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

Live Review: October 29th, Dortmund, Germany

Before I do anything else, I'd like to say a few words about the local promoters, Ticket & Travel Shop Dortmund. Despite several faxes and phone calls since August, they failed to provide me with the necessary press ticket and photo pass (the photos on this page were taken at the Royal Albert Hall, London last year). Every time I rang them, I was either told that my tickets were on their way and that I'd get them soon, or the person in charge wasn't in and I should send another fax. A few days before the show and some faxes later I still hadn't received anything and I phoned them again. "We can't give you a press ticket or a photo pass," was the answer and I was severely pissed off with them. Of course, the show was sold out, so I had to pay a fortune for a ticket on the black market.

And do you know what? It was bloody worth it!

Deep Purple were (as far as I know) the first band that did something with an orchestra. That was in 1969 when they first performed Jon Lord's "Concerto for Group and Orchestra" with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, long before Metallica and Scorpions.

Last year the "Concerto" was re-recorded to mark the 30th anniversary and now they're on tour in Europe.

The show was opened by Jon Lord and singer Miller Anderson, who played "Pictured Within" from Lord's last solo album, accompanied by the Romanian Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Paul Mann.

Then Roger Glover, Ian Paice, Steve Morse and Ronnie James Dio entered the stage and performed two songs from Roger Glover's Butterfly Ball, "Sitting In A Dream" and "Love Is All." Dio took the opportunity and sang a track from his new album Magica and "Rainbow In The Dark" with Deep Purple as his backing band (without orchestra). Fantastic! Within half an hour, the show had moved from Jon Lord's meditative sounds to a proper metal gig.

Ronnie left the stage and Jon Lord announced the 1968 instrumental "Wring That Neck," arranged for organ, bass, drums and horn section. The track featured drummer Ian Paice, whom Jon Lord rightly presented to the crowd as "the best drummer on the face of the earth."

Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan came on and what was to follow was a proper Deep Purple show, partly backed up by the orchestra. The setlist comprised "Fools", which featured guitarist Steve Morse, "When A Blind Man Cries" (the orchestral introduction was borrowed from Samuel Barber's "Adagio For Strings"), "Ted The Mechanic," "Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming" (both from the 1996 album "Purpendicular") and "Pictures Of Home" from the 1971 album "Machine Head". I didn't have the feeling that anyone in the audience or on stage missed Ritchie Blackmore. Steve Morse is an exceptional guitarist and exactly the fresh blood that Deep Purple needed when they got stuck in the same old Blackmore riffing on "The Battle Rages On" album (1993).

The musical highlight of the evening was the "Concerto For Group And Orchestra". The "Concerto" basically follows the structure of a classical concerto: fast movement - slow movement - fast movement. While the band and the orchestra are treated as antagonists in the first movement, they gradually grow together in the second and represent a unity in the third. And that is exactly the difference between Deep Purple's orchestral music and the more recent projects by Rage, Metallica and Scorpions: Deep Purple didn't use the orchestra as a backing band to get a bigger sound. Jon Lord's "Concerto" was actually composed for a symphonic orchestra and a band, whereas Metallica at al had their old stuff re-arranged to sell more records. Sad but true...

Unfortunately, the orchestra sound was not the best and sometimes lacked the clarity which would have been necessary to hear what was actually going on.

After the "Concerto", Deep Purple and the Romanian Philharmonic Orchestra played "Perfect Strangers" and, of course, "Smoke On The Water" (Ronnie James Dio sang the second verse) and disappeared from the stage. They came back for two encores: "Black Night" and "Highway Star" (both without orchestra). Ian Gillan's voice sounded still fresh and powerful, but certainly more mature than thirty years ago. You never got the impression that the old chaps had gone rusty. They may not look as fresh as they did in the days of "Deep Purple In Rock", but musically they have grown tremendously, maybe because of Steve Morse. Their sound is harder and heavier than ever before, but at the same time their music has become more progressive without neglecting the old Deep Purple sound. They obviously had a lot of fun as well, and even the trickiest passages were performed effortlessly and always with a smile.

Deep Purple presented themselves not only as the fathers of heavy rock, but as real artists. They managed to put great and demanding music, like the "Concerto", next to musical banalities ("Black Night" and some of the other old rockers), but whatever they did, they did it convincingly and with a huge musical input. They really proved that whatever they do, be it sixties stuff ("Love Is All"), jazzy tunes ("Wring That Neck"), symphonic music ("Concerto"), more recent and more progressive tracks ("Ted The Mechanic") or their old potboilers ("Smoke On The Water", "Black Night" or "Highway Star"), they do it better than anyone else could do it.

Deep Purple are truly the best rock band on this planet and their next studio album, which is to be released next year, is something to look forward to.

Daniel Höhr

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