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UK reviews 2002 (rescheduled)

Ramble on

I may have said it before once or twice but this time I really mean it: that was the best concert I have ever been to ever in my life, ever. [What a week you've had now, huh? ;^) Rasmus]

And before I review the concert, I have to say that Deep Purple audiences are the most incredible in the world, ever. I've met people from so many places, people who have travelled thousands of miles just for this tour and Jon's farewell. And you look around the halls and see the range of ages - the band is in its fifth decade, and appropriately they have a five decades' spread of audience - and the cross-section of... everybody. And everybody is happy and gets along and loves the band so much and I think we should just make everybody in the world stop being mean to each other and start following Deep Purple instead and Steve Morse should be President because he smiles so much and he's the greatest guitar player in the universe, apart from the other guy who also is.

And I was in the front row and shook hands with Ian and Roger and I have a guitar pick (it's the same blue colour as his guitar and it says "Steve Morse" on one side and "Ernie Ball" on the other) which I will give to my friend who couldn't go due to a last-minute hospitalisation. And it was the best I've ever seen them play and I'm a little deaf and I'm going to try and write a proper review now, and stop starting sentences with "and".

The set list was the same as previous nights. Running time was short again: 1 hour 50, tonight. The start was precisely 8.30 again. They kind of snuck on to the stage; I was turning round to speak and didn't realise we had started until the bass drum roll of Fireball knocked me over.

The power is staggering - I mean literally, not figuratively, staggering. The sound made my whole body vibrate, and when the bass solo rolled in I could feel my hair being blown by the stream of air pouring out of the speakers.

But the sound mix was perfect, undistorted and balanced... a bit guitar heavy because of where I was standing right in front of Steve's stack, but nothing was swamped. Ian's voice is incredible... he's screaming like a 20-year-old, and while the power might be diminished the notes are all hit every time. The whole band looks happy and relaxed and...

Woman From Tokyo, and this time I paid attention to the piano. Don's piano solo is different to Jon's, and while I'm not 100% convinced I like the tone, I like what he's playing. Steve's wailey central solo is beautiful. One of their best.

All of the songs have extra bits: longer solos, jamming at the start and the end. Well, everything you would expect them to do really.

Ted The Mechanic: lyrics written while recording The House of Blue Light and then lost, Ian tells us. I didn't know that. Did you know that? I didn't... Steve gets impatient with Ian's intro and just blasts out the riff. I'm three feet from him and I can see every movement of his fingers...

Mary Long, ending with a slow bluesy passage (to replace the old psychedelic ending) with Don playing some nice organ lines.

Don stays in the spotlight to introduce Lazy with a long and winding organ solo, jazz improvisations that slowly become the Lazy theme and then get blown completely out of the way by Steve. It feels like the song goes on forever, as they won't stop long enough to let Ian sing. Steve plays a mix of old rock'n'roll riffs as backing to the vocals and harmonica sections, which somehow works but you probably need to hear it to see what I mean.

The Well Dressed Guitar, and this is just completely ridiculous. It's probably the heaviest, thrashiest tune of the night, but it's still basically baroque chamber music for guitar and organ... I wish I could think of a better way to describe what I mean. I think it will be a huge anticlimax when they finally record this, because I don't see how they can match the power that it has in concert.

Steve takes his first solo of the night... I mean, his first LONG solo, and also his first really long solo of the tour so far. Over Don's soft background synth (based around Barber's Adagio for Strings, I'm pretty sure), Steve plays one of his... what do you call the tone he uses on this type of solo? Well, anyway, you know what I mean. He plays The Star Spangled Banner. All of it, I think. And I think it's obvious why he picked that today. Best version I've ever heard. Kind of made me proud to be American... and when he looks over his shoulder to see if the band are ready, they join in for When A Blind Man Cries, their best song ever. I take back anything I may have said before about Steve overplaying the song, it's not the same song as it used to be but the current arrangement works well enough for me.

A short bit of random jamming, then Space Truckin' is immensely powerful and Ian screams his lungs out. Maybe the best you've ever heard him do this song. Steve and Roger exchange a lot of hand signals between songs, and I think it's things like "I'm going to play a 5 minute solo now". Or it could be "your turn to buy the beer tonight". Who knows?

Don's keyboard solo: This needs a whole review to itself. Starts with some classical snippets I recognise but can't name, then some local folk tunes which get a big cheer of recognition from the crowd (see, Deep Purple fans listen to folk music, too. We listen to everything - that's why we're Deep Purple fans). So let's see... The Keel Row, Bobby Shaftoe, and Blaydon Races, all music from this part of the world (as is Don, I think). A short bit of Beethoven's 9th (but not the obvious bit, the other bit... um, you know what I mean, the strings bit), then into the 5th, then his Star Wars recital, not just the main theme but excepts from the whole soundtrack, pieced together. I love the way he layers so many different orchestral sounds, it's really hard to believe just one man is playing it all.

Lights go down, and Don doesn't stick around for his ovation because when they come back Jon Lord is behind the organ. The response predictably raises the roof before he even starts playing... I can't help but be envious of the people who didn't know this was coming and thought Jon had retired for good. It's all handled so well, a kind of dignified farewell to the master. There isn't any thought of comparing Don and Jon - Don has already shown us that he's one of the best in the world and worthy to take over. But Jon is... Jon. He made the band what it is and I'll miss him. And then he plays Perfect Strangers, my favourite song. I won't describe it. You all know what makes it special...

A very brief guitar doodle from Steve, then it's into Speed King. Yes, OK, this is the best Deep Purple song ever. [Just like the rest of them, right? Rasmus] This song really has it all. Steve and Jon's duet seems a little short, but they outdo themselves as always. Roger gets a long, intricate bass solo and he's playing better on this tour that I have ever seen him play. Ian's drum solo is just... long! He just doesn't stop! And has anyone worked out what he says to his drums while he's playing them? He's always talking, but it's not the words of the song and it's not just counting. Sometimes he yells at them. I think it's "take that" - *crash*, "and that" - *wham*, "oh, you want some too?" - *thud*... I don't know. He finishes his main solo, then seems to nod off while giving us his one-handed drum roll, then instead of finishing, he just carries on beating hell out of them. It takes Jon coming back on stage and picking up the tune again to make him stop. Steve and Ian give us a vocal/guitar duet, a run through a rock'n'roll medley, and finally, finally, finish the song.

Steve's 'greatest hits' guitar solo is back in the set. We get riffs from The Who, Hendrix, Zeppelin, probably some others that I forgot, then the greatest guitar riff in the world, and I'm not even going to tell you what that is because if you don't know then you haven't been paying attention. And the crowd goes crazy...

And people say they're bored with Smoke On The Water, take it out of the set. But just listen to it. It is quite simply the finest example of how to write a rock song you will ever see. It is just... a perfect song construction. I don't believe anybody in that hall heard that riff and thought "boring, I wish they weren't playing this". And they have so much fun playing it, and I don't think they ever play it the same way twice. This version features Steve on backing vocals, Ian standing on the organ platform between Don and Jon - oh yes, this song has both of them, Jon on organ and Don on synth, and I think Don fumbles part of the song but who cares? Between the two keyboards and Steve turned up to the max, I can hardly hear the words, but that's OK, I know them anyway... Roger dances so hard he falls over and ends up sitting on a monitor, legs splayed everywhere, still playing. Steve missed the fall but comes and sits next to him. He says something I can't make out, but I think it's something like "are we sitting down for this one?" because Roger quite clearly answers "no, I fell over."

Has anyone got any idea how much I've written? I think I may fall asleep before finishing... OK, encores...

Hush for the first encore, and a much longer version than the previous night's. Jon gets a proper organ solo at the end. It's fascinating to watch Steve listen to the organ and work out what to play along. He tries a couple of things before settling on a suitable accompaniment. And I know it's made up on the spot, because I've seen the other nights and this is the first time they've played it this way. Oh yes, did I mention that these are the greatest musicians in the world?

Steve and Roger start long solos for the next encore. I mean, they're both playing different solos at the same time. Different tunes. God knows how it works. Then Ian conducts the audience in that singalong, till Steve picks up the riff and it's Black Night. Don is back on the keys for this one. Steve plays a call-and-response with the crowd and... well, that's it really.

Last but far, far from least, Highway Star. Steve plays the 'engine noise' guitar intro, and even standing three feet from him I still can't see how he does it. It's supernatural. And he seamlessly goes into the 'police siren' sound... I am in awe. It probably is magic. No, seriously, I think it is. Highway Star is the perfect, high-energy, feel-good way to end the concert. Don and Jon are both on keyboards again, Ian sings the guitar parts... how does he do it? What is he, 58 now? I can see why he goes on stage barefoot - he puts so much effort into his performance, even his feet are sweating.

Highway Star crashes to a final, dissonant ending. Steve holds his guitar over the crowd and at least six hands help him play it. Roger 'plays' his bass against the side of a cabinet. And it winds down...

The band don't seem to want to leave the stage, hands are shaken (each other's and the audience's, with Ian reaching at least five rows back to make sure everybody gets a touch), hugs are administered... and cheers and applause for as long as they want to stay around and hear it.

And that's all. The greatest rock band in the world. You all know that.

Semi-conscious now, but I wanted to make this my most detailed review ever to convince you cynics that when I say something is the greatest concert I've ever seen, I really mean it.

Until the next one. See you all there :-)

David Meadows

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