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

Report from the House of Blues

    Just came back from Deep Purple's first of four sold out nights at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. My impressions:

    Visually, Gillan, Lord, Paice and Glover have aged well, although Lord's slick white hair, granny sunglasses and jowls were a bit unsettling. Morse, as to be expected, was all youth, donning a slightly dated silver neckband and glitter T-shirt. Gillan was his usual self -- a little overweight, a little awkward but always charismatic.

    Musically, the rhythm section was fabulous, but I really missed Blackmore's piercing, staccato guitar-playing, which was such an integral part of the band's sound. Morse was nonetheless impressive in his own right, even if his worst overplaying sounds like a cheap version of Randy Rhodes.

    To my complete delight, the band played a lot from "Deep Purple in Rock" -- including Speed King and Into the Fire -- and opened with Hush!! The newer Purpendicular stuff was quite impressive as well. I could take or leave the Perfect Strangers era.

    By encore Highway Star, Gillan appeared as though he had lapsed into auto-pilot, forgetting words, giggling and looking totally disconnected with the enraptured audience. Gillan has always been my favorite falsetto screamer (who could possibly forget his temple wailing in Jesus Christ Superstar?) and can still shake his hair into a frenzy with the best of them. But tonight I found him only partially engaged, and at times was unable to tell if he was bored, tired or just plain out-of-shape. An influential band like Deep Purple owes it to its fans (and itself) to take its music seriously.

    One thing I enjoyed but shouldn't have was the audience's booing of the opening band. To the hard rock audience, the opening act -- an okay alterna-rock band -- epitomized everything wrong with the dying alterna-grunge scene mercilessly foisted on us by trend-conscious, tone-deaf music critics: Geeky, nose-picking kids, nerdy clothes, awkward, jerky playing, minimal musicianship and not a lot of fun. Let's hope the trend towards judging music on its quality as opposed to whether it is "different" will continue full speed ahead.

Doug Painter

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