The view from J23
I've just had the unique (for me) experience of watching the same show on successive nights from the same seat in the stalls at Hammersmith. Pure coincidence, of course, because they were booked months apart, but it helped me see the similarities and differences between the two shows.
Support both nights was The Planets, who were on the February tour which was cut short. Having seen them back then, I wasn't in any rush to see them again - I find them and their music too manufactured and artificial. Sadly, Friday's show started late, so they were still on stage when I arrived - still wearing the same outfits and fake smiles that they had in February. I gave them a miss on Saturday. Can anyone confirm if they have a change of clothes? [Seeing them the first night was enough, thank you very much! Rasmus]
Deep Purple's setlist both nights was:
About 1 hour and 40 minutes from start to finish.
No one could ever accuse Purple of playing lounge musak, but this is a particularly high-energy setlist, with only WABMC and the shortish solo spots providing a chance to catch your breath. The absence of, say, Fools or Watching The Sky means that some subtlety and sensitivity has been sacrificed for in-yer-face rock'n'roll.
The crowd loved it - and I'm not complaining, but I'd love to hear some new material, or even more from Purpendicular and Abandon. Ian's introduction to Well Dressed Guitar, saying that they'd be going into the studio in October, received a cheer. But he's been saying something like that for at least three years...
The crowds both nights were excellent - Friday's crowd seemed to be slightly younger on average than Saturday's. (Not just because we were all a day older on Saturday!) Saturday's was the rescheduled cancelled sold-out show from February - Friday's was an additional date added during the summer. Does this mean that Deep Purple have somehow attracted a new, younger audience during this year?
Climate notes: I've never felt the good old Hammersmith Odeon - as Ian made a point of calling it - as hot as it was on Friday night. Must have been all those young things leaping about. Saturday was significantly cooler. Needless to say, the band put an incredible amount of energy into the show. I was knackered just by watching them. How they do it, I can only surmise.
I'm not going to go through the music in detail. You've heard it all before - brilliant, fantastic, amazing, incredible. Let's just say that all these things are true, but understate the truth by a long way.
You all know that Jon takes part in the show. I won't give away the exact nature of his participation, but I'll just say that his own physical appearance together with the way in which he makes his entrance wouldn't disgrace any movie about hell-fire preachers or ancient gods. I was half-expecting him to hurl bolts of lightning down at us from his pulpit.
Anyway, Don and Jon shared keyboard duties, with Bruce Payne and Drew Thompson making sure that they have good photographic and video records of this unique partnership.
It was the first time that I'd seen Don with the band, and he fits in perfectly, though with a subtly different style and noticeably different tones from Jon. Though I'm sure I heard Don playing that keyboards solo over 20 years ago with Rainbow!
Steve seems to dominate more and more - both in terms of sound (for example, completely blowing away Don at the start of Lazy), and by taking up position more often at stage centre. Mind you, over the last few weeks I'd been re-viewing some of the live videos from recent years, and it's noticeable how much Steve has been relied upon ever since he joined. No one should begrudge him centre stage.
On Saturday, the band was joined on stage for Smoke On The Water by "a few friends we met down the pub" - Janick Gers and (I'm told) the singer and drummer from Iron Maiden. (Editor - I'm not a Maiden fan - so please correct / delete / add names / call me an idiot - as you see fit.) [Would I ever call you anything but scaringly accurate in your observations? Rasmus] Steve's "guitar parade" intro has been dropped, so SOTW started with a few minutes of interplay between Janick and Steve. Ian shared the vocals with whatsisname, and the other guy shook a tambourine around before grabbing Paicey's spare sticks and attacking one of his drums. Together with two keyboard players, the stage was becoming a little crowded.
On both nights, Big Ian was lucky enough to have a young lady (a different one each night) clamber onto the stage and launch herself at him for a kiss and a cuddle. Does he plant them in the audience?
So on Saturday, this happened during SOTW. However, instead of going straight off or being led off, the lucky lady was taken round the back of the congas - no, that's not the same as being taken under the piano - and press-ganged into providing some extra percussion. The look on her face was priceless, as it dawned on her what she had done, and that she was up there on stage for the next few minutes while all sorts of mayhem went on all around her. For those of you who like a happy ending, she was returned intact to the crowd afterwards.
Talking of endings, after Highway Star had wound down, Jon spent much longer than usual saying farewell, and pressing the flesh at the front of the stage. I suddenly realised that this was possibly the last time that he'd play in this legendary venue - possibly the last time that he'd play in front of a London audience. Possibly the last time I'd ever see him. "No - I'm OK - it's just something in my eye..."
So that seems to be a good place to stop. A couple of great nights. A chapter of the band's history closing - another one opening. Who knows what will happen next? These two nights have gone a long way in persuading me that the band is indeed bigger than any single individual - something I wasn't at all sure about. Let's hope that they do make it into the studio in October, and that next year we'll do it all over again with some new songs and fresh approach. I'll be there - block 24, row J, seat 23.
Unauthorized copying, while sometimes necessary, is never as good as
the real thing (with apologies to Ani)
(c) 2005, The Highway Star