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Historic document - 4.5 stars, due to Lord being low in the mix.
on 18 October 2013
Here it is after nearly 30 years- the proper live album from the 80s. This is technically the sixth official live release form the 80s, but that includes three official audience bootlegs. Even if we ignore sound quality of those three, this is the best show by a mile. For me, the Highway Stars bootleg comes second, but they are much tighter here. Not only that, it's a proper recording and it's even got visuals. Knebworth is not a great performance overall, and Nobody's Perfect (not really a 'show', of course) is pretty slack by comparison to this. Sound is good (apart from Jon in the mix, more on that below) and picture quality is good given it's age although there's little wide shots or audience shots just the one camera that's far back which might be a bit lower res (maybe).
Right at the beginning of Highway Star it feels so great to hear it played and sung with such energy - a great version. It's all very familiar in style as I've heard so many shows from this period but this is that familiarity injected with rocket fuel. They really are a band on in places.
Strange Kind of Woman, whilst mostly average, has a fantastic Gillan scream near the end (not THAT scream, before that) which could well have come from 1972.
Gypsy's Kiss is chaotic as with other performances, but Blackmore's Blues is great and he seems to briefly go back to playing more like it's 1976.
Knocking At Your Back Door is a great version. Played a whole step down as always live (only played in B with Turner). I think it pays off because the live versions really bring out the best in Gillan's voice. Also, this is the only time (apart from Highway Stars) where Blackmore plays the riff as it is on the album, which is nice. He simplified it later on.
Blackmore screws up the intro to Lazy as heard in other shows which is funny and then goes COMPLETELY MENTAL as a result. Great!
Child is Time is a great version of the song by the standard of the 80s. Gillan is great. Just to clarify, he sings it all just fine but there's a backing tape for the high bit which he sings over. There's no pretense, importantly - it's clear that's what is happening and it's fine. They would have done better just letting him sing it how he does but this is the 80s after all, and they were a band out of time not really suited to all that nonsense. More significant than the vocals is a surprising extended absolute killer of a guitar solo. If you like Blackmore's wild 80s playing, this is probably the best I've heard. Better than Tearing Out My Heart from Live Between the Eyes two years earlier, I think.
What is directly comparable is the Rainbow Live in Japan show filmed the same year and this (predictably) is far and away a better performance. Partially I think this is because they really seem to be having fun whereas on the Rainbow show you get the impression that they felt under pressure to get it right. There's a looseness to the performance only possible between musicians who know each other's styles very well. I've always preferred Difficult To Cure with Purple than Rainbow (probably mostly down to Mr Paice) and it's interesting just how similar this version sounds (and looks). In the end, Blackmore plays better on this show than the Rainbow one.
Space Truckin is another highlight - one of the best Paicey intros from any decade and a *great* performance with Jon stealing the show as usual, although I've never taken to Blackmore's erm, 'solo' during this period, personally. The keyboard sections of this song at this time were really special and this is a particularly good one. In his solo elsewhere in the show, there's one moment where he's playing something really poignant (with a great camera shot/lighting) and I really felt it seeing as he's only recently left us. A moment later (I won't spoil it) he does something that made me laugh and it was just great. This probably end up being one of my favourite DP moments ever.
I made a point of not looking at the tracklist and for a moment wasn't expecting Speed King and it is a real killer of a version. Gillan is on fire for this. They probably should have used SK for the preview video instead of the average version of PS. Just when I thought it was all over (Smoke - meh!) they put in a great version of Smoke On The Water which again must be one of the best versions seeing as I'm completely fed up with it. Make sure you watch to the end (Just a little cool thing, NOT the guest from the night before in case anyone wonders!).
I think it's important to make it clear that as this is a recording of Purple in 84, it sounds like Purple in 84. It's a historic document warts and all. Someone less familiar with the band may be expecting some mythical time when they were 'perfect'. They were never perfect, certainly not in the 80s and if they were they wouldn't be Deep Purple. All the familiar stuff with Blackmore missing cues is here. We all know Gillan was told to rest his voice in the early 80s (82?) but decided to join Black Sabbath instead and record and tour some of the most demanding songs of his career. For this reason, he'd lost control of his famous falsetto and his voice got a harsher tone.
Equally (for me) Blackmore had developed a unique 'psycho-staccato-chicken' playing style and tone which oddly mirrors how Gillan's voice had changed. Importantly, he sounds like Blackmore in the 80s, not Blackmore in 1976 (obviously!) albeit some of the very best playing in that style. It is an acquired taste and lacks the melody & tone of other decades for me. None of this affects the status (or star rating) of this release because if I didn't want to hear them in the 80s, I wouldn't buy it.
What's significant here is that whilst Gillan doesn't sound as good as he did in 83, unlike later performances he's full of energy and just belts out the songs anyway and gives it his all, with mostly fantastic results. Speed King is just awesome. This is great in the context of this album because it suits the songs but it's frankly amazing he could sing the next day let alone do a massive world tour singing like that.
My only real gripe with this release (hence 4.5 stars) is the lack of Jon. Sadly, the camera work brings back memories of Scandinavian Nights (but not *that* bad!) as we hardly ever see him, and when we do his fingers are out of view. Worse still is the fact hat he's so low in the mix despite (as always) putting in an awesome performance.
*Definitely* worth a buy if you like Deep Purple in the 80s. Far and away the best release of the period.