DEEP PURPLE TESTS ITS `METAL'--AND PASSES
By Rick Reger. Special to the Tribune Web-posted Thursday, December 18, 1997; 6:15 a.m. CST
Along with Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep, Deep Purple was the third member of heavy metal's unholy founding trinity.
But even in the mid-'70s, its classic Mark II lineup (Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Paice, Roger Glover and Jon Lord) was as unstable as its stylistic focus. So after 25 years and a slough of personnel and musical shifts (Steve Morse now occupies Blackmore's ax slot), one wasn't sure what to expect from these reconstituted titans when they opened a three-night stand at House of Blues on Monday.
Surprisingly, the Deep Purple that took the stage looked more like a pack of middle-aged bikers than a clique of one-time megastars. Sporting long, greying locks, bandannas, faded black T-shirts and beer bellies, the band appeared to have just strolled in from a county-line roadhouse. And that's exactly how it played.
Starting off with a chugging rendition of "Hush," Deep Purple quickly summoned up its early '70s thunder. Lord's greasy Hammond organ chords roared like 747 engines while drummer Paice flogged his kit with only slightly less power and precision than in the old days. And singer Ian Gillan may not have been able to hold his patented falsetto howls for minutes at a time, but he was still hitting them.
Throughout the rest of the set, Deep Purple was able to muster both raw sass on boogie-metal numbers like "Ted the Mechanic" and quiet restraint on "Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming," one of the night's few ballads.
But Purple truly tested its "metal" when it took on monoliths like "Black Night," "Bloodsucker" and "Speed King." These were the songs, along with Sabbath's "Paranoid" and Heep's "Gypsy," that literally gave birth to heavy metal, and the band wielded them like war clubs with Lord's organ and Morse's ax meshing into an awesome, implacable crush.
To its credit, the band also displayed little hubris and never milked the crowd. Potently rendered classics like "Woman from Tokyo" and "Smoke on the Water" were mingled randomly throughout the set, and the soloing and jamming was generally brief and tasteful.
By the time its ferocious encore finale, "Highway Star," was finished ringing through the venue, Deep Purple had forcefully reminded everyone that metal isn't about permed hair and leather pants. If it was, these geezers wouldn't have sounded so good.
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