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

Phoenix 2/2/98 show review

I saw Deep Purple at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix, AZ on 2/2/98. I have mixed feeling about Celebrity Theater from concerts in the past. The theater is "in the round", in that there's a modest sized circular stage in the middle of the theater, with seats all around the stage. The stage rotates at a slow speed, so everyone has a chance for their seats to face the front of the stage. The theater holds approximately 2600 people, and there are NO seats that are far from the stage. The "worst" seat is 75 feet from the edge of the stage. Problems in the past have come when bands or multiple act shows had so much equipment piled on stage that the mountain of stuff blocked the view when the stage was facing away from your seat; the 1997 G3 tour was terrible here because the three main acts, plus Robert Fripp's pile of synthesizers made such a mountain that the performers were only visible for the approximately 2 out of every 10 minutes that the stage faced an individual seat.

No problems from that with Purple's show, however. Their equipment pile was adequate for the hall, but didn't overwhelm the stage.

Opening act Michael Nitro seems to have been a much better fit than the opener at the L.A. shows, from the descriptions I've read here. Nitro's music is blues-rock, and catchier than I would have expected from a local opening act. The crowd was receptive, and got pretty crazy on a few blues numbers.

DP's show was as good as I would have expected, from the reviews of other shows. Because of the low ceilings in the Celebrity Theater, it's easy for a band to overdrive the sound with excessive volume. The sound was great, with a good mix. I spent about ten years in Atlanta, GA, so I've seen Steve Morse many times, and have been a big SM fan since the mid-70's. He didn't disappoint.

I've read a lot of the reviews of other shows here, and had seen a few minutes of the Internet broadcast, so I was expecting a great show, but I was not expecting the energy and high quality performance that the band displayed in Phoenix. Here are some random notes from my experience.

The stage rotates, as I said, and our seats were at the "back" of the stage, at least when the stage started rotating, so we had a good view of all the equipment. Nice look to the all white amps. I was surprised at how thin the Peavey 5150 speaker cabinets were that Morse was using. They looked like they were only six inches deep. He was using a 5150 head, probably for his main sound, and some other Peavey tube amp for the clean tones.

The funniest thing we saw all night was how jittery the roadies appeared, particularly when it came to the placement and contents of what appeared to be a very important piece of equipment - the blue drink cooler! Shortly before the band took the stage, someone brought out the top of a road case that was about three feet tall and placed it behind the amps. Shortly thereafter someone else carted on a blue cooler (appeared to be an Igloo brand cooler, but couldn't make out the name!) and placed it on the road case. A bottle opener was retrieved and placed next to the cooler. In the 20 minutes before the show someone examined the contents of that cooler about every three minutes. I saw two Coke Classics, two Diet Cokes, and the rest was something in green bottles, either Perrier or Heinekens. I know there were Perrier bottles, but there might have also been "Heineys." The roadies kept opening the case and taking the drinks out, looking at them, then putting them back in the case. I'm describing this in such detail because it was hilarious to watch. I know drinks are important, but GEESH! During the show Morse was drinking Perrier, and Ian Gillan went back for draws off Perriers as well, I think. Never saw anyone use the Cokes.

There are two "stage entrances" at the theater. One in the back, where equipment is hauled in, and one at the front, where the performers normally come out. There are ramps that go from those entrances to the front and rear of the circular stage. This time the band entered from the rear of the theater, and entered from the rear of the stage. There was a clear path through the equipment onto the stage, but there seemed to be some confusion between Morse and his roadie, because Steve ended up taking off his guitar, laying it on top of the speaker cabinets, then CLIMBING OVER the speakers from the back to get onto the stage! It was a very "Spinal Tap" moment, but the crowd seemed to love it, and Steve had no problem scaling those amps.

Because of the intimate nature of the Celebrity, audiences are often rather reserved, and this was no exception. They were noisy, but remained seated except for a few times. During the call for an encore and the encore songs, no one was seated.

I didn't detect any differences from the set list described at other shows on this tour. One difference though, Ian didn't use any lyric sheets for the words, and I only heard him miss one or two lines. His voice was in tremendous shape, and proved again that he's one of, if not the best, rock and roll singers to ever live. Ian also seemed in pretty good shape. He looked trim enough, and gave a powerful performance all night. During the first few songs the mix was a little off, and it was occasionally difficult to hear him, and I never heard the bongos all night.

The band seemed to have a ball playing. Lots of smiling and laughing on stage, and they seem to really enjoy being on the same stage with each other. Terrific playing from everyone, and Steve Morse really won over the crowd, if there were any doubters, with his solo spot early in the show. Several times during the night chants of "Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve..." started.

There were t-shirts on sale, but the booth wasn't stocked or staffed until well into Deep Purple's set. The shirts seemed to be selling well, despite having no mention of Phoenix on the list of shows printed on the back.

My favorite moment was the quiet section of "My Woman from Tokyo", and the resulting explosion of power when the band kicks back into full gear. They packed the power of flash pots and percussion bombs into the dynamics of that moment, with no special effects at all - just music.

"Sometimes I feel like Screaming" sounded even better live than the version on _|_, as the harmonics on the guitar part really stood out live. Roger and Steve seemed to have a lot of fun doing the background parts too.

I thought Highway Star seemed a little sloppy, compared to the rest of the show. Jon's organ solo was classic, but the guitar solo wasn't as memorable as I expected. The crowd was almost out of control by this time, however, with security surrounding the stage to discourage anyone from attempting to join in - there's no real barrier between the floor and the circular stage, just a couple of steps. Perhaps the energy of the crowd just took control, because the band was certainly in a frenzy through the whole song. A powerful performance from Ian on this one as well, handling the screams with perfection.

In all, I'd say Deep Purple seem better than ever - this band is ALIVE. I've ordered "Live at the Olympia" from CDNOW, and look forward to having a good recording of this incarnation live.

As they left the stage after the encore, Ian said something thanking the crowd for liking "the new stuff as well as the old".

Bill Earl

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