Deep Purple

Hammersmith Apollo, London

7 September 2002

Important things first: Don Airey isn't Jon Lord but I can't think of a better choice to take over as keyboard player. Don looks wrong sitting up there, but he sounds right. He doesn't emulate Jon's sound too closely, but he adds his own solos and improvised bits to the songs. When he improvises the introduction to Lazy, it's one of the best versions I've ever heard.

And for all the moaning and complaints and comparisons, here is one simple truth: it doesn't matter who is in the band, if they can give you that feeling when you see them live, it's Deep Purple.

And that's why this was the best concert I've ever seen.

Here's my feeble attempt at remembering the set list:

Fireball (ending with a few bars of Into The Fire), Woman From Tokyo, Mary Long, Lazy (with long keyboard intro), Well Dressed Guitar, When a Blind Man Cries (with long guitar intro), Space Truckin', keyboard solo, Perfect Strangers, Speed King (with all the solos), and Smoke on the Water (with long jamming intro). Encores: Hush, Black Night, Highway Star.

The whole set was 1:45, short for a Deep Purple concert.

The set wasn't particularly adventurous and everything was played pretty much as you would expect. But everybody played perfectly. Ian's voice was spot on. Steve didn't take an extended solo but improvised long introductions to several songs.

Don's solo: This was where he got to show that he wasn't Jon, so he steered clear of Jon's organ/piano meanderings and concentrated on emulating a full symphony orchestra on his keyboard. I've seen him do this before, and it's a very impressive full, rich sound. You have to hear it — or feel it — to appreciate it. Tonight we got Beethoven's 9th (he played on the original version, of course), Beethoven's 5th, and the Star Wars theme, among other things (Maybe it's Because I'm a Londoner thrown in to please the home crowd).

And then, THE moment. It doesn't matter if you've read the rumours and are expecting it. It's still one of those magic moments. Don's solo ends, lights go down, and when they come back up, Jon is behind the organ, playing the opening chords of Perfect Strangers as his farewell to the fans. Um. I got a lump in my throat just writing this review yesterday, and I'm getting it again as I'm typing it in now. I guess that if you're bothering to read this, you understand.

Jon Lord playing Perfect Strangers and Speed King. What more could you want?

As usual, Speed King is the most perfect live song you could wish for. Steve and Jon give us a duet that's possibly the best I've ever heard from them. Roger's bass solo is absolutely the best I've ever heard him play, and also probably the longest. Several minutes of how to play the bass as a lead guitar, marvellously melodic and inventive yet so powerful and intense that I can still feel it vibrating through me.

And I'm not even going to mention the drum solo. I can't think of enough words to praise the greatest drummer in the world.

Mixed feelings about Smoke on the Water. They invited three guests on the stage for a jam before it. Three guys they met in the pub last night, Ian said. I guess they were rock musicians or something but as I don't know many rock musicians by sight I was completely in the dark. [Later found out it was three members of Iron Maiden.] The exercise seemed a bit pointless. Ok, it was a bit of fun, and they all looked like they were enjoying themselves (Steve was completely cracking up over the antics of the manic guitar player). More interesting was the woman who climbed out of the audience to "help" Ian on the congas. Ian being Ian, of course, he let her finish the song before allowing the security people to escort her off stage.

I think I've said all the important stuff now...

Encores: a very short version of Hush, an interesting Black Night (with Steve seeming to want to play something different before the audience sing-along drags him into the riff), and a stunning Highway Star with Don and Jon duetting on keyboards and Ian singing the guitar parts in that way he does.

And that was it. Huge hugs and handshakes all round, particularly between Don ("I'm not worthy") and Jon. And when I looked at my watch, I was surprised it was such a short set — it felt like we got a lot in such a short amount of time. But of course it's never enough...