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Asia 2002 reviews  

Bouncing barefoot

The legendary rock band delivered a ferocious, unforgettable performance under the canopy of a Black Night sky.

On Wednesday night, 8th May 2002, 56-year-old Ian Gillan settled into a chair in the lobby of the Raffles Hotel Singapore, put on his spectacles and read a newspaper. He was a picture of respectability, as he blended quietly into the elegant surroundings and soaked up the solitude.

On Thursday night, 9th May 2002, he bounded on stage barefoot at Fort Canning Park and screamed My Woman From Tokyo, as 7,000 people screamed the words with him. Ian Gillan was a man transformed. Many of those with their eyes on him looked more than half his age, but Gillan's own years melted away, along with a few kilograms, as he soaked up their collective energy.

In 1991, Deep Purple attracted 30,000 fans to the Singapore National Stadium during their Slaves and Masters World Tour. But while the massive crowd heard the original guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore, they had to settle for the vocals of one-time Rainbow lead singer, Joe Lynn Turner, instead. The May 9 concert at Fort Canning marked Ian Gillan's first appearance in Singapore. Joining him, were original Purple members, Roger Glover on bass, and drummer Ian Paice. On guitar was renowned guitarist Steve Morse who joined Deep Purple in 1994. On keyboards we saw Don Airey, who has played with Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne, replacing the talented original Purple keyboardist Jon Lord, who recently left the band after so many years of immeasurable contribution to the Deep Purple sound.

This was the second time I caught the band live. I saw them last year at the Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, Australia on March 9, 2001. I had thought it was the first time and also the last time I will ever see the band play live. To my surprise and delight, I got to witness this wonderful band play live again back in my country, just one year later. I am happy to have caught Jon Lord playing with Deep Purple last year, before his retirement and wished he had come to Singapore with Deep Purple this time round. However, Don Airey was very much the ideal replacement keyboardist for Jon Lord and was superb in his own fashion, impressing every Deep Purple fan present at the Singapore concert.

Deep into the second hour of a concert at Fort Canning Park on Thursday night, Deep Purple's guitarist Steve Morse suddenly ripped into some of the most unmistakable riffs in rock. He teased a sold-out crowd of more than 7,000 with the opening chords of anthems like Guns N' Roses' Sweet Child Of Mine, Dire Straits' Money For Nothing, and even The Beatles' Strawberry Fields Forever. Everyone sensed what was coming next. Still, the stupefyingly simple 'dan dan dan' licks of Purple's own timeless Smoke On The Water ignited a frenzy. Fuelled by cans of San Miguel and shots of Jack Daniels, mat rockers, expat rockers, closet rockers, pseudo-rockers and rocker wannabes pumped their fists into the air. Most had been counting down to the song no one - never mind if you're 10, 20 or 30 years junior to any member of Deep Purple - doesn't know the words to. And they all sang along, word-perfect, with 56-year-old vocalist Ian Gillan.

Under the canopy of a Black Night sky covered by wisps of grey clouds, the rock arena atmosphere was complete. It dripped humidity at times, but the moisture just made the crowd party harder. True, the man who first came up with those three distinctive chords, Ritchie Blackmore, the band's founder and former guitarist, was not on stage as he was when Purple last pounded Singapore in 1991. But Morse, 48, who has been with Purple for more than a decade, played them like his own. And with three members who assisted in giving life to the song - drummer Ian Paice, 53; bassist Roger Glover, 57; and Gillan - the song, which is pushing 30 itself, was born again. Gillan rested his famously shrill voice and let the crowd do the chorus. Meanwhile, he bounced around stage barefoot in his white kurta bottom (Indian cotton pajama-like pants) which had at the beginning of the show was rolled up to the ankle but were now at mid-calf. He was already wearing his third white top for the evening, after sweating through the earlier two.

Halfway through Don Airey's keyboard solo, Lazy, Gillan turned to one member of the audience and gestured at his own pot-belly. He was not hiding his age. When he, Morse and Glover sat cross-legged on the stage through the soft opening notes of The Aviator, with what looked like his tabla behind him, Gillan looked a little like Indian sitar legend Ravi Shankar. And when he sang Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming - he did not do much of that on stage. Instead, the crowd screamed appreciatively for him at every recognisable riff, and raised their lighters to every ballad.

When Airey sauntered into a piano solo after Fools, he started fingering the chords of Singapore community song "Rasa Sayang". By the time the band finally steered into its encore numbers - Highway Star, Hush and Black Night, more songs everyone was waiting for - no one was ready to stop. But the rockers were ready to retire. The lights came on. The bulk of the crowd started to leave. But some die-hards stared at the empty stage in disbelief. They wanted more.

So did I.

Set list:
1. Woman From Tokyo
2. Ted The Mechanic
3. Mary Long
4. Lazy
5. The Aviator
6. No One Came
7. Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming
8. Well Dressed Guitar
9. Fools
11. Rasa Sayang (Singapore Community Folksong) - Don Airey piano solo
12. When A Blind Man Cries
12. Steve Morse guitar solo medley (AC/DC: Back In Black, Beatles: Strawberry Fields, Gun N' Roses: Sweet Child O Mine, Dire Straits: Money For Nothing, Led Zeppelin: Stairway to Heaven)
13. Smoke On The Water
14. Speed King
15. Ian Paice drum solo
16. 60's Jam (Elvis Presley: It's Now Or Never, High School Hop)

1. Hush
2. Black Night
3. Highway Star

Charles Woo Khee Tat

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