Deep Purple

Hammersmith Odeon, London

23 February 2002

From the first line of Woman From Tokyo, it was obvious that Ian Gillan was not a well man. The dreaded cold hasn't gone away and for an hour and fifty-five minutes he painfully croaked and coughed his way through the set. I hate to think what he's doing to his voice. And while I admire him for carrying on, I wish he would take a proper rest and come back as good as we know he should be.

The Hammersmith Odeon (I don't care what is says on the outside — it's always going to be the Odeon) was sold out for tonight's show. The venue is a complete contrast to the Grimsby Auditorium where I saw them start the tour. For a start, it's a real theatre. It's ten times bigger. And it's got seats. Not that seats actually matter at a Deep Purple concert. I haven't sat down at one yet (Concertos excluded), and I won't start today...

My seat was 25 rows back. Not the best seats in the house, but good enough. And sitting further back gives a much better sound balance. At Grimsby, I complained that Jon was hidden in the mix. Tonight, he came through loud and clear. And you appreciate the light show more from further back. And the stage backdrop, which, bizarrely, seems to be the cover of the Stormbringer album. Why Stormbringer? Oh, and should I mention the cameras recording the show? At least four cameras that I saw, some on the stage and some further back. A concert video in the pipeline? A pity that Ian wasn't in top shape for it.

Preamble... merchandise, same as before. Several t-shirt designs, most of them not very desirable. The t-shirt I wanted was only in extra-super-dooper-mega-large. Typical. Settled for a more-expensive but better-fitting polo shirt. I'm not sure what I will do for a souvenir tomorrow... Anyway, a full house... did I say that already? Although very few people had taken their seats by the start of The Planets' set. The Planets: excellent again. Must definitely buy their album. They seemed more animated today. Perhaps got over their touring nerves? Still excellent musicians. And got another good reception from the crowd. They played for about 40 minutes, maybe a little less.

Deep Purple. Gillan was suffering. He just couldn't sing, and that's that. My woman from croak-y-o... The thing is, he knows how to work with his limited capabilities. Didn't attempt high notes, didn't scream, and skipped lines that he thought he couldn't manage. So the overall effect wasn't as dire as it might be. And the rest of the band worked overtime to fill the gaps. And, strangely, he seemed to get better as the night wore on. To the point where he was singing the guitar lines again by the time they got to Speed King and Highway Star. Not quite the same old Gillan, but getting there.

Yes, it was disappointing that he wasn't 100%. For example, I knew there was no way we would get Child in Time. When a Blind Man Cries was also dropped, and the guitar/vocal duet in Speed King was cut very short. As compensation, we got an extended version of Black Night with some excellent instrumental passages, a longer bass solo in Speed King, a drum solo that was so ridiculously good I can't even begin to describe it, and just generally everything you expect from a Deep Purple concert. Just minus the screams. Deep Purple with four and a half members are still better than any other band around.

Not going to give a song-by-song account tonight. Just trust me, they were all fantastic. Highlights: The Aviator. I absolutely love the current arrangement. Fools. So crunchingly heavy you can feel it right through your rib cage. Lazy. Jon excels himself, I mean, excels even his normal level of excelling, on the introduction to this song. Oh, it's all highlights. There aren't any lowlights at a Deep Purple concert. Well, except Ian's bad throat.

Did Gillan's throat problems affect the quality of the performance? Of course it did. Was this still the best concert I have ever seen? Absolutely.

We love you Ian. Get well soon. Tomorrow, if possible.