Deep Purple

Roundhouse, London

16 October 2013

The Roundhouse is a brilliant venue. It's a big hall and it's... well... round! Massive black iron pillars support a high wooden dome, and the whole place is like some kind of gothic temple. The sound wasn't perfect, but that might just be due to where I was standing—far to the right, about three people back from the stage, and sort of sideways on, so my right ear was blitzed by Steve's back line and the bass was just a sort of dull rumbling. But I've been in venues with far, far worse sound, and the quality in the Roundhouse didn't detract from the quality of the songs at all. Also, being so close and off-centre meant I didn't get the full effect of the lighting (which has been consistently beautiful). And I was bounced around by the crowd, which got a bit boisterous at times.

But all the negatives of the position were far outweighed by the joy of standing within ten feet of Steve Morse the whole night and watching every movement of his fingers.

So after the highly entertaining support band (I won't attempt to describe them, I wouldn't do them justice, but suffice to say the entire crowd loved every song they played), there was a brief 15-minute wait while the stage was set up behind a massive white curtain. As 9pm approached, the background music changed to Mars, from (The Planets Suite), and as it built to a crescendo a crashing cymbal cut through, the curtain dropped, and there was the band launching into Apres Vous. So simple and yet so effective, like the lights, like the whole ethos of the band—it's not about the theatrics, it's about the music.

Apres Vous still isn't my idea of an ideal opener, but the crowd seem to be solidly behind it, even the ones who had been saying the hadn't heard the new album yet. And it gives every member of the band a moment to shine.

Straight into Into the Fire, and oh my God Ian's performance is phenomenal, he doesn't hold back as he has been previously, he goes for every scream and seemingly hits them all. His voice seems to be getting stronger each night, though he makes a big pantomime of screwing himself up before each scream, grimacing and crossing his eyes. Don's Hammond work gets the spotlight here, of course, and he does the song full justice.

Barely a pause for breath, and it's Hard Lovin' Man, relentlessly powerful, getting the whole crowd bouncing, and Ian again screaming like it's his last gig. I'm out of breath!

Back (forward?) to the new album for Vincent Price, Don getting a chance to show off again, and Ian shambles round the stage with a zombie mask on. Steve looks horrified when he takes it off ;-)

Strange Kind of Woman, predictably a huge crowd pleaser. It's played pretty straight, but has a bit of a guitar/vocal call-and-response at the end, Ian screeching out nonsense lyrics and Steve echoing them on the guitar.

Steve gets the spotlight for Contact Lost, and it's just beautiful watching how he picks out the chiming harmonics, Ian Paice's ringing cymbal eching them. Then he's alone on the stage for a short and beautiful solo spot, leading slowly into a variation of the intro to Uncommon Man, Don returns to the stage and plays the weirdest version of the keyboard line I've ever heard, and he looks a bit bemused himself—maybe a wrong setting on the keyboard? They recover, however, and somehow manage to rescue the song.

Again there's barely a pause, and Steve goes into the baroque riff of Well Dressed Guitar. Every time I hear it I'm stunned by how good it is, possibly my favourite Deep Purple tune. Well, my favourite of recent years. And being close enough to watch Steve's fingers (all 20 of them) as he picks out his own counterpoint... I've seen it and I still don't understand it. It looks as well as sounds mind-bogglingly complex. And yet... this is the thing about Purple... it's monstrously heavy, the bass riff chugging relentlessly, and it's breathtakingly fast in the lead lines, and it's joyfully bouncy, the whole hall dancing in time to it, and still so subtle and intricate and clever... all at the same time. This is what the (lesser) heavy metal bands that followed them didn't understand. They took the heavy parts and made them louder and faster, and missed the rest of the package. This is why Deep Purple are and always will be the best band in the world. they have it all.

Ah, anyway. Ian apologises for the strangled turkeys (I think that was Don) and introduces a song about a blind burrowing animal... The Mole. Well, it's The Mule, obviously, instantly recognisable from the drum pattern. They play just a short part of it, leading into a long and stunningly good drum solo. Other drummers may stun you with their speed and technique. Ian Paice just makes you want to dance, his solo swings in the way that drum solos shouldn't. And he gets a big cheer when he switches to glowing drum sticks. Cheesy? Of course. But so what? And we get an Iaaaaaaaaaan Paaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiice from Ian Gillan. It feels just like the old days.

The pace slows down for Above and Beyond, dedicated to Jon Lord. I love the song. The menacing riff is completely at odds with the beautiful vocal melody, and yet somehow they mesh into a perfect whole. And the lyrics are a fitting tribute. And, well, Jon Lord.

Don is introduced and left alone on stage for a short Hammond solo, and he's playing brilliantly, this tour is the best Hammond work he's done, I'm sure of it. He runs through all the techniques in the book, but not just showing off, actually making great music in the process. And the music slowly winds its way into the Hammond riff to Lazy, with Steve appearing on stage to pick up the guitar line, and Ian and Roger adding the syncopated rhythm. They run through an extended intro, and when they reach the point where you would normally expect the verse, there's no singer, and Don just keeps playing a longer intro without batting an eye. Ian is on stage a few bars later and the song goes into full swing. Swing being the operative word.

Another new song, Hell To Pay, a simple rocker (as if anything they do is simple!) with a sing-along chorus.

Then Don gets a proper keyboard solo, and this time he sticks to synth and piano while he runs through a vast range of sounds and a mash-up of almost-familiar song fragments. I'm pretty sure everybody knows how this is going to end, and sure enough he turns to the Hammond and cranks out the riff to the band's greatest song: Perfect Strangers. It's majestic, powerful, beautiful. Steve has switched to a guitar with a tremelo arm, but being Steve Morse he doesn't use it in the way that any other (mere mortal) guitar player does. But it does explain how he gets the dramatic swooping sounds that give the song so much grandeour. Don's keyboard work in the song is dazzling.

Ian Gillan introduces the next song, but he doesn't need to because Ian Paice has already started the cymbal motif that can only be one song—Space Truckin'. It's a fine performance, and Ian is still going for the screams and still, unbelievably, seeming to manage them. The song's intensity builds so much that I think it's going to fall apart in chaos at the end, but they have it under control and bring it to a proper finish.

Steve starts another solo, but then cuts it short (surprising Ian, who had left the stage) and goes into the greatest riff of all time.

There is nothing, nothing on this whole Earth, that beats standing in a crowd at a Deep Purple gig and singing Smoke on the Water with Ian Gillan yelling that he can't hear us. Nothing. At all.

The end. No, wait, encores!

The band come back and take bows before going into a loose jam of what I think must be Green Onions, before Don plays the distinctive opening to Hush, signalling the beginning of the most amazing extended organ/guitar duel.

Bass solo. I haven't mentioned Roger much, because I couldn't see his side of the stage clearly and because his sound wasn't always clear. But in a long, melodic, inventive, and just plain fun solo, he showed us that he's still the best at what he does. Sometimes, I think he's still getting better.

Last song of the night, Black Night, and that's it, I'm exhausted and I can barely stand. I wobbled my way back to the hotel to write this, and oh my God it's after 1am and I'm still typing and I have to do it all over again tomorrow.

And I'm going to say it now because I know you all think it's hilarious, but I only say it because it's how I feel: BEST CONCERT I'VE EVER SEEN.

How can I sleep after all that?

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