Review by Sean Palmerston; Concert photos by Albert Mansour
Veteran hard rockers Deep Purple are either insane or still some of the hardest working musicians in show business – there is no other explanation to describe their decision to tour Canada coast to coast in February. Even the most grizzled tour dogs usually avoid going nationwide in our frozen home and native land, but with its members now well into their sixties the quintet stopped down in my current hometown, Hamilton ON, for an early week show on Monday, February 13th that was nearly halfway through their Canadian only tour.
For most of the Southern Ontario tour dates Purple was supported by Hamilton’s own Monster Truck, a local Hammer city quartet making waves as of late with their infectious hard boogie rock style. Fronted by bassist Jon Harvey of long lost local cult heroes Hoosier Poet, I desperately wanted to see them get to play at their city’s premier live venue before a large crowd, but unfortunately by the time I got there at 8:05 PM – the venue’s website said the show started at 8 – they were finishing up their last song. Colour me unimpressed.
It was less than thirty minutes later when the lights went down again for the evening’s main act. With a massive banner behind them and enough stage lighting to sufficiently showcase any arena show, Deep Purple slowly worked themselves into the night’s opening song, “Highway Star”. With one of the world’s greatest rhythm sections (Ian Paice and Roger Glover) already locked in groove within seconds of them hitting the stage, it was almost offsetting to see vocalist Ian Gillan slowly make his way to the front of the stage. Even the last time I saw them, at Toronto’s Massey Hall back in 2004, Gillan was a ball of energy, so this nonchalant edging to the front seemed odd. A closer inspection showed that the vocalist was wearing a cleverly disguised black leg brace/cast on his right leg. He must have injured himself recently, possibly even on this tour, but being a consummate professional of course the tour must go on. He was hobbling, but his performance was unaffected by the injury all night.
After an excellent building opener, the band really caught their groove with “Hard Loving Man,” which featured a great organ solo by “new guy” Don Airey. I say that in jest, of course, since he has now been with the band for over ten years since Jon Lord’s retirement. The former Ozzy keyboardist seemed much more comfortable than previous times I have seen him with the band, switching all night between organ, Mini Moog and synthesizers with ease.The band kept steamrolling through some of their most loved songs: “Maybe I’m A Leo,” Strange Kind Of Woman,” “Woman from Tokyo” before guitarist Steve Morse took center stage for a solo.
Leading the band into the NASA-inspired instrumental “Contact Lost”, Morse took complete control to showcase just how talented he is. While I had felt at previous Purple performances that he sometimes went too far off course from what Purple was all about with his guitar histrionics, this time out Morse seemed far more concerned with maintaining a fine line between being an all out guitar hero and playing with the band. His beautifully executed solo came out into one of this line-up’s signature tunes, the bluesy “When A Blind Man Cries”. It is honestly one of my least favourite Deep Purple songs of all-time, but this was about as nicely as I have heard it played so I won’t complain.
Hamilton was really treated to an exceptional show for a Monday night. The performance continued with a great version of “Lazy” that was preceded by a nice Airey organ solo, followed by “No One Came” and then an exceptional longer keyboard solo that incorporated part of Ozzy’s “Mr. Crowley”, our national anthem “Oh Canada” and some nicely played Mozart that had the crowd up and on their feet in ovation just before the band ended the set on a high note with the triple shot of “Perfect Strangers”, “Space Truckin” and “Smoke On The Water” all in a row made sure that everyone stayed up and on their feet from front to back.
After a quick trip offstage, the packed auditorium had them back out in no time for an encore. It was neat to see them play their big psychedelic sixties hit “Hush” – the only song of the night recorded before the classic Mark II line-up commenced. Ian Paice might be the only member left that played on the original track, but they did a fantastic job with it and had the crowd dancing and clapping, which was nice to see. Roger Glover then took an unexpectedly fun bass solo before they headed into the last song of the night, “Black Night”. This is the song that Purple used to encore with back in their heyday of 1972/73 and it was a fitting song to end what was the best Deep Purple show this writer has ever had the pleasure to see.
Hard to believe too that, when it was done, it was only an eleven minute walk home to my house. Thanks for playing my city. Come back anytime!