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Ed Nimmervoll reviews the Melbourne concert

It happened! After a long hard dry spell in which the without-it promotors used as little money or imagination in bringing out overseas acts, we saw a whirlwind tour by three top British bands. It was a chance for a really enjoyable night of music. And it was a chance to be up with "what's happening" overseas. A chance, even, to see how good our own groups have become in comparison.

I got to the festival hall in Melbourne just before the scheduled starting time. There was the expected murmur of anticipation in the large audience but I really would not have guessed that Pirana had already made their appearance. By reports they played a fine set that included the inevitable version of Santana's "Soul Sacrifice". In recent months there's been a lot of talk about Pirana. I've seen them work. I watched them help on Greg Quill's album. And I've heard their own album and single. I've come to the conclusion that it would be hard to collect a better bunch of musicians. They could match the very best from anywhere. But they seem to have spend some time listening to the work of overseas groups and instead of developing something of their own are currently very imitative. Which is sad, considering the high standard of their musicianship.
And then, on came Free, England's new superband.
It took the crowd nearly half the Free performance to warm up to what they were doing. Obviously very few had witnessed Pirana's set. Free were surprisingly soft, so soft that they were a little defeated by the terrible acoustics of Festival Hall. The first thing that stuck you about them was their physical presence. More than just a worked-on stage act. More a very physical part of their music, something Australian groups have never developed from playing night on night on those cramped stages at the various discos and dances.

Paul Rodgers, their slim, agile lead singer is naturally the focal point of their presence as he out-Jaggers Jagger. While the band pounds out the rhythms of their own special brand of original blues songs, Paul becomes the physical expression of the music itself. He's part of it On the tips of an outstretched hand he hands you a note. His stomping feet are the beat. Sometimes he makes little-runs towards the front of the stage, pushing another piece of music towards you. He's a puppet of the instruments, feeding, thrusting or just handling every part out to you. His mike stand is the weapon with which he holds you at bay. He uses and abuses it. During the performance a number of fast microphone changes were necessary. At the close he threw his handmike at a speaker box.
He's an incredible performer, obviously inspirational for the rest of the band who quite naturally copy small parts of his performance as they play. They stomp like him. The bass player did little runs to and from the amps. All this came to amazing physical climaxes during the odd Ian Gillan instrumental break, where Paul might be on his bended knee with the mike stand over the other or high above his head or he might be strutting and prancing with the two guitarists moving to lesser extends with him.
That's the visual part of Free, the packaging. Contained therein is an interesting music style. Unfortunately a lot of the qualities of Paul's voice were lost, possibly because of the acoustics. The interest of free is in their economy. Theirs is not a music built from a layer of bass over drums over vocals over guitar. The seperate parts come in and out, whereever and whenever they're required. At one point I noticed just drums and vocals. This means that the seperate parts of Free have much more impact when they do come in. The don't have to solo for you to notice the seperate parts. But because they restrict themselves to the structures of their original songs, it isn't as easy to recognise their musical abilities. The drummer did a job instead of competing for a rating as a drummer.
By the time they got to "All Right Now" the audience was well with Free. As an encore they came back with the one non-original "The Hunter" from their first album.

Manfred Mann came on after a short delay. Obviously both Free and Manfred Mann had taken the trouble to tune their instruments beforehand. Apparently in England and America there is very little of the on-stage tuning up that we suffer continually here. Of course, it's understandable in the case where a band is moving from spot to spot on the single night.
I think Manfred Mann took us a little by surprise. It was hard to know how they were going to be. Naturally they weren't the same group as had been all those years ago, but nor were they the group that had put out the two Chapter III albums. The surprise was how musically exciting they turned to be.
It all resolves around Manfred Mann's keyboard antics. As well as the organ he used a couple of 'boxes of tricks' that send electronic sounds booming and whizzing acreoss the hall. You half expected to see the sounds if you'd happended to look up. Only at one stage did Manfred play anything that sounded like ordinary organ. The rest of the time it was a thick, powerfil drone that created an incredibly textured, alive feeling.
It takes an effort not to keep your eyes on Manfred himself all the time, as his sneakered feet march frantically with the music behind the organ, his torso swaying back and forth quickly hinged at the hips. He looks like an academic. Like a beatnik, who never grew his hair with all the rest of us.
It was an amazingly complex music, full of tempo changes, and style changes. In a split second Mick Rogers would change from a lead guitar role just playing rhythm. The bass guitarist played a solo that sounded like a lead solo. I had to check that Mick Roger's hands were off his guitar. Usually bass sollos are a succession of bubbling, booming bass runs.
It was interesting how this and the incentive drum solo were made to be part of a musical structure, to be a meaningful piece of what had happened before the solo and also meaningful to what was to follow. Usually drum solos just become endurance tests for the drummer and the audience. Deep Purple's was like that, though technically it was indisputably a fine solo. All six minutes of it.

Deep Purple were very very disappointing. Individually they were the best musicians we saw that night, but it very rarely came to anything. Noise, distortions, aggressiveness in music is only relevant if it means something within a piece of music. I got bored with the Ian Gillan persistent fierce screeching noises created by the guitarist as he pawned and clawed and ripped at his guitar. Once he scraped the strings against the top edge of the amp. All of it is good to watch IF it means something in the music. It rarely did. But then he would play some nicely controlled runs that proved he was capable of anything when it came to that guitar. Towards the end of the night he played a short break in which the guitar sounded like a violin. I watched to see what he was doing to hold the notes like that but he didn't seem to be doing anything special with the hands on the guitar. That's got me intrigued.
In moments through the several Deep Purple albums organist Jon Lord has shown to be a creative, imaginative composer, arranger and musician. But that night you could hardly hear him (they did have equipment problems) and again it wasn't until towards the end of the group's two hour performance that he did anything of real importance.

I think possibly we caught Deep Purple on a bad night. They were by accounts quite different on the bonus Sunday Night session.

Article © GO-SET 1971. // supplied by Colin Hadden.
HTML work by Andreas Thul. // © The Highway Star 1998.
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