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Nostalgia is best when old rockers play 'em like you remember 'em

Newspaper review by John O'Rourke - © The Albuquerque Tribune

I know at least two rock'n'rollers who have had a great week. Me and Queen Elizabeth II. One from the 70s, one in her 70s. Her Heavymetalness was seen Monday shaking her crown to a London performance in her honor by the lord of lechery, Ozzy Osbourne. I waited, but the stately invitation the queen surely sent never arrived. So I settled for a week of music nostalgia in Albuquerque. Three bands. Seventy-four hours elapsed. Almost six hours of music.

If in 1973 you were a teenager who spent an appalling amount of part-time job earnings on vinyl products, you had them in your closet. The Eagles and the Doobie Brothers were two of the biggest bands in America, and Deep Purple was one of the biggest in the world. For all three to come our way during the same horizontal strip of the calendar was more than exciting, more than just a chance to be 18 again. It was a chance to see what has become of the icons of adolescence.

Who can still play? Who looks old? Who has fresh ideas? Who should retire?

And so, the itinerary: the Purple on Sunday at Journal Pavilion; the Eagles on Tuesday at The Pit; the Doobies on Wednesday at Santa Ana. Left out were a couple of Sandia Casino shows - Bad Company on Sunday because I couldn't clone myself, and the Beach Boys on Monday because we're not talking 60s here. For the rest - my head still rings.

Deep Purple

First, a horrifying realization: Most of the fans were there to see the Scorpions. Deep Purple, once offered a reported $10 million just to reunite, are now a quaint opening act for some Eighties neophytes.

Man, did I feel old. But we'll speak no more of this.

The Purple brought along their new keyboard player, Don Airey, who replaced the retired Jon Lord in March. Airey held his own, but he doesn't have Lord's stage presence. But he did give us something Lord wouldn't have dreamed of: Never in the Purple pages of history has a keyboard solo included a couple of bars from The Simpsons' theme song.

My main interest, though, was seeing how the Purple would function with Steve Morse on guitar in place of Ritchie Blackmore. Morse has been in the lineup for 10 years, but I'd seen no shows. Clearly Morse isn't Blackmore. For one thing, the stage didn't end up on fire. For another, with his festive blue shirt Morse looked like he was headed for a bowling tournament; Blackmore always looked like he was bound for a funeral. For a third, Morse looked like he was having fun. I liked him.

The musical feud between Blackmore and Lord was always at the heart of classic Deep Purple - just listen to the end of the live version of Smoke On The Water. That was missing with Airey and Morse. It makes you more comfortable, anyway.

But the Purple's 70-minute set was uninspired. Ian Gillen - short hair, flowered shirt, bare feet: That was Ian Gillen? - struggled with the vocals on Highway Star and Woman From Tokyo, and didn't even attempt his 1971 masterpiece, Child In Time. Maybe it's age, maybe it's vocal-cord damage, or maybe those songs just can't be captured live.

I didn't want to hear Hush, a song that pre-dated four of the five Purple members on the stage Sunday. I did want to hear Space Truckin' and was left wanting.

The verdict: Deep Purple is better off in my memory.

The Eagles

The crowd noise, deafening after almost every song, tells me I shouldn't say anything bad about this show. So does the news that it pulled in $1,011,391 at the gate, the most ever for a University Arena concert.

So I'll start off nice. Don Henley is magnificent, worth the admission by himself. His lyrics are among the best in rock'n'roll history. His ballads, particularly Wasted Time and Desperado, and his rockers, Dirty Laundry above all, were the best things about a great show. The Eagles played a three-hour, 29-song set that was safe in its selection and flawless in its execution. Their classics were played, and played well. Still...

I had the nagging feeling that I was watching the Egos as much as the Eagles. Henley and guitarist Joe Walsh dominated the show, and only Henley deserved to. Walsh even hogged the spotlight from founding Eagle Glenn Frey, who wasn't even on stage for one of the encore songs.

Bassist Tim Schmidt clearly has been made a sub-Eagle. He sang just two songs, and the band never even bothered to introduce him. Walsh, who has aged a great deal in the two years since I saw the band, performed four like-sounding songs from his solo days. Rocky Mountain Way in the encore wasn't necessary. One from Schmidt's days with Poco, and one less from Walsh, would have been great.

Instead, Schmidt is heading down the path of Don Felder, the Eagles guitarist who was plucked and deposed in 2001 after losing a power struggle with Henley and Frey. Stewart Smith - an unofficial Eagle, I suppose - is replacing Felder on this tour. On Felder's two signature songs - I Can't Tell You Why and Hotel California - Smith wasn't up to the task.

The verdict: Good to excellent show, but Schmidt should go back to Poco, where he's appreciated.

The Doobie Brothers

Patrick Simmons was a last-day entrant, but he snatched the 'Outdated Hair' award away from Schmidt. First prize: a razor. The Doobies played before fewer people than either Deep Purple or the Eagles, but believe this: They were the best musicians I saw this week. Every one of the eight Doobies got a chance, whether they were 30-year Brothers like Simmons or Tom Johnston or new ones like sax player Ed Wynne. Wynne, who at one point was playing on his back with his head in the crowd, stole the show.

A drawback: The acoustics at Santa Ana were awful, either because of the sound system or because I had a lousy seat. Johnston's and Simmons' vocals were too low in the mix, and I couldn't hear whatever they were trying to tell me between songs. A sequence of new songs in the middle of the show met with lukewarm response. But the crowd was up and into it when Black Water signaled the start of the Doobies' four monoliths, including Long Train Runnin', China Grove and Listen To The Music.

The verdict: The distinction is slim, but clear. If you like hearing the familiar songs you grew up with, the Eagles were the best. If you like musicianship, the Doobie Brothers were.

And those of us who missed sleep this wild week can hope next time we get more days between shows.

A week of rock'n'roll

Sunday, Journal Pavilion
Crowd: 11,200 paid
Set length: 70 minutes

Highway Star
Woman From Tokyo
Ted The Mechanic
The Well-Dressed Guitar
Don Airey keyboard solo
Perfect Strangers
Speed King

Steve Morse guitar riff medley/Smoke On The Water

Tuesday, The Pit
Crowd: 10,969 paid
Set length: 170 minutes

Set list
Seven Bridges Road
The Long Run
New Kid In Town
Wasted Time
Peaceful Easy Feeling
Pretty Maids All In A Row
Love Will Keep Us Alive
The Boys Of Summer
Take It To Limit
Already Gone
In The City
One Of These Nights
Witchy Woman
Lyin' Eyes
I Can't Tell You Why
Walk Away
Tequila Sunrise
Sunset Grille
You Belong To The City
Life's Been Good
Dirty Laundry
Funk 49
Heartache Tonight
Life In The Fast Lane

Hotel California
Rocky Mountain Way
All She Wants To Do Is Dance
Take It Easy

Santa Ana Star Casino
Crowd: 2,800 (approximately)
Set length: 90 minutes

Set list
Rockin' Down The Highway
Jesus Is Just Alright
Rocking Horse
South City Midnight Lady
Five Corners
Ordinary Man
People Gotta Love
Neal's Fandango
Guy Allison keyboard solo
Takin' It To The Streets
Don't Start Me Talkin'
Take Me In Your Arms
Little Bitty Pretty One
Black Water
Long Train Runnin'

China Grove
Listen To The Music

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