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

Deep Purple Manchester 18 October 1998

So, it finally happened. Fifteen years of waiting and I made it to a concert by the band who, in my opinion, are probably the best group of musicians ever to be assembled.

I approached the evening with some trepidation. Having not heard either of the last two albums, (although I own a copy of "Sometimes I feel like Screaming" on single), a healthy scepticism of Blackmore's replacement Steve Morse was ingrained into my mind. Too often has a line-up been proclaimed to be "better than ever" when a change has taken place within a band, only to find that both sound and spirit are not nearly as good as they were. Caution was definitely a watch-word.

My girlfriend and I arrived at the arena having only managed to pick up tickets a week before. On booking these tickets, we were told that the concert had all but sold out, and that we had claimed two of the last five tickets remaining. The M-E-N arena holds a good 18,000 so we thought we were in for a bit of a treat on the old atmosphere front! Unfortunately, the booking office neglected to tell us that there had only been an allocation of about 3,500 seats until we arrived on the day to collect our tickets! Only a slight difference, and kind of a blow to the temple on the expectation stakes when you're anticipating a full house.

Not to be put off, we made our way to our seats, the fact that we had a decent view of the stage making up slightly for the absence of numbers. Orphic Soup graced us with several songs from their new album which were, as support bands go, very easy on the ol' ears. Sounds of Faith No More seemed to be floating through their music, so you'll get no complaints from me there. The sound was excellent, lyrics understandable, and generally they gave the impression that it may not be that long 'till they will need a support band themselves. All in all, they did themselves credit, and even the restless crowd seemed to acknowledge their ability with a good solid round of applause.

Then came Deep Purple.

My fears were dispelled. I was won over. I turned to Joanne, (my girlfriend and long suffering companion), and the first thing I said was "These are just in a completely different class". Just from the initial start up of "Ted" you could tell that these guys on the stage were almost too dammed good. Confidence oozed from the music. These were a group at ease with themselves and each other. It was hard to believe when they followed up with "Strange kind of woman" that it could have been played any other way. This is coming from a guy who owns a good six or seven different versions of SKoW. Maybe, just maybe, the Gillan/Blackmore version on the immortal Live in Japan album contains the definitive vocal/guitar battle, but on the whole, the song contains so much more than that, and was played which such power and force, that it might just have the edge. Here’s hoping there’s a live album so I can compare the two at leisure.

Anyway, I digress. A surprise inclusion (I thought) was Bloodsucker which, strangely enough I had only listened too just before I began my journey up from Crewe. My heart leapt as Gillan said there was about to be a track from In Rock. Child in Time???? Errr no actually. Bugger! Still, Bloodsucker was tackled with a verve and zest which again prompted me to comment to Jo about the guys ages on stage. Many a time throughout the concert I stood mouth open, simply stunned at the skill and dexterity of both Steve and Jon. Steve especially seemed to have been give free reign on the guitar solos, and when the time came for his individual piece the audience on the whole (with the exception of the odd prat with a big gob) stood in admiration and awe at his prowess.

It was not just Steve though who was on top form. Jon Lord and Ian Paice both had excellent solo pieces, with Ian playing like a man possessed and Jon exhibiting the kind of skill on his keyboards that made the duels between him and Steve a joy both to hear and behold. The way it all seemed to fit together you would have thought they had all been together for the thirty years they are celebrating.
Other highlights were a particularly jazzed up version of Lazy, Almost Human from the new album, and a corking rendition of My Woman from Tokyo, which just blew us all away. Although I was going to neglect to mention Smoke on the Water, I feel a comment on the way it was played must be added. Again Steve attacked, and indeed added to the impact of what is obviously THE Deep Purple anthem to the majority of listeners. This must have been the most indicative indication of exactly how much the Purple members must trust and respect Steve’s input. Staunch Blackmore fans may see this as sacrilege but to me it re-iterates how the gang have decided not to forget the past, but to utilise it and build upon it to further the bands progress and growth together.

As almost all reviews of Purple concerts, the only real gripe I had was that the evening was over too soon. Black Night started the encore much to the audiences enthusiasm and was followed up by Highway Star. Both again were competently done, and as through the whole occasion, you were left with the impression that they were enjoying themselves performing as much as the audience were. When the lights went out for the second time there was a kind of resigned sigh from the crowd, and I suppose with such a wealth of material, it is impossible for everyone to have there favourite played, so some people were left disappointed. For myself, as you may have guessed earlier, Child In Time is without doubt the best track EVER by Purple, but even its omission could not dampen my enthusiasm for the whole evening I cannot stress the power and pure spirit the show had, all I can do is suggest that, if you get the chance, go and see why Deep Purple are still rated one of the best live bands around. May I convey my thanks to Jon, Steve, Roger, Ian and Ian for a brilliant evening, and the whole of the Deep Purple family for many, many hours of enjoyable listening.

Alistair Wiseman

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