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Wembley Arena, London + NEC, Birmingham, England
June 21-22, 2003

By Doug Anderson

The band may as well be billed 'Ian Paice's Deep Purple' now as precious little of the band we were attracted to years ago remains.

After the cut-down September (as compared to Feb) 2002 set I decided just to buy tickets for the London and Birmingham shows this time. Other than not wanting to drive all the way to and from Glasgow during the week the difference in keyboard sound between Don and Jon was noticeable last year when they alternated tracks and the former seemed to lack something. Not being a musician, or knowing a lot about Hammond Organ technique, I can't narrow down what is different but Don seems to lack the depth or breadth of tone during the intros to Lazy and Perfect Strangers in particular. The notes are there but they just don't sound 'fat' enough. In London, other than during song intros, I can't say I was drawn to the keyboards at all other than when Morse or Gillan stepped up to join Don on his podium.

Anyway, now the keyboard player has changed that now means both the original soloists and their respective styles now no longer are part of the Deep Purple sound. Blackmore left and Morse was a great replacement though these days he sometimes seems to change the style of tracks rather more than maybe he should (I'm thinking When A Blindman Cries from last year in particular here). More importantly the band were smiling and rocking live almost every night - something that wasn't guaranteed between 85 and 93. If I had to pick my favourite tour it would have to be 1996 where everybody, band and audience (OK, maybe not the Blackmore fans), were smiling and enjoying the new vibe. Even more importantly something like 2/3 of the new album was played live to amplify the change of staff and style. That hadn't happened since the 1970's. For me it worked though I'm sure many didn't like the change.

Roll on to 2003 and another change of staff. Don has been around a long time in many bands and has good connections with the Purple family so with a new album to promote I hoped that something similar to 1996 would happen, another rebirth with new songs taking the place of back catalogue. Unfortunately out of a 90 minute set (probably the shortest Deep Purple set I've seen) there were just three new songs; one an instrumental (that was played last year anyway and isn't on the album), one that was played last year but has changed title and lyrics and one that is completely new and due to be the single.

The Darkness (opening band on the bill that also featured Lynyrd Skynyrd) are sitting at number 11 in the charts with their latest (third) single but I can't imagine Haunted making any such impression unless everyone that sees the shows rushes out to buy a copy during the week of release. That is unlikely as surprisingly there were no flyers for either the album of single. In fact there were no flyers even for old material like the box set etc which feature in a full page advert in Classic Rock magazine this month. Some of Haunted's lyrics catch the attention but overall it was just a slow ballad that seemed out of place and lame compared to something like When A Blind Man Cries say. (The Darkness btw are pretty basic r'n'r in the AC/DC or Zodiac Mindwarp area, which is OK but hardly new, and the vocalist has a voice you will either love or hate when he goes falsetto. His normal vocals are pretty run-of-the-mill.)

So, other than I'm Alone and Haunted the set hasn't changed a whole lot since the latter half of last year - 10 of the 14 over the last two evenings songs played were in the set in September, Pictures of Home being the only other different song). With just a 90-minute set I think some of the solos, Don's Star Wars one for a start, could have been dumped to provide another song, preferably one from the reunion years. Other than the tracks from the new album Perfect Strangers is all that represents the reunion and that was written about the MkII getting back together so is hardly a fitting song to represent the last 18 years considering all that has happened since then. It is however probably the best known tune from the reformation and that I guess makes it a must for the live show. It is just a shame that what used to be a laser extravaganza is now limited to some very faint bluish-green varilights swirling around the stage area. Things were so different 18 years ago at Knebworth…

Well, I'm sure there is a lot more to say but I'll keep that for a full review sometime. I just wonder how alone I am in thinking this? Certainly I spotted far fewer familiar faces at the two shows than normal so I wonder if the attraction is fading for more than myself. I await the album with interest but at the moment can't get too excited about any tour supporting it as by the time it swings into the UK (if it does) will most of the new tracks have been dropped as they were in 1998?

I think the mate who took my spare ticket summed the Purple set up pretty well, "good but a bit flat!" By comparison he loved Lynyrd Skynyrd and knew equally little of either bands output. I have to say I agree with him even if LS followed a similar pattern to Purple, 3 from the new album and everything else oldies from the 70's heyday.

View Doug's photos: London - Birmingham

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