[ d e e p P u r . p l e ) The Highway Star

Concert Review: Festhalle, Frankfurt, Germany, October 15, 2000.

Hi there, you purple web folks,

I went to see Deep Purple with the Romanian Philharmonic Orchestra at the Festhalle, Frankfurt, a few days ago ... and it was such a great experience that I thought I'd share my feelings and write a review. So, here it is.

What was it like? Well, to use Ian Gillan's favourite vocabulary, the whole event was amazing, fantastic, superb! In my own words, it was one of the best concerts I've seen in the last few years, definitely the concert of the year in my personal rating. The only bad point was the abominable acoustics of the Festhalle, the building sounds about as 'echo-ey' as a railway station (only there are no trains in it). Apart from that, I'd rate the whole event at 11 on a 10-scale.

It started off with Jon Lord welcoming everybody and speaking a few introductory words ("... a few more people on stage tonight than usual ... 82 in fact") in his pleasant and gentlemanly style. Then he, Miller Anderson and the orchestra performed "Pictured Within" - and with so much feeling, it moved me to tears (well, almost). Miller Anderson may not be the greatest of rock singers, but his voice and style is just perfect for the song. Simply beautiful. And I had almost forgotten (my last classical concert was ages ago) how exciting and ... well, full ... a full symphony orchestra can sound.

Next, Steve Morse, Roger Glover and Ian Paice entered the stage, and a very warm welcome was given to Ronnie James Dio, while Miller Anderson joined the three young ladies of the choir (as well as picking up an additional rhythm guitar) - and off they went into "Sitting In A Dream" and - reinforced by a 3-piece brass section - "Love Is All". Then the orchestra took a break and things got a bit heavier with "Fever Dreams", apparently a song from Dio's latest album, followed by the old Dio classic "Rainbow In The Dark". It was good to see Ronnie James Dio back, he doesn't seem to have changed in the last few decades, he certainly hasn't grown any taller ;-), and his voice is as powerful as ever.

Then it was time for "Wring That Neck", dominated by Ian Paice and the brass section. You didn't even notice there was no guitar in it, and if you didn't know the original you might get the impression that it was a veritable big-band style number to start with.

Following that, enter stage right: Mr. Ian Gillan, introducing the next song as "This can only be described as ... "Fools"." I had never heard that song performed live, so it came as a pleasant surprise to me. The sheer power of the heavy parts, the brilliant soloing by Jon and Steve over the quieter middle section (backed by Roger on maracas and Gillan on tambourine), all in all the song was to me one of the (many) highlights of the show. Then the orchestra joined the band again for a beautiful rendering of "When A Blind Man Cries". Next came "Ted The Mechanic" - well, I never really liked that song much; although I must admit that with a full orchestra and the three female backup singers it didn't sound half bad. This was followed by a new instrumental, introduced by Gillan as "The Immaculately Dressed Guitar", although that was only the present working title, or so he said, a piece written by Steve on the plane a little while ago, he further said. And what a piece it was! It was dominated by Steve's guitar and the orchestra. The tempo and the number of notes crammed into it at break-neck speed reminded me of "Tumeni Notes" (from Steve's "High Tension Wires" album), the structure and melody had a distinct Johann Sebastian Bach flavour to it, and when it was over (much too soon), I wished they'd write and play more things like that.

I've seen Steve Morse play before (with Purple, Kansas and solo) and have been a fan of his since the early Dixie Dregs days, but he still amazes me. The ease with which he plays the most complicated things is incredible, and when he plays fast it's not senseless speed for speed's sake but with a purpose behind every note, as it were ... and when you see him smiling throughout the whole show, you simply have to like that guy anyway. "Pictures Of Home" - with a nice orchestral intro (like on the Albert Hall CD) - and "Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming" closed that part of the show.

Then came the main thing - "Concerto For Group And Orchestra" - which may have undergone some slight changes since the Albert Hall, or at least it seemed so to me. To my ears, some bits and pieces of the arrangement sounded somewhat closer to the '69 version than the '99 version. Could it be that Paul Mann and Jon Lord have further perfected the reconstruction? Mind you, there weren't any 'real' differences, just subtle nuances. Or maybe it was just my perception. In total, the whole thing also seemed slightly longer than on the Albert Hall CD, but I think that was due to some of the solos (or should that be cadenzas?) being a little bit longer. An immaculate performance by the orchestra and each band member. The highlight was definitely Ian Paice's drum solo (or cadenza) within the "Third Movement", particularly that single-handed (!!!) snare-drum roll - many a drummer would have a hard time trying to reach the same speed with the same precision using two drum sticks. Just goes to show what a good drummer he is. The audience was very attentive and appreciative throughout "The Concerto", quiet in the right places, spontaneous outbursts of applause in other (appropriate) places.

After that, there were no more right place for being quiet. When Jon played the first few notes of "Perfect Strangers", everybody was on their feet, many leaving their seats and crowding forward towards the stage. In my mind, "Perfect Strangers" has always been a good candidate for an orchestral arrangement, and indeed the orchestra blended in perfectly, particularly the string players playing the main riff, nice and heavy. Then, it was Steve's turn again, and he was playing bits of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix (I think, one bit sounded like "All Along The Watchtower", the other bits I couldn't quite place, but they sounded familiar) before he got into the oh so familiar "Smoke On The Water" riff. For this last song of the set, Ronnie James Dio joined the band again to share vocals with Gillan. Then, after 2 hours and a half, it was 'Thankyougoodnight' time.

Needless to say, everybody wanted more, and more we got. The Purple lads (without orchestra, singers and guests) treated us to two encores: "Black Night" and "Highway Star", with everybody singing and clapping along, the atmosphere at the end being that of a huge party.

All in all, in can only repeat that it was an incredible concert. Really superb (silly-sounding word that, really, but still, it conveys what I'm trying to express, I think). Fantastic atmosphere, great music and great fun. Talking of fun, everybody on stage was obviously having a lot of that, not least of all the conductor, Paul Mann. He was really rocking along and getting into the music, and had it not been for the railing, there were several occasions when I thought he'd fall or jump off his little raised platform (or is it podium?). Also, some members of the orchestra, particularly the younger ones, were obviously enjoying being part of a rock event and were evidently having Fun (with a capital F). And what I also found extremely pleasant to behold were the looks of one of the cello players ... that lovely young lady with the long dark hair (this is not a male chauvinist remark, this is a description of the beauties of the event).

One final comment: Gillan has been seen - although not actually heard (which may be just as well, or has he?) - bashing away at those congas for the last 30 years or so. Why doesn't he start to learn to actually play them? (I'd volunteer to give him a lesson or two ... :-) .

Well, that was that. Now I'm looking forward to the next album - with "The Immaculately Dressed Guitar" on it, and, hopefully, more of the same stuff.

Thomas Memleb

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