Deep Purple

Astoria, London

17 January 2006

Despite being stuck half a mile back in the huge queue outside the Astoria, I still managed to get a position one row back from the stage, approximately in front of the bass drum. I am *so* deaf now! My view was excellent, the sound was clear, and while the Astoria is a hot, cramped, airless hole, at least it's not Wembley Arena! Deep Purple are off the multiple-act arena circuit and back to playing proper gigs in REAL venues. How good is that? This good...

From the opening drum roll of Pictures of Home, I knew this would be the best concert I have ever seen. My favourite song from Machine Head, with all the soloists sounding perfect, great sound balance, tons of energy, and huge smiles all across the stage...

...straight into the second song without a pause for breath, and it's a song so new that even I don't know it. Oh my God, it's a Deep Purple song I don't know and we're only two songs in. Can it get any better than this?

YES, because then we get Living Wreck!!! and this one is 36 years old but this is the first time I've ever heard it live. Don is absolutely perfect, getting *that* Hammond sound spot on.

If the gig ended then, I would count the whole trip worth it. But there's more. Freed from doing the short sets of greatest hits they've been doing for the last few years, Deep Purple are back in a way I haven't seen since 2002... no, since 1996. One hour 55 minutes, with seven, yes, SEVEN songs from Rapture of the Deep, plus Ted the Mechanic, plus Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming, plus Contact Lost, plus Well Dressed Guitar. I've never seen a gig like it.When they eventually decide to play a "classic" (Lazy is the first of the evening), it's almost an anticlimax. But Lazy is my favourite song from Machine Head so I don't begrudge it... ah, who am I kidding, it's perfect, with Steve, in particular, stretching out the instrumental section (Don relatively subdued, I thought). Ian Gillan misses a cue because he's holding his mouth organ upside down — not the only error of the evening, which has a number of moments best described as "loose". Cues are missed, words are forgotten, arrangements don't seem to have settled in, jams get a bit chaotic... it's wonderful. (Gillan: "We might turn professional one day.")

Ian Gillan may not be in the best voice of his career but he makes a strong effort, squeezes out immense power, and reaches all the notes he needs to. And in the quieter moments (Before Time Began, for example) his tone is quite beautiful. And if he can't sing all the guitar parts of Highway Star tonight, who cares? He does enough to convince me he's still the best singer in the world. He doesn't play around with lyrics as much as he sometimes does, mainly because he's constantly dancing to the back of the stage to read them from his song book. It's actually slightly comical (in a good way) — I wonder if he's considered a teleprompter at the *front* of the stage?

Steve takes long solos in all the songs but his main solo spot comes after Contact Lost. It's a typical selection of "Steve" sounds, and it's actually pretty short, before his fingers blur into The Well Dressed Guitar (a fantastic piece of music, particularly when Roger kicks in with extra added bass). As usual, Steve looks like he's having more fun on stage than we are in audience (which anyone who was in that audience will tell you is pretty unlikely).

Don's solo comes before Perfect Strangers, as is traditional, and it's a departure from his typical solos of the last few years — starts with Toccata and Fugue then into a lengthy excerpt from his own K2 album. Don has adopted a technique, in several songs, of playing with one hand on the Hammond and another on a synthesiser keyboard. It gives him an interesting sound — close enough to tradition but unique enough to sound like Don Airey, not "the other guy".

Ian Paice doesn't get a solo but as usual treats the whole gig as an extended drum solo and hits everything in sight as often as possible, never stooping so low as to "merely" play the beat. He's still the most important element of Deep Purple, for my money.

But I spent most of the night watching Roger Glover's fingers. If you've never done this, I don't know how to explain how entertaining it is. He *is* the best bass player I have ever watched.

This is the best band in the world. Still is. Always will be. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Trust me on this: this WAS the best concert I have ever seen.

First night of the tour... it's scary to think how good this set will be after they've settled down. I'll have to see them again...