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This Time Around
The Highway Star

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Enigma gone bad

By Jim Collins

Archival releases can often be a risky proposition. At their best, they can capture an artist performing at the height of their career, a stellar performance or a rare outing of their lesser known songs. At their worst, an archival release can expose a band just having a bad night or possibly reveal their failure to work effectively as a unit.

In the past, Deep Purple's archival releases have generally fallen into the former category. With "Scandinavian Nights", "In Concert 1970-1972", "Live In London", "Space Vol 1 & 2", and the "Live In Japan" 3 CD set, Purple's glorious legacy was revealed to anyone taking the time to listen to them. Each of these features breathtaking moments of pure musical ecstasy and capture magical snapshots of the band in full flight. However, some of the archival releases have been far less complimentary to the band's legacy. "Mk III Final Concerts" displays the early stages of the band's all important chemistry unraveling before your ears. It was the first official release that captured the band with a guitarist only marginally interested in performing as a member of the group. When Blackmore departed it was hoped that new blood could breath life into the money machine they had become. However, the choice of Tommy Bolin has been among the most controversial personnel decisions the band ever made. The original "Last Concert In Japan" release served as the final word on the much maligned Mk 4 line-up's shortcoming in concert as well. However, the long awaited release of that line-up's 1976 "King Biscuit Flower Hour" promised to rectify "LCIJ"'s picture of a band in decline. While not as bad as "LCIJ", the "KBFH" show clearly showed the dissension in the band's ranks. Still the Mk 4 defenders claimed this was the proof that justified that line-up's existence. It was hoped that the cleaned up master tapes of the show that gave the world the "Last Concert In Japan" album would finally set the record straight on the dark, sordid reputation that the Mk 4 line-up has with many fans. So does it? Sort of.

As an archival release, "This Time Around" falls into the netherworld between a great archival release like "Space Vol 1 & 2" and an embarrassment like the original "LCIJ" was. The sound is so greatly improved from "LCIJ", that it's almost like an entirely different show. This is probably one of the best sounding DP shows available at this time. Sonically speaking, Simon Robinson has done a tremendous job in ensuring the show sounds simply stunning. His job in the packaging is fantastic as well. The realignment of the tracks into the proper running order certainly makes the show flow much better and having so many previously unavailable numbers is certainly nice too.

But what about the performance? Well, Jon Lord never sounded better to these ears. His work here is breathtaking, nothing less. He plays with a passion and fire that I don't think he's ever matched. Most spectacular is his ability to switch from neo-classical chops to some of the funkiest keyboard work you're likely to ever hear this side of a Herbie Hancock album. His efforts are easily matched by Ian Paice though. Paicey plays like a madman throughout the show, displaying an unequaled grasp of drumming techniques. Whether he's swinging with that jazzy touch or just bludgeoning his kit with pure muscle, he's certainly on top of his game here. Glenn Hughes turns in another top notch performance as a bass player, weaving in and out of the arrangements with the skill of a master craftsman. Were the entire band playing at the level these three were capable of, there would be fewer negative memories of the Mk 4 era.

So, what's not good here? Several very important ingredients are missing or just plain bad. The biggest culprit in evidence is their egos. They (Coverdale, Hughes and Bolin) come across like "We're Deep Purple and you'll like whatever crap we deliver". If I ever had to look at an example of a band cashing in on their fame to come across like the stereotypical rock stars, it would be here. Bolin's playing is sub par, even for him. I don't know what happened to his arm, and frankly don't care. I think the shortcomings are mental, not physical. Bolin's clearly earning a paycheck here, and plays like a hired hand. There's little real musical communication between him and the rest of the band, and when he does connect it's not great.

The Coverdale/Hughes feuding first evidenced on the "Mk III Final Concerts" set is so massively out of control that it's embarrassing to listen to. Hughes takes every opportunity to upstage Coverdale, and succeeds for the most part. DC in turn just seems lost and unable to respond. His discordant howling and between song raps are so bad as to be pathetic. I don't know if anyone encouraged Glenn and David to mimic Gillan's operatic shrieking, but whatever the reason it doesn't work. They sound desperate, trying to recreate something magical from Purple's legacy and fail miserably. These same, lame attempts to "do Gillan" mar all the Mk 3 and Mk 4 shows to some extent, but by the Bolin era they had drifted deep into self parody land. Unlike the "KBFH" show, Coverdale's voice is still in pretty good shape here. Hughes does everything he can to make sure no one forgets he's on stage, and except for the duration of Paicey's drum solo and Jon's keyboard solo, succeeds admirably. Much has been written about the offstage antics of this line-up, so I won't go into the drug and alcohol stories. However, it's worth mentioning that substance abuse, (both legal and illegal) certainly effects the performances here.

The setlist:
"Burn": It had been the opening number since late 1973, but never performed as weakly as this line-up did. Bolin's pathetic attempts to work up enthusiasm to play songs he didn't care about ruin this one. Lord, Hughes and Paice are the only saving grace and Hughes' mimicking of Gillan's shriek works here very effectively. (The ONLY time it worked, really.)

"Lady Luck": Purple as Bad Company, but not really a bad thing. Coverdale does his best Paul Rodgers impression and since Bolin wrote it, he plays with a degree of passion. Among the better songs on "Come Taste The Band", it also transferred well into a live number.

"Love Child": Recycling a riff from his James Gang days, Bolin gave the band a good song that served as a platform for Jon Lord's synthesizer solo. Heavy AND funky, it serves as a possible glimpse into what might have been.

"Gettin' Tighter": Glenn and Tommy's baby, it basically served as an excuse for Glenn to hog the spotlight for 20 minutes and push David offstage for an eternity. If anyone in Mk 4 communicated well musically with Bolin, it was Hughes. A good example of their musical chemistry, as well as an analogy to their drug excesses offstage. Almost a "if a little is fun, a bunch must be better" kind of thinking. Not always boys, not always.

"Smoke On The Water": The first of several "classic" MK 2 songs the band played. Not as horrible as some make it out to be, but certainly not as good as it could have/should have been. Glenn's "Georgia On My Mind" remains a acquired taste, with his over the top shrieking once again demonstrating his remarkable vocal range. Was this just showing off or a deliberate attempt to upstage Coverdale?

"Wild Dogs": Contractual obligation number one. If Tommy's in Purple, he gets to sing or play one of his own songs. Thank God it's this one. A high point of the show, despite Bolin's less than passionate vocals and over effect laden guitar work. The sheer strength of the song itself and the masterful Purple treatment it's given make it a winner.

"I Need Love": Another heavy/funky number from "CTTB", this one doesn't work quite as well as "Love Child". Apparently the band felt the same way, since it was dropped from the setlist soon after. Nice touch to work "Soldier Of Fortune" into the song though. They list "SOF" as a separate track, which it really isn't. It's only a portion of the song and serves as a bridge between "I Need Love" and Lord's solo spot.

Jon Lord solo: What can one say? A master at work. Drawing from musical influences around the globe, Jon weaves a tapestry of sound that is as magical and awe inspiring as anything he's ever done. This serves as an intro to "Lazy" as well.

"Lazy": What had been a concert classic from 1972-1973 is almost destroyed by Bolin's lackluster playing. Despite his pathetic efforts, Lord, Paice and Hughes carry the tune musically to an almost successful conclusion. Paice's solo concludes "Lazy" exactly as it did on the Mk 2 1973 tour. A drumming tour de force, this not only demonstrates the remarkable abilities of Ian Paice as a drummer, but also how he and Jon carried the band despite the others often bland attempts to just go through the motions on stage.

"This Time Around"/"Owed To 'G'": Much the same way "Gettin' Tighter" served as an excuse to upstage Coverdale and keep Glenn in the spotlight, "This Time Around" is all Glenn. His over the top vocal gymnastics ruin a beautiful song and it's a shame. "Owed To 'G'" is Tommy's contribution to the song, and is typical of his instrumentals at the time. Great guitar playing and an interesting arrangement make this another Bolin highlight. It also showcases clearly the difference in the way Bolin approached his songs versus Blackmore's. When he makes the effort he can be breathtaking, when he doesn't, he's beyond mediocre.

Tommy Bolin solo: 10 minutes of effects gone wild. Some decent playing at times, but setting your effects pedals to stun and standing there soaking up the applause is hardly virtuoso playing. An interesting listen a time or two, but mostly I skip it now.

"Drifter": A nice surprise really. One of the better, basic rockers on "CTTB", it's hard to understand why it was left off the "LCIJ" album when it was originally released. The entire band rips through this one, displaying the Purple energy better than most of the rest of the album. Great tune.

"You Keep On Moving": Just like on "LCIJ", this one is the high point of the concert. Lord's solo here is spine tingling and one of my favorite solo's he's ever done. Despite Hughes' effort to upstage Coverdale, they mesh here vocally better than anywhere else. A great and inspired performance. Too bad they couldn't maintain this level all the time. *sigh*

"Stormbringer": This one is an enigma. Although Bolin slops his way through it, not even remotely attempting to play the riff correctly, the sheer energy they put into it make it a classic. Probably the only non-Mk 4 tune they actually make their own. In some ways, the heaviest tune of the night. Beats the "KBFH" version hands down. Very cool, and very unexpected.

"Highway Star": Now, a complete reversal. The worst song ever performed on-stage by DP, anywhere, anytime. This is so horribly bad that it approaches parody. If it's possible to over exaggerate mediocrity, this is it. Even Lord and Paice don't sound like they're trying here. It's almost like a blatant attempt to destroy everything they'd ever achieved on-stage over the previous eight years. Horrible, just horrible. What a let down. It sucked on "LCIJ", but that was OK, because it fit the mood of that dismal record. Here, it stands out like a sore thumb after a stellar "Stormbringer".

So, do you need this in your collection? That's all down to taste and your status as a collector. It certainly captures a valid point in the bands history, and not owning it doesn't mean it didn't happen. How often you play it will depend on how much you like this line-up, or Bolin, Coverdale and Hughes specifically. I'm glad I bought it, but probably won't play it anymore than I play any of the other Mk 4 stuff I have. I certainly don't believe it validates the existence of the line-up any better than "KBFH" or the rehearsal discs did, but then again it doesn't mean they didn't have their moments either. Jon Lord and Ian Paice fans will most certainly find plenty to rejoice in here. A scrumptious feast for keyboard and drum fans for sure. If anything this release only makes the questions about that final line-up all the more puzzling. Not the definitive release Mk 4 fans hoped for, but so much more than the anti-Mk 4 fans had any right to expect. Deep Purple Mk 4 remains an enigma to this day.

Buying the Special Edition is one of those odd things a collector does now and then. I did it, but don't really know why. What do you get extra?

Well, 1) a poster I'll never put up anywhere, 2) reproductions of two concert tickets that will stay in the slipcase along with the poster, 3) a couple of drink coasters that anyone in their right mind would never use, and 4) a nice slipcase to put all the stuff in. So, all in all it's nice, but ultimately useless stuff. In fact, you have to wrestle with all of it every time you want to listen to the CD's. Take it all out of the slipcase and the jewelcase flops around in all that empty space.

So, unless your really need more stuff, which the missus tells me I didn't, buy the regular one. The extras don't improve the sound or performance a bit. They are nice to look at though. Why coasters anyway? I don't really see the relevance in that one. The poster is a copy of the original concert flyer and the tickets are actual reproductions of the originals, but why the two coasters?

Maybe someone at the DPAS thinks we need to drink heavily to sit through this show? Hmm...


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