Deep Purple

Arena Birmingham

17 November 2017

I have to start by praising the Arena staff, who all went out of their way to help me and my sister get around (with brilliant timing, she broke her leg just in time for the concert) and found us alternative stair-free seating. I normally go on about how much I hate big arena venues, but Birmingham is one of the good ones, it's got a better-than-usual sound and, as I said, fantastic staff.

So, getting to this gig was a big more stressful than usual, and because of that I wasn't sitting down with the level of nervous anticipation I should get before a Deep Purple show. I was too busy worrying about everything that might go wrong, and worrying that my sister might be disappointed with the show. She last saw Deep Purple in 1993 (yes, she was at that one), and I actually found myself apologising in advance for the current band: they're getting on a bit, it's not Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan hasn't looked after his voice ...

And then the band came on and started with Time for Bedlam, and I wondered why I was apologising for what is still the greatest rock band in the world. Everyone sounded fantastic, with Gillan looking and sounding fitter than I've heard him in years. He started a bit low in the mix, but that was quickly sorted, and he was very obviously reading the lyrics off the stage, but so what? His tone was great, he hit all the notes he aimed at, and generally used his voice really well without pushing it to try the things he can't do any more.

The rest of the band was on top form. Steve didn't get a solo, other than the lengthy into to Uncommon Man. Ian Paice didn't get a solo, other than all of Space Truckin'. Roger got a solo in the encore. But the star of the show (as has been the case for years now) was Don, with a long solo before Perfect Strangers and long improvisations in Lazy and Hush and, well, every other song.

The set list was perfectly balanced, four new songs, including (as well as Bedlam) The Surprising, All I Got is You, and Birds of Prey, plus Uncommon Man, and all of them honestly stand proudly and equally with any of the classics in a live setting. All the usual suspects from the classic era, with the surprising exception of Highway Star, and the surprising inclusion of Knocking at Your Back Door.

What else can I say? All the essential Deep Purple ingredients were here: the beautiful guitar tone from the best guitar player in the world, the distinctive organ sound, the riffs, the solos, the drums making things swing, the improvisations, and general impression of a band having fun (Don continues the Lazy intro longer than Ian Paice evidently expects, reducing him to laughter when he keeps trying to come in and can't, and Ian in fully surreal between-song patter mode).

So now I'm on a train to Manchester to do it all again, and I know tonight will be different again, it might be the same songs but it will be different, because even after all these years and thousands of performances they never play anything the same way twice.

Deep Purple still, always have, and always will, deliver everything I want from the best concert I have ever seen.