris has been making the rounds for years), this 1984 Melbourne, Australia show is every bit as holy and enviable for Purple heads. The classic Mark II configuration of Blackmore, Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord, and Ian Paice, together for the first time since 1973, show little signs of wear or rust as they dive headfirst into a cozy mix of old and new tracks.

They blast off with "Highway Star" and after a steady and straight rip at "Nobody's Home," cut loose on the endearing "Strange Kind Of Woman." The call and response between Gillan and Blackmore isn't as smooth as it is on Made In Japan, but it's hardly a train wreck and the two sworn enemies look as if they're actually getting off on the exchange. As promised, lots of then-new and potent tracks from Perfect Strangers were integrated into the set without much fuss. The album's title track is a showcase of Jon Lord's command of the Hammond, while "Knocking At Your Back Door" is as easy on the ears as the sound of waves crashing on the beach -- with a little more reverb.

Then there's "Lazy." This is where Blackmore and Lord show why they were very much the architects and sound bearers of Deep Purple. Of course, drummer Ian Paice gets his turn with a stupendous solo, and as the sole remaining original member, he too embodies an irrefutable element of the band. It's really hard to imagine Purple carrying on if Paice wasn't manning the kit. "Child In Time" finds Gillan a shade more restrained (with effects) simply because he couldn't scream in the 80s like he could in the 70s. At the break, Blackmore goes off on one of the most frenzied attacks on the fretboard you'll ever see. Even Gillan, resigned to pounding his congas in ragged time with Glover's booming bass lines, is impressed.

Blackmore and Lord each take solo spots - the guitarist swirling away on fragments of Rainbow's "Difficult To Cure," and Beethoven's 9th Symphony before ceding the spotlight to the keyboardist with an expanded rig that includes synths and a piano for an infusion of classical, jazz and hard rock. You consider the musicianship and you realize what a shame it is these two musicians will never share a stage together again.

"Space Truckin'" suitably rocks the house, and then Lord and Blackmore lock and engage in total cacophonic warfare. More, shall we say, marginal tracks like "Black Night" and "Speed King" quickly fill in the gaps before an epic "Smoke On The Water" brings the whole shooting match to a roaring conclusion. Well, not entirely, because if you have the video, you also get a documentary, which is little more than film clips of Purple on the road, for historical significance, but little else. On the whole, Perfect Strangers Live is yet another chapter is the storied Deep Purple saga. It was a unique and successful period in the band's history, and this is validation of why they, along with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, are the forefathers of hard rock and heavy metal.

~ Shawn Perry

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