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Purple reunite with the French

Seeing Purple in 2007, after losing track for almost 15 years, is a unique experience.

Last time I saw them was February 1991 — was that Deep Purple? — all I can recall was the opening number, Burn — the rest was the reason I decided to quit being a fan, except for a slight moment of weakness (I didn’t completely regret), buying The Battle rages on …

But that was it. I still listened to the old tunes, but completely ignored recent band history. And so I had to give myself a big hard kick to go to their Bordeaux show in March, although I now live in this place, and we don’t see many rock’n’roll bands down here.

Ah yes, and I also got Rapture, which sounded a bit lame, but not bad at all when I first listened to it. So I was really stun by what I saw last Spring. To tell the truth, and despite the fact I’m writing on a site where everybody loves DP, have 80% of the bootlegs and must have seen them at least 18 times, I must say I had mixed feelings about the show. It’s like seeing old friends you used to love 16 years (20 years in the case of Ian Gillan!).

They’ve gone through a divorce, new partners are there you’ve got to get used to. It’s all so weird. You feel old yourself, and think of the good old days … And then, they’re not mature men anymore, but … wow, they’re old! It took me ten seconds to realise this man there on stage was actually Ian Gillan, a bit slow in his moves and looking like a retired Englishman in Madeira or wherever.

But then again, they were great! No more bad vibes (I remember an awful show in Saarbrücken, Germany in Feb 1987, when Blackmore refused to play the encore Smoke on the water — I was 17, man, and I came to see the band I loved! Imagine my feelings!), a lot of fun, a well-balanced band, and so much skill! So all in all it was weird and good at the same time.

Seeing Purple for the second time, now in Angoulême, is a gift.

Now, I knew what to expect, and meanwhile I had time to catch up, got myself the four studio albums with Morse plus a couple of live things, read about band history, and even dived back into the old days. So there was no more I can’t believe this about last night’s show, but that made me concentrate on the show itself.

The Parc des expositions of Angoulême is a new hall, modern, rather small, in a rather small city. I guess that’s the band’s new touring policy, at least in France. This made things absolutely great: excellent visibility, enough space to breathe (the place wasn’t packed, but well filled — 1.500 people, 1.800? I’m bad at estimating crowds, but the venue in Bordeaux was much larger, and it was I think 4.000). I stood about 10 meters from the stage, slightly on the right, Steve’s side, even though I had left to get a few beers during the set of Café Bertrand, the same opening band as in March.

Nothing very exciting or at least new about the setlist: the same as in March, Fireball and When a blind man cries replaced by Mary Long (often underestimated by fans), Kiss tomorrow goodbye and Loosen my strings (apparently, they switched back to that one instead of Sometimes I feel … they played in Angers).

All faves were played, except again Speed King, of course Child in Time, and Woman from Tokyo and Knocking at your back door they played in eastern Europe. But the setlist isn’t the most important, at least to me, as long as they play such a bundle of good songs. It’s like a football team: you may discuss endlessly about the 11 players on the field, but it’s only part of the thing: it’s how they play that really matters just as much, at least when you got 25 or more excellent players. It’s just the same with DP songs, although I got my personal faves, like everyone else.

They kicked off with the no-transition-four-song-opening-number. The crowd, even if not precisely composed of a majority of teenagers (average age more or less 40, not 20 as Mr Gillan claims), supported the band from the start, and went quite wild as things went on.

The sound was good, but deafening when the five musicians interacted, so don’t ask me if Gillan had voice problems, which seems to be the all-time-favourite issue among reviewers. No substantial ones as far as I could hear. And his total, physical implication into his singing is very impressive.

Pictures of Home and Into the Fire were played brilliantly, and Strange Kind of Woman got a lot of applause. The song works much better in a live context, while I must admit I can’t bear it anymore at home. Mary Long was just fine.

The Rapture stuff came over well too, Kiss tomorrow goodbye sounded better than on the lame Youtube version I’ve seen: the band plays it tighter now, Gillan’s vocal is more aggressive.

The second part of the show is somewhat cooler, with a mixture of solos and songs; Morse changed his riff catalogue, and in general it must be said he grew and grew that night, a bright grin all over his face.

Things I never (could have) said about the Blackmore era: friendly hugs between band members, Gillan staying on stage for most solo parts, sometimes sitting on Paice’s drumkit in the background, not to be seen or to demonstrate some false interest, just watching and listening to Steve like a friend or fan. It’s obvious this band is not into posing, and is into real musicianship.

On Lazy, Don quoted a French traditional, the audience sang along (which was the high point of his rather average solo).

The end of the set is an incredible bundle of classics, all well known, and well played, without any surprises though. Space Truckin’ in particular really kicked ass!

The encores climaxed the show, with the typical DP extensions of simple hits (Hush, Black Night). For the first time of my life, I enjoyed a drum solo: Paicey’s awesome!

All in all, they were fantastic. More energy, even more good vibes than last Spring, all musicians in a great shape. And after a while I thought: Isn’t Gillan the greatest old man I ever saw on stage?

Watching such a band, isn’t that a gift? They’re part of my life again.

Stéphane Dethloff

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