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

Deep Purple in Stockholm - a personal review

Just wanted to share with you some personal impressions from the Deep Purple concert in Stockholm on 7 October, which was the group's first visit to this beautiful city in at least two years.

They were playing at Globen, the world's biggest spherical structure, with a capacity of some 15,000. One side (behind the stage) was closed off. My attendance estimate was some 7,000-7,500 out of a maximum of 10,000 (there were plenty of vacant seats, although tickets had supposedly been sold out three weeks before the gig). Lots of grey-haired rockers in the audience - a serious Purple crowd for the most part. Everyone was seated, however (including the three thousand on the field facing the stage), which seriously hampered the freedom of expression - through body language - of many people in the audience.

The show started only 30 minutes late, which, given the absence of any warm-up band, was a sign of respect to the audience and was appreciated by those around me.

I've had the CD version of the concert for some time now, but have been unable to follow closely the progress of this Deep Purple tour. Thus I was completely unprepared for a number of novelties in the conduct/organisation of the gig. The first new element for me was the band coming on stage one by one, instead of all together - not only did it fit well into the concept of the concert, it was also a nice touch. First came Jon and the orchestra, and Jon spoke at length to the audience, describing the concept, presenting the conductor and the orchestra, etc. Then - another surprise for me - they started off with "Pictured Within", with a guest singer whom I've never heard (of) before. A good one, though.

Then Ian Paice, Steve and Roger showed up, and started playing one of Roger's early solo songwriting efforts (I've forgotten the title). And then - the biggest shock of all - on came the singer. Though seated pretty far from the stage (and without the usual help of the giant screen above - why was that?) I had no trouble recognising the guy - and yet I couldn't believe my eyes. For a dreadful second I thought that despite what the posters all over town said, there had been a last-minute change in the line-up. I mean, Ronnie James Dio signing with DP? Is it a new edition of the 1978 Rainbow line-up, with Ritchie gone (ha-ha), taking the band's name with him? As no explanation was given to the crowd, I had to turn to the guy next to me (a veteran rocker) who fortunately was on top of things, having read the reviews of the band's gig in Gothenburg the night before. He assured me that Gillan would show up later. Thus relaxed, I was able to enjoy the stunning performance of a couple of Dio hits. With all due respect, the guy has never had such an impressive backup in his career, I think. I've never been a whole-hearted Dio fan, but I have always given him his due as the most powerful (albeit not the most colourful) vocalist in rock music. And he was great that night!

After this Jon announced Ian Paice as "One of the greatest rock drummers ever. Greatest drummer full stop." Ian and the Belgian brass section rendered an absolutely beautiful edition of "Wring That Neck", the best I've ever heard.

And then came Mr. Universe, looking good and trim (as a 55 year-old man possibly can) and in a seemingly cheerful mood. The rest of the score was pretty much what I'd expected: an absolutely beautiful edition of "When A Blind Man Cries" (my favourite DP title since the song's resurrection in 1995), "Fools" etc. Standing out was Steve's astounding new solo effort (now renamed for the third time to "Ill Tempered Guitar", according to Gillan), blending musical taste with brilliant performing skills. The crowd went wild - as much as 'hot-blooded' Swedes possibly can. One chap a couple of rows below me even took an involuntary plunge to a lower row; luckily for him he was too drunk to break anything.

Then came the difficult part, the "Concerto For Group And Orchestra". Frankly speaking, when I first heard it on LP many years back, I thought it to be a rather pretentious piece. I braced myself this time, tried my best to keep my mind (and ears) open - and yet as a result I still think that this is an awkward effort. Putting aside the brilliant bits and pieces (both classical and rock) here and there, I still got the overall impression of something raw, a composition lacking a clear, coherent musical concept. Generally speaking, I have no problem with Deep Purple making another attempt at crossover music. After all, with their fame and glory they can afford playing virtually anything short of Britney Spears tunes. But, once they'd decided to give it another try, they should've come up with a new piece to prove the point instead of reviving a piece which proved to be a minor disaster 30 years ago. It didn't fly then and still doesn't, if you ask me.

Having said that, I was by all means pissed with a few dozen idiots in the audience who started jeering and whistling down the performers every time the sound was 'classical'. They might have continued voicing their drunken disapproval throughout "The Concerto", but fortunately no one heard them during the louder, rock pieces.

The night was saved in the end, though, with a few classic DP hits, beautifully performed with orchestral and female vocals backup. Surprising was to see Dio reappearing onstage at the very end (Gillan hugged the tiny fellow and introduced him as "his son"), just to sing a few lines during the "Smoke On The Water" encore. No duets with Gillan, though.

Bottom line: Regardless of my remarks above, I had a great time. The band is obviously getting old (which is not necessarily bad, since we're ageing with it), and moving into this field of staging 'shows' (with guest appearances, orchestra, backup vocals, etc.) instead of good old heavy rock gigs is the way to go. At least I think so. For the first time in my life I left a rock concert content AND composed, instead of sweaty and jittery. At my age you come to appreciate such opportunities for listening to your favourite music without jeopardising your increasingly fragile health or ruining your Sunday best. But, for whatever it's worth, this approval from a long-time silent admirer of DP doesn't and shouldn't encourage the band to venture into crossover again. After all, they are not Pink Floyd or Paul McCartney, and never will be. Nor do we - I - want them to be.

Serguei Sokolov

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