Deep Purple

Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff

20 November 2017

The stupid practice of rebranding arenas every few months means that street signs still call it by its old name, so I spent quite a while walking in circles and wondering if "International Arena" was the same as "Motorpoint Arena". And my main first impression of Cardiff is... it's very wet.

I'm not impressed with the venue overall. The general layout is confusing, and my seat wasn't particularly good. I was about as far from the stage as I was in Birmingham, but for some reason they didn't have the big side screens up, and my view of the rear screen was blocked by the giant speaker stacks, so I had the worst view of the tour so far. And I was at the end of a row, with a constant stream of audience members pushing past me. Come on people, how hard is it to find your seat before the show starts and then stay in it while the band is on? And if you really need beer in that quantity so desperately that you're willing to go out in the middle of the best songs, then perhaps you should have saved money on the concert tickets and gone to the pub instead? Good grief.

All minor niggles. Here's the real complaint: the sound is... not good. From the very first song of the support band, it sounds loud and echoey, bass not well defined so the bottom end is all mushy, and the top end almost painfully shrill. The first band, Cats in Space, manage to overcome it (maybe because they use less amplification than the others?), Europe suffer particularly badly because their songs don't have especially well defined instruments anyway, and Deep Purple are variable, some bits working better than others. Drums are always crisp, and Steve Morse sounds very prominent, but the rest isn't up to the high-quality sound I expect at a Deep Purple show. Ian Gillan doesn't give his best performance, and sometimes goes alarmingly off the note, but I think it might be because the stage sound was bad too and he couldn't hear himself.

Ok, we're at the point in the tour when I've said everything I can about Deep Purple, so it's time to discuss the support bands.

I really like Cats in Space, and like them more each time I hear them and their songs become familiar. They come on to an intro tape of "The Sweeney", and that pretty much warns you what you're going to get: a retro 70s sound that isn't at all embarrassed by its flares and dodgy sideburns. (That's a metaphor; the band don't have flares or dodgy sideburns, as far as I can see.) They're not at all shy of showing their influences, and a lot of their songs remind you of something classic, but they're all great songs, and the band's superb use of harmony vocals really make them stand out. I'm a fan.

Europe didn't impress me. On paper I thought it was a great choice of support and I was interested to hear them, but ... well, I don't think their set is all that great. It's too much generic hard rock with too little variation in it. Adding the beautiful Carrie into the set in Manchester and Cardiff (I don't think they played it in Birmingham) makes a welcome change of pace and shows they have more than one dimension, and of course finishing the set with that song gets a ridiculous crowd reaction; it's as iconic as Smoke on the Water to everyone of a certain age.

Joey Tempest is a very dynamic frontman, and you can see why the crowd loves him. At one point he's climbing over the security rail, still singing, to hold hands with as many of the (mostly female) standing fans as he can reach. And when he gives a speech about how honored he is to be on the Deep Purple tour, it feels really genuine, not just the standard nice things a support band is "supposed" to say about the headliners.

So I don't want to put the band down, I can understand what their fans like about them, its just not what I'm looking for in a band these days.

And finally, Deep Purple. Another superb band performance, despite the arena's sound. Don was lost a bit in the band sound, but his solos were as good as ever (I love the soft piano he plays at the end of The Surprising). His main solo before Perfect Strangers is quite a bit different from previous nights (some popular Welsh anthems included, for one thing) and possibly the best of the tour so far. Steve's sound was more prominent, and everything he plays, from the drawn-out wailing solos switching to a blindingly fast flurry of notes, from the crunching riffs to the little homages to other bands he throws into Black Night, is just perfect. The collection of of sounds he makes in the intro to Uncommon Man is the most beautiful set of sounds you will ever hear.

So yes, despite the best efforts of the venue to scupper things, I still came out singing Black Night all the way back to the hotel, and feeling that it was the best concert I have ever seen.