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

Deep Purple at Birmingham NEC, 15th October 1998

The NEC seems to be less and less popular with bands as a venue to play in the West Midlands; more are playing at Wolverhampton's Civic Hall or Aston Villa's Leisure Centre. Indeed, it was at the Villa Leisure Centre that I last saw Purple play a blinder on the Purpendicular tour. If this was half as good as that night, it was going to be good...

Why the NEC insist on putting seats on the floor for a rock concert I have no idea. Is it some kind of hint that the audience or the band are perhaps getting on in years? Such were my thoughts as I tried desperately to ignore the seemingly unending crappy music played over the PA until Purple came on.

The lights went down at 8:47 and the band walked on stage. The set opened with Ted The Mechanic, a change from the Canadian gigs they had played. The sound quality was the first thing that struck me - it was excellent; everything was coming through clearly especially Roger's bass and Ian's drums - they both looked very sharp.

Strange Kind Of Woman (with some nice interplay between Steve and little Ian) was followed by a Bludsucker which *really* hit home. The intro of Pictures Of Home gave us a glimpse of little Ian's form - he played a stormer tonight - with Almost Human, Woman From Tokyo, Watching The Sky and Fingers To The Bone (my favourite song from Abandon) following.

By now things were really steaming. Any Fule Kno That charged into the solo and last part of Cascades, Steve and Jon playing with power and grace, and Smoke got the loudest cheer of the night. Jon played a small solo spot leading into a cracking Lazy and then powered into a wonderful Perfect Strangers. All I needed now was Speed King (how can you see three gigs on three different tours and not hear Speed King?) and I would be satisfied. If it had a drum solo as well...

Speed King was introduced by Ian as "an Irish, Chinese lullaby...something I used to sing my little girl to sleep with... though it's now more of a wake up song". We were treated to a brief bass solo from Roger and a drum solo from little Ian. Have I already said he played a stormer? Yes? Well he did.

Two encores were Seventh Heaven and Highway Star; what a joy to hear Steve play the whole solo to Highway Star, my favourite DP song. And then it was over. Nearly two hours gone in what seemed a flash. My lasting memories of that night will be of the band all smiles, thundering out songs old and new seamlessly; Roger bouncing around and sounding fantastic; Little Ian playing the best I've ever seen him; Steve's modest smile hiding a talent too great for words, Jon's Hammond growling away and thrilling us with Lazy and PS, and big Ian - a smile, a song and a scream or two.

I didn't think that they could improve on the Purpendicular tour show I saw. They did, and how!

Top moments: Perfect Strangers, Lazy, Ian's drum solo.
Memorable Gillanism: "It's like a joke but smaller..."

Brian Dowling

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