Roger is Da Man!
We (my son Ian and I) drove the 200+ miles into Nebraska Saturday morning, got to Omaha, and after getting lost several times, discovered the hotel where the band was staying was only two blocks from the Omaha Civic Arena. We met up with Roger Glover for lunch and had an hour and 15 minutes of great conversation.
We left Roger so he could take care of business and get settled into the hotel. We went down the street to the venue, went inside and wandered around for a half hour or so, watching the crews set up the gear. One of the venue staff told us that although the place held 11,000+ people, they had only sold 1900 tickets as of that afternoon. He said they blamed the low sales on the fact that the World Series of College Baseball was taking place in Omaha this weekend. That certainly explained the crowds of people in the hotel and the fact that we couldn't find a vacancy in the entire area. By showtime the arena looked about 1/3 to half full, so they obviously sold more tickets as the afternoon progressed.
We went in as the opening band came on, watched them do their three songs set (why bother for 15 minutes?), then waited for Nugent. Ted came on right on time, played 35 minutes and was off. Now you have to understand Nugent is an institution in the Midwest. I was really concerned how people would react to his being relegated to opening the show. Although the crowd was obviously upset that he was only on for a few minutes, Ted paved the way by repeatedly telling the crowd to be prepared for the bands to follow. It was really nice to see him make sure Purple didn't get any grief from the obvious Nugent fanatics in the crowd. He did his standards greatest hits set, but was entertaining nonetheless. The people down front where we were acted pissed that Nugent didn't do an encore, so I thought there might be trouble. I didn't need to worry however. From the opening chords of "Woman From Tokyo", Deep Purple owned the place.
With his own brand of charisma and a cocky sort of grace, Ian Gillan assumed the role of King of Omaha for the next 75 minutes. The band was working like a well oiled machine behind him, giving him the solid platform needed to work his magic on the audience. "Woman From Tokyo" was pure magic, the effect on the crowd was amazing. It worked much better as an opening number than the various boots I have indicated. Since it's a staple on the "classic rock" radio stations, it immediately gave everyone something to grab on to, even the younger audience members. With barely a pause, they launched into "Ted" and I was amazed at how many people recognized it. The entire floor was grooving to it from the first note. I stood in a sea of ecstatic faces, basking in the glow from the world's greatest rock band. These guys have been our secret for way too long, and judging by the response in Omaha, our secret is gonna get out soon.
If "Ted" had them grooving, when they launched into "Lazy" the place exploded. The show is perfectly paced, and all my reservations about the setlist evaporated in an ocean of clapping hands and smiling faces. Ian said the next song would be from "Fireball", which got a response from the older crowd members. I was expecting "Fools", so when they tore into "No One Came", I was stunned. The crowd responded warmly to it, and despite a guy behind me telling his girlfriend that "This is a new one", seemed to go over very well. No strobe lights, which made it a little less fun then when I saw them in Chicago in '97, but it was played flawlessly. (Roger told me the strobes were going to be used later in the tour.)
I was even more surprised when they followed it with another "Fireball" track, "Fools". The crowd was noisy during the quiet intro, but when that sledgehammer riff kicked in, they were duly impressed. A great performance. Ian then did his story teller bit, explaining the roots of Cisco Kid, which received a great response. Once they launched into "Hey Cisco", the whole place was rocking along quite nicely. Very nicely done and a welcome return to the setlist.
Ian then asked for the house lights and asked who had the Tommy Bolin shirt on. He'd seen them in the front row earlier in the show. Some guy yelled and held up his shirt. Ian then dedicated the next song to the memory of "a lovely human being and a great guy, Mr. Tommy Bolin. It's been 25 years since his unfortunate death, and this next one is for him." "When A Blind Man Cries" has lost none of it's emotional impact, and I still get misty-eyed and goosebumps down my spine whenever they do it. The first solo is now played by Jon, which was a nice touch. Steve still does the second one though, and makes his guitar cry buckets of tears. A beautiful and moving moment, simply magnificent.
When Jon started the next song, he started dabbling with the intro to "Knocking At Your Back Door". The crowd recognized it and started to cheer, but when he slipped effortlessly into the "Perfect Strangers" intro, the cheer turned into a roar of approval. The feeling of electricity in the air was magical, and the use of the stage lights to replicate the old lasers on the chorus was visually stunning. Steve launched into his "guitar-radio" medley and tonight we were given "Whole Lotta Love", "You Really Got Me", "Free Ride", "La Grange", "Stairway To Heaven", and "Back In Black". When he played the riff to "Smoke On The Water", an already enthusiastic crowd went insane. Cheering, screaming out the lyrics and dancing madly in the aisles, the effect this song still has on people is amazing. When they left the stage there was no doubt they'd be back. The crowd would have destroyed the place if they hadn't.
With a roar of approval from the crowd, they re-appeared and launched into "Hush". If the previous numbers hadn't set the crowd on fire, this one did. With an audience of several thousand people singing the "na na-na na" part along with Gillan, I had goosebumps running down my spine again. (As I said earlier, I think our little secret about the world's greatest band is about to get out. In a big way.) The band didn't even stop after "Hush", they kept right on going into "Highway Star". Paced more like the "Machine Head" version than the frantic live versions of old, this song had people literally moshing on the floor. Like Denver in 1998, even the youngest kids in the audience knew all the words and were totally into it. Finally, it was over.
Purple had Omaha eating out of it's hand, and this with a support act slot. God help us all when they unleash a full 2+ hour, headling set upon the US next year.
We met Roger backstage afterwards and he was very happy about not only this show, but the response everywhere so far. We chatted for about an hour, watched Skynyrd for a bit, then called it an evening. (Skynyrd are VERY good, worth the trouble to see if they're like this every night. Much more animated than I expected and extremely entertaining. They're also doing a greatest hits set, which is going over well with the crowds.)
At the hotel I had told Ian Paice that tonight's show was going to be my son's first Purple show. He said, "Then we'd better make it a good then, eh?" They did indeed. Thanks guys, and thanks Roger, for an amazing night.