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Antipodes in Texas

A couple of warnings to others seeing this tour; Firstly, the show starts EARLY in the evening. If your tickets say 6:30 that's when Dio starts singing. Not when the gates open. Go early!!! Secondly, they are doing FAST set turns. Only 30 minutes between acts. So don't dwaddle between sets.

June 7 and 8, 2002 marked my 7th and 8th Deep Purple concerts. I didn't think I'd have much new to say in a review, but to butcher Charles Dickens, it was the worst of shows followed by the best of shows. OK, that's a slight exaggeration. It was my first disappointing Deep Purple show followed by one whose performance was as good as any of the other Purple shows I've seen (which is to say fantastic and beyond belief - I wouldn't have wanted to be the Scorpions having to follow DP in Houston). The San Antonio show was the first time I'd seen them play when I simply didn't feel the force of their personalities just radiating from the stage. In Houston, on the other hand they were as good as I've ever seen them. I attribute the difference to two things: The nature of the crowd in San Antonio Friday night and completely rearranging the set list for the Saturday show in Houston. (See below for Dio and Scorpions set lists)

Friday, June 7
Highway Star
Ted The Mechanic
Woman From Tokyo
Well Dressed Guitar
keyboard solo
Perfect Strangers
Speed King
Riff Raff (La Grange, Cliffs Of Dover, Honky Tonk Women, Voodoo Child, Sweet Child O' Mine, Sunshine Of Your Love, Funk #9, Stairway To Heaven, Sweet Home Alabama, Day Tripper)
Smoke On The Water

Saturday, June 8
Woman From Tokyo
Ted The Mechanic
Well Dressed Guitar
Mary Long (with an all Morse solo)
Black Night
keyboard solo
Perfect Strangers
Speed King (with long bass solo and drum solo)
Riff Raff (Led Zepelin Riff, Mississippi Queen, La Grange, The Who “Meet the New Boss”, Voodoo Child, Strawberry Fields, Free Ride, Another Led Zepelin Riff)
Smoke On The Water
Highway Star

The set list for San Antonio pretty much matched the review posted for the first night of the tour (without Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming). Even before the San Antonio show I had some misgivings about the set list. They had gone back to the Blackmore era format opening with Hightway Star and closing with Smoke On The Water. My immediate reaction was that HS made a much better set closer, winding up the band and audience to a an incredible fever pitch and then BAM... it's over.

What went wrong in Selma, San Antonio?
So what went wrong Friday? As you might have gathered from the warning at the top of this review, we were under the impression that the gates opened at 6:30. Apparently many others were as well. It was nearly the end of Dio's set before the stadium began to look full. My wife and I drove up to San Antonio from Houston on Friday, ate lunch at the river walk, went shopping and had a leisurely dinner before pulling up at 6:50. As soon as we stepped out of the car I heard RJD's very distinctive voice in the distance and I realized what had happened. Walking from the car I got to hear (sort of) Stand Up and Shout and Rock and Roll. Being late didn't get me started in a good mood.

We rushed up to our seats a few feet from the stage on the left side right in front of the speaker columns (again!). We soon realized we were sitting next to a couple of women who had to be strippers. One in particular ran to the stage barrier every chance she got to vamp for the band and show off some very practiced dance moves. Members of Dio and the Scorpions kept getting drawn over to her. It was pretty distracting. In the middle of the Dio set a roadie brought her a back stage pass. During the Scorpions set one of the Dio band members (it wasn't Ronnie but I'm not saying who) came out to chat with her for a few minutes. Before she finally vanished she'd managed to entice a drum stick away from Klauss, the Scorpions lead singer, who of course had to lick it before handing it to her. Not content with one she rushed back to the stage to beg for another one when he returned with another handful a few minutes later. Pretty sad actually.

As we looked around there seemed to be a pretty high metal head quotient in the audience. You know - the people you look at and ask “Where do they go in between concerts?” There also seemed to be a big predisposition for the Scorpions. Many left before Purple even came on to close out the evening leaving some big wholes in the front part of the stadium. My wife also heard a lot of women in the bathroom saying “I'm just here for the Scorpions, etc.”

Although Deep Purple went on to play a technically good set after the Scorpions, my wife commented afterwards that it had lacked the energy, the “connection to the audience” that she'd seen in Houston last year. I couldn't bring myself to say it until I was blown away by DP the following night but she was right. The rapport with the audience just seemed off and the set list didn't help. Half of the audience hadn't even returned to their seats and missed the opening song, Highway Star. The set list also felt short and little different from last year. I'd take that DP show over any other band on any other day, but I did walk away feeling a bit ... dissappointed... compared to the my first six DP shows. Some elusive, magic element just seemed to be missing. The set closer, Smoke also seemed a bit tepid and lacked the BANG it usually delivers.

What went right in Woodlands, Houston?
Could all of this have been in my head? Getting there late certainly hadn't put me in a good mood but what I saw Saturday makes me think Purple weren't happy with things either. From the first moments of the show on Saturday it was evident that they had retooled and COME TO PLAY. Also helping were a much more normal looking crowd who was much more open to Purple. Even if they'd come for the Scorpions, Purple had a chance to win them over - and they did. Big Time.

Following Dio's excellent set and the stage switch Ian Paice walked onto the stage and sat at the drum kit to start Purple's set (Scorpions were closing the show that night). At the first drum hit I thought “here we go again with Highway Star” but then... No.. It was Woman From Tokyo! (I have yet to see this song fail to get the crowd dancing). I immediately guessed that Highway Star had been returned to the set closing position. As it turned out I was right but there were more surprises in store. Instead of Fools (brilliant song but tends to lose non die hards in the quiet bits) we got Mary Long (a more newbie accessible song from the obscure Purple songs list.) At this point the whole vibe was so completely different - tight band - wild audience - that I was already in seventh heaven (sorry).

On a side note The Well Dressed Guitar was amazing both nights. If you've heard the recordings from the The Soundboard Series CD pack, it's very much the same - equally amazing, with Don Airey doing the orchestral bits on a synthesizer. He also does a mean impression of an entire orchestra performing the theme to Star Wars during his keyboard solo. Both nights Ian Gillan claimed they were considering it for inclusion on their next album.

After Mary Long another great surprise - the return of Black Night! I had horribly missed Black Night and Speed King last year. I can get tired of Smoke On The Water, but these two improv-jam songs are litterally new each time and I never get tired of them.

Another change from the night before occurred in Speed King. Roger Glover played a LONG, very impressive bass solo and then... Ian Paice took an amazing drum solo... only a few minutes long but both musically and technically amazing. He's one of the few drummers I've seen who can play a really enertaining drum solo. The Scorpions drummer on the other hand was a very entertaining character and did a very nice salute to America during his solo. He stopped drumming, held up a beer, pointed to an American flag on his shirt, shouted “To America!” downed it one gulp and then smashed the bottle on his head. Beyond that his solo was very long and boring. (I chose that moment to skip out early in Houston and beat the traffic.) [And miss the bottle trick?!?! ;^) Rasmus]

Dio's drummer, who I missed the first night, gave a surprisingly good drum solo. I actually enjoyed it. Ian Paice however must have decided it was time to show everyone what a drum solo should and could be. Watching him play so effortlessly was just a joy. I got to talk to him backstage about five years ago in New Orlenas and shared his thoughts on the proper place of drum solos these days, and felt shorter was better. His solo Saturday wasn't long but it was a jewel.

Instead of Speed King closing the set the band performed a fake first encore. Gillan said “bye” but left Morse and company on stage launching into the Riff Raff intro to Smoke. As always Morse was amazing. I was also happy that they cut down the number of extended Riffs from the night before. Friday's Riff Raff in San Antonio could have been an entire song. Then BAM, into Smoke. It was completely different from the underwhelming feel the night before. It was tight, the audience went nuts and the song ended on a crisp solid note. The audience was still going nuts and after a brief moment offstage the band stormed back blazing through Hush and then tearing into a full scale assualt with a performance of Highway Star that just flat left the audience totally wrung out.

This was the band I'd always seen before. Smiling. On top of their game with the audience in the palm of their hand. I just kept thinking. “I wouldn't want to be the Scorpions tonight. Ouch! How do you follow that?” When the Scorpions did arrive they played the same set as the night before (except for replacing Winds Of Change with another tune I didn't recognize). They're a great band. I love their music but... no comparison. I did notice they came out playing much louder the second night. I had visions of the Scorpions manager rushing back to the dressing room going, “Guys! DP have totally retooled and they're laying Waste to Houston out there! You're about to get blown away. What are you going to do?” To which I imagined them replying. “Umm... Ve vill turn up ze amps!” (Sorry I don't mean to be mean to the Scorpions - this was the best concert bill I've ever seen. Three great bands and my three favourite singers. Wonderful evenings overall.)

Overall, another thrilling DP concert experience. Don played brilliantly and seemed to fit in well. I'll miss Jon but can't think of a better person to take over for him. If you don't have tickets for one of these shows yet go buy them now.

I last saw DIO in 1985 on the Sacred Heart tour with Vivian Campbell on guitar. When Campbell left I sort of quit keeping up with new Dio albums. I've always loved Dio's stuff from Rainbow through Sabbath and the solo stuff, but after Campbell I got a bit turned off (especially the bizarre Strange Highways era stuff.) It wasn't until I heard the live version of Fever Dreams with Dio and Deep Purple on the Soundboard CD pack that I ran out and bought the Magica album. This album just blew me away. About a week before the show I ran across Dio's new album Killing The Dragon and picked it up. Also excellent. Dio's back doing real Dio music instead of trying to sound like modern metal bands.

Dio still sings like magic and I was very impressed with Doug Aldrich on guitar. He did a spot on Vivan Campbell impression, both tone wise and hitting solos note for note. At other times he got an almost Yngwie Malmsteen tone out of his Stratocaster. His original work was also outstanding. I definitely look forward to hearing more from this guy.

Dio setlist:
Killing The Dragon
Egypt (The Chains Are On)
Children Of The Sea
drum solo
Stand Up And Shout
Rock And Roll (written in response to music censorship after 9/11)
Man On The Silver Mountain
guitar solo
Long Live Rock'n'Roll
Holy Diver
Heaven And Hell
Rainbow In The Dark

Had seen them once before in 1996. I think I liked the setlist of this show better. Did a great job. Klaus does a great impression of a one legged, hopping, tougue wagging airplane (you have to see to understand) when he's not singing. Perhaps he should follow Ian's lead and get some congas.

Coming Home (short)
Bad Boys Running Wild
The Zoo
We Burn The Sky
Tease Me, Please Me
Heavy Instrumental (Klauss plays rhythm guitar)
Winds Of Change (different song Saturday)
No One Like You
guitar solo
Big City Nights
drum solo
Still Loving You
Rock You Like A Hurricane

See you next tour.

Scott Holman

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