Deep Purple, O2 Arena | reviews, news & interviews
Deep Purple, O2 Arena
Deep Purple, O2 Arena
Veteran rock band shows a new future for nostalgia tours
If anyone tells you that Deep Purple’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra (1969) wasn’t a masterpiece then they’re an idiot. In fact, it was, more or less, the only successful use of an orchestra with a rock band ever. Now, 40 years on, a pensionable Purple have hit the road again with a full symphony orchestra. But they’re not playing the Concerto. They’re playing their hits. Critically, they’re performing them without founding keyboardist, Jon Lord, and guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore. So, at 8.30pm when support band Cheap Trick had failed to ignite the room, even with a five-necked guitar, a 12-stringed bass and a lead singer looking like Dave Lee Roth, it looked like this might be another nostalgia night for music past its sell-by date.
It wasn’t. The current line-up showed itself far closer to the spirit of the heyday than the actual classic line-up was for years. By the time Blackmore left the band almost two decades ago he was, allegedly, half mad. Now, he plays the lute in medieval theme-weekends dressed as a pixie. Steve Morse, on the other hand, last night proved himself able to alternate between the delicacy of Blackmore’s old phrasing and Van Halen-style fretboard-eating. And Don Airey, having played keyboards in every band in the extended Deep Purple family tree, was a total shoo-in.
The middle-aged man in front of me inserted earplugs and started singing
Drummer Ian Paice and bassist Roger Glover are ever reliable. What came as a relief to the 20,000 people present was that singer Ian Gillan, whose career has reached such lows that he’s been forced to apologise for his appearances, was not only at his vocal peak but able to curb his tendency to over-sing.
With an entire Purple line-up for once at such a level of technical brilliance, the idea of bringing along an orchestra worked a treat. More than a gig, it was a show, and a spectacle, making the endless showing-off seem like something you should be marvelling at.
The songs too, in their new guises, were given renewed freshness. Conductor and arranger Stephen Bentley-Klein did an excellent job, inserting stabs of Rat Pack jazz where the likes of Michael Kamen would have used slabs of strings. Gillan, looking a bit like David Essex, was a genial host, and following a brief orchestral intro we were into “Highway Star”. Having just heard Cheap Trick sounding like they were playing ukuleles in an aircraft hangar, I had concerns about the sound, but from where I was sitting it was rich and full.
The evening worked best from Steve Morse’s instrumental, “Contact Lost”, onward. The latter captured the magic of a golden era of melancholy guitar compositions such as Blackmore’s “Weiss Heim”. Next up “When a Blind Man Cries” brought a real moment of beauty, and during the “Smoke on the Water” the middle-aged man in front of me inserted a pair of earplugs and started singing as if for all his life.
It was moot whether the evening needed quite so many solos, or whether they all needed to be quite so over the topIt was moot, however, whether the evening needed quite so many solos, or whether they all needed to be so over the top. Morse’s solo in “The Well-Dressed Guitar” sounded like the mall scene in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure where Beethoven plays the synths. But in the superb “Lazy”, as conductor Bentley-Klein turned round and started duelling on electric violin, suddenly all this showmanship seemed more than a clever musical joke.
The night was billed as “The Songs That Built Rock." It was still not an outrageous exaggeration. The worst fault of the set list was not having “Smoke on the Water” as the closer and deploying “Black Night” up higher. Surely, everyone knows the O2 has the country’s most turgid atmosphere, and the big guns need to come out early? But Deep Purple produced a great show last night, hitting on a way to present their material that was marginally tongue-in-cheek, fun, and yet still did it justice. They also demonstrated they're still masters of the rock orchestra.
The current line-up of Deep Purple perform "Smoke on the Water"
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