On July 20th, progressive rock pioneers Deep Purple performed an incredible, career spanning set to a largely sold out audience at the Molson Canadian Amphitheater as a part of their Now What?! Tour which has been going on and off since their most recent album, of the same name, was released in April of 2013.
Unfortunately, I arrived towards the end of openers The Temperance Movement’s set, so I do not feel I saw enough to fully review it here; however, what I did catch was quite excellent. The up and coming UK blues rock ensemble was very well received from the crowd. I would also highly recommend checking out their debut record, The Temperance Movement. I listened to it earlier in order to familiarize myself with the band and it was quite good, making the disappointment of missing most of their set much bigger.
Taking the stage while the sun was still up, Deep Purple started off strong by blasting into their explosive hit, “Highway Star”, and continued through the next few songs, including “Après Vous” (off of Now What?!) and classics “Hard Loving Man” and “Strange Kind Of Woman” with equal precision and force. Much to my own surprise, and to that of much of the audience, Deep Purple does not put on a nostalgia show. This was not a collection of their greatest hits but rather, a set list comprised of classic tracks, deep cuts, and newer songs off their most recent record. I appreciated this, and I feel it added more life to the show. With drummer Ian Paice being the only original member of the band from 1968 (Deep Purple have had a revolving line up since the late 70’s, but all their current members are veterans from different eras of the band), it is easy for them to fall back and only perform their hits, but by choosing not to, it adds a layer of youth and excitement to their performance. I can gladly say this did not feel like a nostalgic money-grabbing show; rather, Deep Purple is a powerful force to be reckoned with, even as they approach fifty years since their formation.
The crowd was something else entirely. Who would have known Toronto was home to so many air guitarists, drummers, keyboardists, and bassists? And for those who thought singing along simply wasn’t enough, they used their beer can as a microphone. Dancing was a must as well. In the words of the older gentleman beside me, “outta my way boy, I gotsta boogie”! The audience, and myself, loved every movement of their performance, and deservingly so. On top of blending all eras of their career together, each instrumental member was given an extended solo opportunity. Guitarists Steve Morse soloed during nearly each song, delivering face melting, blisteringly fast solos perfectly executed time and time again. For his extended showcase, he chose to display his slower, more melodic, but no less intense chops on “Contact Lost”. During this time his playing took clear inspiration from classical music and while fused with his rock textures, it made for a jaw dropping solo. Paice took a solo in the middle of “The Mule” and likely the most accurate way to describe it is to simply say that Ian Paice is a drumming monster. Towards the end of his solo, the stage lights went dark, illuminated only by the tips of his sticks which were glowing different colors as they traced his rapid movements all around the kit. Keyboardists Don Airey also amazed the crowd with his bluesy solo with the warm vintage tones of his Hammond keyboard where he often referenced different classical melodies and ending it with “O’Canada”. Bassist Roger Glover chose to jam with Paice and Airey rather than solo. The three laid down some seriously groovy lines. Although Ian Gillan did not solo, his natural charisma makes him a perfect fit for the band, and he can still reach the highest notes of “Highway Star” like it was nothing.
At this point, I must admit that I went to this show knowing little about Deep Purple, or their songs. I was a very casual fan with respect for their innovations in the progressive rock genre, but had never listened to them much more than some of their greatest hits. I walked in a casual fan, and I left with a desire to check out their extensive discography. The mix of great songs and the nonstop barrage of each member’s virtuosic ability made for a fantastic show, one which was quite the experience to witness. It is always so rare, but amazing, to see a band seamlessly blend elements of rock, the blues, funk, classical and even jazz fusion together, and Deep Purple did just that, effortlessly. I have absolutely no complaints about their performance. After blasting through an epic “Smoke On The Water”, they closed their set with “Hush” and “Black Night”, all of which performed with an abundance of energy and proficiency. With more solos and big rock endings than I can count, Deep Purple demonstrated that age and a history of lineup changes doesn’t have to get in the way of delivering an incredible performance.