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

Deep Purple and Lynyrd Skynyrd Rock Central Mass

6:00 pm on Saturday June 16th. I'm in the legendary Deep Purple's dressing room a little over an hour and a half before they are to take the stage here at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield Ma. The room is spacious and dimly lit. A candle burns on a coffee table. Comfortable over-stuffed love seats and couches line most of the walls. A clothing rack filled with stage clothes sits against one wall and 4 pairs of shoes are placed neatly in front of it. There is a full buffet table and a small refrigerator stocked with Becks beer and spring water awaiting the band's arrival.

6:05pm the dressing room door opens and in walks a trim and relaxed looking Ian Gillan, lead singer, followed by the band's manager Bruce, bassist Roger Glover, keyboardist Jon Lord, guitarist Steve Morse, and finally a smiling Ian Paice, drummer. This is a good sign. The band is all arriving at the same time. The tension that existed in this band for years and caused so many break-ups and line-up changes simply is no longer present. What a difference a few years and a new guitarist can make. There are smiles all around. Jon Lord relaxes on one of the sofas as Ian Gillan takes a few minutes to chat with me about the show and the tour.

Ian looking fitter than ever tells my brother Don and I that the tour has been great. Ian poses for some pictures, graciously signs some autographs and shakes hands. As we are about to leave, we thanked him for speaking with us and then I say, "Good luck with the show, or should I say break a leg?" Ian points to his bare foot and says, "I've already done that," indicating that he has injured one of his feet. Perhaps this is why he has been doing the shows on this tour barefoot.

Outside the dressing room, in the backstage/cafeteria area, there are lots of smiles as well. Ricky Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd chats with several people as former Boston College and current San Diego Chargers QB Doug Flutie seems most interested in finding out how Tiger Woods had done. Just before Deep Purple are to take the stage, Jon Lord looking very much like an English gentleman comes over to Ricky Medlocke and asks the guitarist/actor a bit of movie trivia. "What was Cybill Shepherd's first film? It was black and white..." After Ricky couldn't help, my brother Don was pleased to offer the correct response, "The Last Picture Show". Jon was delighted. "You've just settled a bet! Thank You!" Ricky was also very happy and impressed and gave Don a high five saying, "I'm a movie buff too, man," in his terrific southern drawl.

The show about to start, I make my way to the edge of the stage. The crowd is ready as Deep Purple open with "Woman From Tokyo", their 1973 hit. I ask Bruce, the manager, if I can go on the stage to take photos. He says go ahead! This was amazing! I made my way to the right front side of the stage, right next to Steve Morse. I took several pictures in about one minute and started to make my back to the wings just as a burley looking roadie yelled to me, "Hey, you can't be up there." I informed him that Bruce had given me permission and he just mumbled something to himself. Time to make my way to my seat.

A great rendition of "Woman From Tokyo" was followed by the only new song played this night, "Ted The Mechanic". Up next was the bluesy, powerhouse "Lazy". Steve Morse and Jon Lord's interplay was well on display and the crowd was really getting off on this. Steve Morse easily plays the Blackmore leads when called for, but also adds his own unique brand on these classics. A big surprise followed in the form of "Knocking At Your Back Door", the hit off the 1984 comeback album "Perfect Strangers". This hasn't been played in some time, but the audience really loved it. Ian Gillan easily hit all the right notes and the band sounded surprisingly fresh on this one, even though Ian said that the band had just relearned it backstage, just minutes earlier!

The crowd, which was predominantly a Lynyrd Skynyrd audience, seemed to become more enthusiastic as the show went on. "Knocking At Your Back Door" was recognized instantly by most of this crowd which seemed hungry for hits. "Fools", from their 1970 album "Fireball", followed. This was one of the true highlights of the set, building quietly and then BANG! The fans seemed to enjoy this even though few had ever heard it before. Steve Morse was brilliant during the extended solo section. Ian attacked the vocal full force. This was followed by "Pictures Of Home" off their biggest studio album, "Machine Head". Next came Jon's opening for "Perfect Strangers". A huge roar of approval from the crowd as the band kicked in on this one. "When A Blind Man Cries" proved that Steve Morse is able to play the blues with ease. Ian's voice was in top form as he sang "I'm a blind man". From here, Steve Morse went into his "greatest riffs of all-time" mode. Much to the delight of the crowd he tore into Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well", "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks, "Tush" by ZZ Top, and an extended passage from the climax of Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven". This got everyone on their feet in time for the mother of all riffs, "Smoke On The Water". Anyone who had come merely to see Skynyrd was totally sold by now and many a Skynyrd fan sparked up early in honour of this Purple classic. The encore followed and I used my All Access Pass to great effect by going to the front row for an incredible version of the Mk 1, 1968 hit "Hush". Everyone danced, waved their arms and sang along, "Na, NANANA, NANANA, NANANA." Ian even pulled a little blonde girl from the front row up to sing the chorus. Finally, the show-stopper "Highway Star"! Roger's great bass line starts it out and gets everyone's adrenalin pumping as Steve Morse makes his guitar sound like a muscle car revving its engine. Ian delivers his trademark screams and the crowd goes wild.

When they finished, all members of Deep Purple are grinning from ear to ear as they high-five everyone in the front row, myself included. They all walked off in the same direction, smiling, laughing, and having FUN! What a difference a few years and a new guitarist can make!

Nugent opened the show and showed a lot of energy, but it was mostly distortion. "Cat Scratch Fever" did manage to get some of the crowd going and Ted ended with his patented flaming cross-bow. This is one point I was glad not to be in the front row, one slip-up and someone buys the proverbial farm. HA HA.

Lynyrd Skynyrd closed the show and delivered a solid performance. Their brand of blue collar southern rock still sounds fresh. Their three lead guitar line-up was firing on all cylinders and Johnny did a fine job singing all of the classics that his brother Ronnie made famous. Don't leave before you catch these guys. Hint: If you want to beat the traffic just leave during their last song, "Free Bird".

Bruce Sullivan

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