Deep Purple

June 24, 2011
Greek Theatre
Los Angeles, CA

Ian Gillan, Don Airey & Steve Morse

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Junkman

The one thing everyone seemed to be saying when I told them I was going to see Deep Purple was this: "You mean, they're still around?" It’s an understandable statement given the band’s rare album releases (six years since the last studio album, Rapture Of The Deep) and stateside tours (fours years since their last Southern California gig).

Guitarist Steve Morse told me the band doesn’t make the kind of money here they can make in Europe, so maybe it's a simple matter of economics. But it seemed like no expense was spared when Deep Purple showed up at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles with a full orchestra behind them and proceeded to play a stirring 90-minute set of their greatest songs.

“Highway Star,” the opening number, with strings and horns is a different tune than the version on Made In Japan — but just as powerful. It set the stage at the Greek where the band played an odd mix of older numbers (how about “Hard Lovin’ Man” from In Rock) tossed into the grinder with a couple newer numbers (meaning from the last 10-15 years).

“Maybe I’m A Leo,” which didn’t get much stage time until the band performed Machine Head in 2004, is a definite keeper, as is “Strange Kind Of Woman” and “Woman From Tokyo.” No Deep Purple show would be complete without those two.

The orchestra, assembled with local musicians and magnificently conducted by Steven Bentley-Klein, held its own for the most part, embellishing, riffing, adding its scent on all but five songs of the night. Morse and keyboardist Don Airey took the orchestra to task, leading them through a myriad of instrumental passages. You may be thinking about the absence of Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord when you go to see Deep Purple, but when Morse and Airey move in, none of that seems to matter.

Bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice provided a suitable foundation throughout the evening. Paice, the lone original member, is easily up there with the John Bonhams and Keith Moons of the world — the only difference being that Paice is still alive and finessing the skins as effortlessly as possible. Both he and Glover got their respective solos, defying time, rust and any other assumptions rooted in doubt and longevity. Ah, what a web we weave when we underestimate the power of a good rhythm section.

And there in front was Ian Gillan, the singer most indentified with Deep Purple, largely because of “Smoke On The Water.” Gillan can’t scream out the cadences of “Child In Time” like he could in 1972, but he manages to do a lot within his limited range, yelping where he can without overextending himself. On the newest track of the night, “Rapture of The Deep,” he smoothly navigated the melody and tidied up the verses. It’s a solid Purple-like riff, sliding easily into the repertoire and perhaps a sign that the band could put another album of new songs together given the time and motivation.

The Engine Room: Roger Glover & Ian Paice

But then came the big guns, like “Knocking At Your Back Door” and “Lazy,” where Morse and Bentley-Klein engaged in a friendly crossfire of guitar and violin. “No One Came,” another hidden gem, this time from Fireball, blasted the crowd before Airey came out and "fugued" it up with the orchestra for a good 10 minutes, covering everything from Mozart to “Swan Lake.” Or so it seemed.

Out of the trenches, “Perfect Strangers” sounded the call and the band took charge. This, for me, was the pinnacle of magical purpleness. The organ riff is as mythical as the guitar riff on “Smoke On The Water,” the night’s closer. Actually before the closer, Morse took the audience on a virtual tour of legendary riffs, dipping his wick into “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Back In Black” before picking out that iconic pattern and Gillan bellowed out that all-too-familiar phrase: “We all came out to Montreux…”

The horns lent a certain air of humility to the track, but they most definitely worked with the context of the performance. For the encore, the band teased the crowd with a bit of Booker T’s “Time Is Tight” before settling into their very first hit, “Hush.” After everyone picked themselves off the floor from witnessing the Paice-Glover showdown, Purple ended the evening with the always reliable live staple, “Black Night.”

These days Deep Purple have no reason to change their approach. They remain the quintessential vintage rock band — playing the songs the people love, willing to dig deep for the obscure leftover, playing new songs without embarrassing themselves, and pushing the boundaries as individual instrumentalists, soloists without reservation, yet seamlessly integrated into the overall sound and texture of a unified group. This is the foundation on which Deep Purple has always thrived.

Ernie and the Automatics, featuring former Boston members Sib Hashian and Barry Goudreau, opened the show. The highlight of their set was an energetic medley of Boston’s biggest hits, including “Rock And Roll Band,” “More Than A Feeling,” “Smokin’” and “Foreplay/Longtime.” They supported Deep Purple on their 2011 North American tour (which concluded in Concord, California, on June 25) in a noble attempt to get the word out about their new album, Low Expectations.

As for Deep Purple, they’ll spend the rest of the summer touring Europe, stopping by the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 16 where they will undoubtedly recreate “Smoke On The Water” in the town in which it was inspired — without Frank Zappa, the Mothers or that stupid with a flare gun.

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