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UK reviews 2002 (rescheduled)

Paice is the name, pace is the game

Superstar status has its hazards - overwhelmed fans brimming with eternal affection, know-it-all pundits picking flaws and of course, the jolly band of journalists armed with scores of queries... some clever, some not so clever.

When Dubai heard that Deep Purple were actually going to play a date here, there was joy that metamorphosed into hysteria as the rendez-vous drew nearer. So, jolly journalists along with the overwhelmed fans and know-it-all pundits were present in front of the band at the pre-event press conference. And then flowed the cliched questions: "Among the younger bands who will fit into your shoes?" Ian Gillan: "If the Stones are at it long and hard enough, they just might make it."

Deep Purple, it seems, are in fine fettle. As dusk fell, the faithful flocked to the Tennis Stadium. September 22, as Bryan Adams once crooned, would be a night to remember. And at 9pm, there was a hush followed by a roar as Ian Paice conjured up his notorious bass drum roll. The dream had come true, Deep Purple were on stage, ripping through Fireball.

Dubai is a sauna at this time of the year. Gillan, sporting a white tunic, white trousers and bare feet was sizzling. So when Steve Morse struck the punchy chords of Woman From Tokyo and Paice hit the floor with the bass drum and then followed it up with a superb fill-in, the head-banging ball had begun. Gillan had even changed his drenched white tunic and was now clad in a black and white printed shirt. Limbs flaying in different directions, the rows of ecstatic die-hards in front screamed the chorus. Gillan and the rest of the band, as the journalistic cliche goes, were on song.

Did the crowd miss Ritchie Blackmore? I don't think so. For, there was this wizard with long blonde hair - an energy bomb, Morse sparkled and dazzled. Think of the synonyms and Morse was just that. Should I dare say that he stole hearts too... yes, I think he did. If his guitar playing was in your face aggressive, he was also gentle. The tone he used to play a couple of bars of George Harrison's Here Comes the Sun is probably testimony to the maestro's virtuosity. And, if his guitar playing spoke of his brilliance, it also sang of his humility.

After each song he threw his plectrum into the frenzied crowd, shaking in contortions of delight. Then came the delightful touch. He leaned into the crowds and let them touch his guitar even as he produced some of the most incredible riffs. That to me was the defining moment. But let's forget about Steve Morse for a while... after all he wasn't voted best guitar player for just managing to strum Rain Drops Keep Falling On My Head and Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.

Deep Purple raced through Mary Long, Ted The Mechanic, Lazy and Space Truckin', leaving the already gasping fans, panting for breath. The band, even though some of the members are not exactly the epitome of youth, seemed to radiate energy. I was sitting high up on the stand, rivetted. Also making sure I didn't move a muscle because sweat was pouring out. As a colleague put it: "We were wet, wet, wet."

But Deep Purple, though not used to these muggy conditions, were prancing up and down the stage. Roger Glover, wearing a bandana, was also doing some head-banging and Gillan, though many say has lost his power, still produced the magic he is known for. But why no Child In Time? Was Jon Lord missed? I think so... Don Airey held his fort, and fits in well, but Lord's presence on stage was dearly missed.

Ian Paice - as I had said in an article before - if he were in a country-western band, he could kick the doors of a tavern open and proclaim: "Paice is the name and pace is the game." And, then of course, with drum sticks blazing, he could conjure up a mesmerising solo, which he did in Dubai. Paice combined power with feel, he truly is one of the all-time greats.

Ah, but we return to Steve Morse. Gillan announced the new song from the new album due next year: Well Dressed Guitar. Take it away, Steve Morse... I don't want to say anything more for fear of gushing. I don't want to be labelled an overwhelmed fan or a know-it-all pundit, but I am, after all, a jolly journalist.

Then came Smoke On The Water, with all its trappings. Someone had lit a flare and Gillan seemed amused, but mercifully we didn't need to call on the services of Funky Claude. The crowd sang the chorus, another dream had come true... The band also performed Perfect Strangers and When A Blind Man Cries.

They left stage at 10.30pm, after a one-and-half-hour set only to return, paying heed to the crazed shouts and whistles. Hush and Black Night followed. The finale: you guessed it - Highway Star.

Before we knew it, the lights went low - the dream was over. Deep Purple were gone.

Meher Murshed, Senior Copy Editor, Gulf News

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