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Old pals on successful hunt for second youth

Last night, for the sixth time, I saw Deep Purple in concert. They played the Bank Of America Pavilion in South Boston, with Blue Oyster Cult opening. Accompanying me on this journey to reclaim lost youth was Fred Goodman, my softball teammate (and good friend) for 20 years.

I met Fred at 6:00, giving us plenty of time to grab a bite to eat before the 7:30 show. Joining us was Mark Alamo, another good friend of Fred’s and also another Deep Purple fanatic.

I had never met Mark before, but Fred had told me a few stories. We also had some three-way e-mail conversations. There was some question concerning which one of us might be the King of DP fanatics. I love the group; always have. I can name every member of the group’s changing cast, give you dates of service, cite odd trivia, and all of the other stuff that your run-of-the-mill fanatic can do. Mark has me beat, though. He has a Deep Purple tattoo on his shoulder. It’s similar to the DP logo on the cover of “Perfect Strangers. Game, set, match.

We decided to have a smoke before going inside. While I was standing there with my buddies, I took a good look at the folks arriving. Lots of grey hair – when there was hair. However, it was an interesting mix. I’d say about 7/8 my age or older – guys (and a smattering of gals) 50+. There was definitely a healthy sprinkling of teens and twenty-somethings, though – somewhat surprising for a show featuring a group that hasn’t had a hit single in about 20 years. They DO get a fair amount of airplay on “classic rock” stations, but it was still a bit of a shock to see the younger faces – a shock and a pleasure, as nothing would please me more than to see DP get the recognition they deserve these days.

Make no mistake about it: DP are not an ancient and moldy group of burn-outs that barely crawl onto the stage with their walkers to play a greatest hits package. These guys have been churning out new albums every couple of years since their heyday and the albums are good. I have all of them and I’m in no way ashamed to play them in front of people. The musicianship is first-rate; the lyrics are mostly clever and sometimes nicely introspective. Good, solid stuff.

“Heavy metal guys are all flash and no substance.”

Whenever anyone says something as assinine as that, I gladly point them in the direction of Deep Purple. They are musicians first and showmen second. Man for man, I don’t believe there’s a more accomplished and technically-proficient rock group on the planet. Enough gushing, though. On to the show!

Blue Oyster Cult hit the stage at about 7:30. They had two of the original five members playing. Rudy Sarzo – late of Quiet Riot, Ozzy, Whitesnake, etc. – filled on bass. Opening with This Ain’t The Summer Of Love, the sound was decent – if a little muddy. Buck Dharma (who at one time was a serious contender for the crown of heavyweight guitar hero of the world, before the group started pushing out songs more pop-oriented than “heavy”) is still front and center, ripping it up on the six-string and taking vocals during half the set. When he laced into a number, the crowd was electric. When he wasn’t soloing, the energy level fell dramatically.

They did the hits – Don’t Fear The Reaper, Godzilla, Burnin’ For You – and dug into the back catalogue for stuff from the first couple of albums. A decent set, if uneven. My personal opinion is that these guys could have been the greatest heavy metal group that America ever produced – IF they had stuck with the stuff they were mining for their first three studio albums and not gone for the gold on the Top 40 charts. When they hit the charts, they lost their edge and half their previous audience. Then, when they couldn’t chart anymore, the new audience said goodbye and they were left as… well, what they are now, which is to say a band with semi-legendary status, but strictly an opening act.

(To elaborate: I have their first five albums. I bought them upon initial release, way back when pteradons filled the skies. The first three are as hot as anything you’ll ever find in the metal genre. Vicious head-banging molten sludge with the added bonus of really intelligent lyrics; no songs about cruising and getting laid – not that there’s anything wrong with that. The fourth album was a live album, decent but pretty much a re-hash of the previous three. The fifth album contained “Reaper.” It was a huge hit, but I found the album rather mundane overall. I never bought another.)

Ian Paice (THE best drummer alive, and – for my money – better than Bonham or Moon or any of the legendary dead guys) opened the proceedings with the blistering intro to “Pictures Of Home.” The sound was crisp and LOUD. Deep Purple at one time held the Guinness Book Of Records spot as “World’s Loudest Rock Band”, clocking in at somewhere around 120 decibels. The threshold of pain is generally given as 130 dB. They weren’t quite that loud tonight, but they had upped the ante since the last time I heard them perform, that’s for sure. The mix was good and clear, though, so enjoyable.

I won’t rehash the entire set list here, but I’ll tell you they did trot out all of the hits – Smoke On The Water, of course, as well as Woman From Tokyo, Perfect Strangers, Knocking At Your Back Door, Hush and – my personal favorite – Highway Star.

(Funny story. Fred and I knew each other for a couple of months, working at the same company, but we really bonded as friends during a drunken Christmas party when we each found out that the other one was a loon for Deep Purple. We sang Highway Star a cappella, at the top of our lungs, near the end of the evening. We didn’t make any other friends that night. I can’t imagine why not…)

Steve Morse was particularly brilliant. One of the most amazingly quick-fingered guitar slingers on the planet, he’s had the unenviable job of filling Ritchie Blackmore’s shoes, ever since ol’ sourpuss called it quits and started making albums full of medieval music some 15 years ago. Morse was fluid, achingly beautiful on the instrumental Contact Lost, and when the time came to replicate Blackmore’s stuff, he did it superbly while still getting his own licks in. He adds a bit of picking (Fourths? I’m not sure…) to the end of the solo on “Smoke” that just turns your head completely around and makes you realize – no offense to the very tasty Mr. Blackmore – that if guitars were pistols, and he and Ritchie had a duel, they’d be mopping up Blackmore’s blood from the stage.

Roger Glover is an old warrior on bass. He’s been a hippie from the start and his appearance hasn’t changed much, other than his beard going grey. He looks like he’s having an absolute ball on stage and his interplay with Morse on the long intro to “Star” is a definite highlight of the show. He breaks out the Rickenbacker for “Smoke” and the sound is wonderful.

As mentioned previously, I think Ian Paice is the best drummer alive. He took a solo during Hush wherein he demonstrated his truly amazing ability to do rolls with ONE HAND. You have to pay attention to the drummer throughout the song to really appreciate Paice. His fills are marvels of syncopation and I can’t think of anyone who even comes close to his work on the hi-hat. Truly a gem and definitely one of the most underrated musicians in history. You walk up to the average dumbo on the street and ask them to name a drummer, most times Paice’s name will not even be in the memory banks. To the true afficionado, though, he is sole and incomparable.

Don Airey is doing an admirable job filling Jon Lord’s spot at the keys. Don plays Jon’s solo note-for-note during “Star”, which is a nice bit of tribute. It also shows his tremendous ability as a musician. He creates his own solos elsewhere, but he’s not just some noodler unable to play anything but his own. He’s a true pro.

Finally, Big Ian (Ian Gillan) looked fit and he was in quite good voice last night. In a couple of spots, he hit highs I didn’t think he was still capable of hitting. Once or twice, he struggled just a bit. His stage presence is so charming, though, and the general approach so intense, you find yourself willing to overlook the slight miss. Also, Morse helps by hitting a high note here and there to fill the gap.

(Hey, the man is 62. There isn’t another rock singer of comparable age doing anything even remotely as straining – and certainly not as successfully – as Gillan. He gets cut all the slack he wants.)

Bottom line for Deep Purple: Fine performance by a group of pros who still care.

(I was soaked through with sweat after the show. It was as though I had fought a 15-round heavyweight fight against a guy 7 foot 6. This is because I was on my feet the entire time, bouncing and weaving, and thrusting my fists above my head. It was exhilarating and I was 17 again, at least for one night, which definitely makes the whole experience worth the price of admission.)


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