Japan Tour Report - listen and learn
When I heard the news that Deep Purple were coming to Japan in March, I wasn't really sure what to do. "Well, it's only been a year since I last saw them, and I'm not that well off at the moment, what with both Bob Dylan and Kiss also playing in March..." But then I found out that the shows this time were going to be with New Japan Orchestra, i.e. a rare chance to see 1969's historical Royal Albert Hall show re-created. Hmm... I suppose I'd have to spend what money I have left on going to see this! So off I went to the nearest branch of Lawson's convenience store, thinking that would be the easiest way to buy a ticket, only to find a note stuck to the concert ticket vending machine: "service not available". I went back home to make a telephone booking, and picked up the ticket from another branch near my work later. (The seat I ended up with wasn't that great. And my local branch of Lawson's, incidentally, has since closed down.)
From last year's Japanese shows, I had some idea of Purple (on their own)'s recent setlists, but I had never heard any of the stuff they've been playing with the orchestra. So I went out to buy the CD and video of the 1999 show, and got on with my homework. It took me a while to get into the sound of the orchestra, but as it grew on me, I gradually came to love the delicate combination of the band and the orchestra. I then found out, from gig reviews on DP's official website that I'd managed to find on the Net, that Ronnie James Dio, who was also coming to Japan with Purple this time, might be singing two more songs other than those included on the CD/video. By this time, though, I had no money left to buy any more CDs, so I had to make do with a 30-second sample downloaded from the Net...
And thus the night of the show has come. Members of the orchestra walk onstage, take their positions and start tuning their instruments just after 7pm. The house lights go down after a little while, and Jon Lord appears. After his brief introduction ("We're playing something a little different from usual Deep Purple concerts" etc.), the show begins - as on the CD - with "Pictured Within". The singing and the orchestra's music resonates in the solemn silence of the hall, in the centre of which Jon Lord's white hair shines in the spotlight. Having read reviews of past shows on the official website, which mentioned some ignorant fans shouting "Highway Star!" etc. during quiet parts of the concerts, I am relieved to witness this one start without such an accident.
Dio comes onstage for the second number of the show. He walks across the stage, amidst fervent cheering and shouting from the audience. On his way he passes Ian Gillan's mic stand, deliberately set around 2m high, and looks up at it in mock horror - as usual. [LOL! Ed.] The performance of "Sitting In A Dream" and "Love Is All" is not much different from the officially released versions. Audience reaction is pretty enthusiastic, filling the hall with high energy. After the powerful "Fever Dream" and "Rainbow In The Dark", Dio shakes hands with the members of Deep Purple, who have by now also appeared, and leaves the stage, looking satisfied.
And now it's time for Deep Purple. Both "Watching The Sky" and "Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming" had been played on last year's Japanese tour as well, but they sound much richer with the orchestra joining in the performance. An interaction between Steve Morse and the orchestra [NB: I think he means "Well-Dressed Guitar". Akiko] is followed by a big band arrangement of "Wring That Neck" and a hard rendition of "Fools".
After a 15-minute intermission, the main attraction of the evening, "Concerto For Group And Orchestra" begins. Ian Gillan, now changed into black formal wear, introduces the piece, before they start playing the "First Movement". I've done enough homework, I'm ready to let myself be immersed in the delicate pleasure that the sounds of the band and the orchestra together create. Ian Gillan's relaxed singing in the "Second Movement" is wonderful. The highlight of the "Third Movement" is Ian Paice's drum solo. He shows off his various tricks with the drum sticks, plays with one hand only for a while ("see, I can do this too"), and the audience go crazy! The band and the orchestra reach a perfect harmony during the fantastic finale of the "Third Movement". Just wonderful!
And now the show reaches its climax. "Perfect Strangers" is followed by "When A Blind Man Cries" (in the middle of which Ian Gillan has a quick chat with Jon Lord - via his mic!). After the perfectly hard & heavy "Pictures Of Home", the band leaves the stage once, and come back again for encore. Yes, it's "Smoke On The Water". The audience, who have been politely sitting down up until this point, all stand up, and the entire auditorium is in uproar. Dio joins in to sing the second verse; Paul Mann, the conductor, comes down to play the conga with Ian Gillan, standing side by side [Did Paul also shake his hair about? :-) Ed.]; and everyone in the audience sing along... A happy ending to the evening. When it's over, I look at the watch and find it's five to ten. The grand show has lasted almost 3 hours...
I'd like to add one sad thing that came to my attention tonight: during the show, the couple sitting next to me kept complaining that they didn't know the pieces that were being played. It really made me mad to hear them say "Hmm, they mentioned an orchestra, but I didn't know it was going to be like this..." After the concert, too, I heard several people in the lobby saying that they were disappointed that the songs they knew hadn't been played or that they'd come to hear some real hard rock and... I found such comments so offending to Deep Purple, who have very courageously challenged tackling such a grandiose project - a fusion of the band and an orchestra. If you're going a concert, can't you do the musicians the courtesy of at least finding out in advance what you're going to see/hear and, if possible, listen to the pieces at home first so that you can really enjoy it when you hear it live? Walking down the streets of Yurakucho at night, I was filled with such dreary and bitter thoughts.