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Deep Purple at the Arena, Birmingham

It was autumn 1971 and Fireball was one of the first albums I ever bought. This was quickly followed by Deep Purple in Rock and soon after by Machine Head. So, I hoped the band would play a few tracks from these albums tonight; I wasn’t disappointed.

This show was part of The Long Goodbye tour giving the expectation that it could also be the band’s last. The current band comprises Ian Gillan (vocals), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums) from the 1971 line-up, along with Steve Morse (guitar) and Don Airey (keyboards) but before I get into the Deep Purple bit of the show there was the matter of two excellent support bands to consider.

I saw Cats in Space earlier this year when they supported Thunder and they made quite an impression with their 70’s & 80’s inspired rock. Tonight was no different, the set was shorter at just 30 or so minutes but the band certainly made the most of the time they had available. With their new album, Scarecrow, just being released it should have been an opportunity to get the music out to a huge audience. Only 5 songs on the setlist which got going with Too Many Gods, the title track from their first album, followed by The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from the new album. Timebomb, also from the new album, was next and the set completed with two more from the Too Many Gods album, a slow starter in The Greatest Story Never Told and finally Five Minute Celebrity. I’d have liked to have heard the title song from Scarecrow, which has keyboards and guitars reminiscent of early Deep Purple. It was nice to see the band mixing with the fans after the set, chatting and signing merchandise and if you’re a fan of bands like Boston or Asia then you should listen to Cats in Space!

The second band was Europe and it was a bit odd to see them playing a support role. This was part of the band’s Walk The Earth tour in support of their album of the same name released in October this year. In fact, Walk the Earth and The Siege, both from that album, opened the show before they took the audience right back, almost to the bands’ inception, with Rock the Night from the 1985 EP, On the Loose. The bands’ greatest hit song belies just how heavy they can be on stage and the band can rock it just as well, if not better, than many others. The charismatic, and energetic, Joey Tempest leads the way and stands in front of a band having exceptional skills. The set tonight focused on the four most recently released albums with the merest sprinkling of early material. After the first visit to the archives with Rock the Night the band returned to more modern times with songs from Last Look at Eden (the title track), Walk the Earth (Election Day) and Bag of Bones (also the title track) split by another early song in the form of Superstitious from 1988’s Out of This World. This seemed to be the night for title tracks as the penultimate song was War of Kings from the bands previous album of the same name. Time for the last song and it doesn’t take much guessing as to what it is. The audience sang along to The Final Countdown, just as they do each time the band play it, and this rounded off a splendid set. Joey Tempest seemed a little restrained during the early songs but that didn’t seem to matter, the audience listened, cheered and joined in, great stuff!

Tonight Deep Purple spanned the entire discography timeline with a raft of songs taken from the new album, Infinite, released in July this year, as well as material from the band’s first album, Shades of Deep Purple, released in 1968, and several more in between. The earlier material always seems to be the most popular and so with songs taken from Shades of Deep Purple, Deep Purple in Rock, Fireball and Machine Head I was a happy listener. Musically, the band could not be faulted, the guitars were sharp, the bass thunderous, the drums snappy and the keyboards sublime. Gillan’s distinctive voice came through time after time and if I had one criticism, or perhaps it was more a disappointment, then it was that the vocal power I recall from the 1970’s was no longer there. The guitar may have screamed but the vocals didn’t and at times they appeared to be a little strained. I don’t want to take anything away from the performance though because, on balance, it was excellent.

Gillan threw out a few little innuendo’s, which, given the current focus on things, were unnecessary but the band as a whole were superb. Included in the set was Uncommon Man, a track written as a tribute to keyboard maestro Jon Lord who died in 2012, a year before the track was released on Now What? The song has the unmistakable sound of ELP and was strongly influenced by ELP’s Fanfare for the Common Man.

A Don Airey keyboard solo, which split two songs from 1984’s Perfect Strangers, also paid tribute to some local legends as it included a snippet from Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, a nice touch.

The main set had the audience, who were all seated, on their feet before the end of the first song and they were still standing as the set concluded with Smoke on the Water, complete with audience participation.

The encore kicked off with the band’s oldest song of the night, Hush, a Joe South cover, taken from 1968’s Shades of Deep Purple and this was followed by a Roger Glover solo before ending with a song that never made it to a studio album despite it being one of their best songs ever (in my opinion), Black Night.

A fabulous evening all round, I just wish I’d managed to see them in the 1970’s to hear Gillan in his prime.

Setlist: Time for Bedlam

Fireball

Bloodsucker

All I Got is You

Uncommon Man

The Surprising

Lazy

Birds of Prey

Knocking at Your Back Door

Don Airey keyboard solo with Iron Man sample

Perfect Strangers

Space Truckin’

Smoke on the Water

 

Encore

Hush

Roger Glover bass solo

Black Night

Words & images: Reg Richardson

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