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Vibrant Brighton observations

I’ve hesitated over this, since I’m new to rock and my comments get rather abstract, but here’s how it was for me:

Thin Lizzy somehow managed to disappoint despite my lack of expectations. All their energy and talent seem to sit on top of the music rather than be part of it. The bassist gave a truly memorable performance.

When Styx came on my heart sank further. My Anglo-prejudiced eyes just weren’t ready for such a display of trans-Atlantic irony. Lawrence Gowan sounds to me like Geddy Lee, but must also owe a debt to Freddie Mercury.

None of this band is exactly backward in coming forward, and they take putting on a funny show seriously, but always in service of the music. The drummer, Todd Sucherman, was particularly fine – inventive and impressive but fluent, I thought.

Finally we get to Purple. Should the choice of material make that much difference? Well, it plots the course of the evening. High points for me were Lazy, Steve’s solo spot and anything figuring Don Airey.

Of course there were the regulars, such as Smoke. However much these songs are dressed up, is it fair to turn musicians into jukeboxes night after night? So many want to hear the classic sounds of their own youth, but I can imagine that the expectation could become oppressive.

Steve Morse is well served by his solo spot, even if I did struggle to follow the syntax of all its links. He smiled less than three years ago and his playing seemed intense and heartfelt: great, but I hope he’s OK.

Don Airey was barricaded behind a citadel of keyboards but looked very relaxed. His sound ranges from sympathetic support to overwhelming creative onslaught, without ever straying into gratuitous virtuosity. I would give (almost) anything to hear a less structured evening of the band, there is so much potential.

Gillan is a man to listen to right now. His voice is recognisable from early recordings, but with far more depth than before. His harp playing never gets much comment and I’m no expert, but I like it. Overall, his appeal seems scarcely decent in one entitled to a bus pass.

The essence of Purple for me is the rhythm section: the richness and complexity that never seem to get in the way; the way it drives the sound without dragging it along. Ian Paice just got on with it, as usual, and Roger Glover was genial as ever.

When Roger and Ian come to the front of the stage, you can see that they know you – not who you are or what you had for breakfast, but as one of their fans, they know you. The doting, hungry looks that come back at them must be almost devouring at times. A crowd is a beast with a thousand faces, excited by its own existence, yet each of us listens at some level alone.

For me, there is a gap somewhere between the expected phrasing and what I hear – a slight shift to emphasise a word, the bass eased a little behind the beat – that mesmerizes my ears. The floor throbs, a wave of sound washes over me, and I lose myself… until a young head-banger barges into the side of me. I spent the remaining two songs failing not to sulk and despising myself for it.

To be most alive as a passive pair of ears is humbling. It’s a bit one-sided: simply handing over £33 seems an inappropriate exchange. There is a sea of raised arms, but to me it has connotations of a political rally or an evangelical congregation. So what then, in response? I am by nature one of life’s dreamers, and all I can supply is words. Listening and watching, we are a sounding board. At the end of the evening, we leave with an answering resonance. These notes are my notes.

Emily Bell



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