Deep Purple return to Birmingham in support of their latest Infinite album, bringing with them Cats In Space & Europe for an indulgent evening of classic rock.
Cats In Space were a late, but more than welcome addition to the tour. Since their debut last year and their September 2016 tour, the Cats have been working hard and winning over fans at every turn. Their brand of 70’s infused melodic rock has certainly captured many fans having been picked up by Planet Rock, some summer festival dates and a well suited support slot with Thunder earlier in the year, and another album, Scarecrow, having just hit the shelves.
The Cats may be a new band, but all members have their pedigree; guitarist Greg Hart and Andy Stewart both hailing from NWOBHM band Moritz and Dean Howard, who amongst his many associations included a stint touring with Ian Gillan on his Toolbox tour back in the early 90s & plays on the Gillan’s Inn album. They are afforded a short but effective slot cramming in some of their best moments from debut album ‘Too Many Gods’ including the title track and ‘Greatest Story Ever Told’ along with a couple from new album Scarecrow with ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ and ‘Timebomb’.
As with many of the European rock bands that emerged in the eighties, Europe are no exception where Deep Purple were a major influence on their style. Joey Tempest doesn’t need to mention this, but he is keen to pay his respect and tells the audience that “Purple were leading the way back in the 70s, and they’re still leading the way today”. The tribute receives a massive cheer.
Europe have experienced a recent return to form with a run of excellent albums, but their harder blusier edge may be a surprise to those less familiar with the current band and expecting a greatest hits set. With a new album out, Walk The Earth, they are keen to play some songs off it and open with the title track and follow it with another newbie; ‘The Siege’. They are tight and play more to the crowd than Cats In Space with a slick set that includes the arena pumping ‘Rock The Night’ and a classy ‘Superstitious’. The rest of the set drops in more recent tracks from their last couple of albums before heading back to 1984 for a monstrous ‘Scream Of Anger’ where John Norum lets rip on both riffs and wah-wah solos channeling another of their early influences; Michael Schenker.
The finale can’t really be anything other than the song that catapulted them into the big league; ‘The Final Countdown’. Another glorious stadium song, it’s a moment of nostalgia, but on the whole the set has been refreshing and proves that Europe have plenty more to offer. In fact they’ve just announced their own headline tour for September 2018.
Of late, Deep Purple have been something of a revelation. In 2013, 45 years after their formation, they released an exceptional album in Now What?! which they toured heavily over the subsequent years. Then, almost out of the blue, they announced that they were in the studio again and earlier this year their Infinite album was released further adding to their legacy. Again using Bob Ezrin to produce the album surpassed Now What?! and with a wealth of great songs it was going to be interesting to see what they chose to play live.
They open with ‘Time For Bedlam’ and they ease into their groove from the off before upping the pace with an exhilarating ‘Fireball’ which Gillan sings very well and sees Glover run off some great bass lines. The sound tonight is also noticeably good. At 72, Gillan’s voice is understandably not what it once was; the likes of ‘Child In Time’ have long been discounted, but this is of little concern. He still has a mighty fine voice, he just sings in a lower register, and this in itself gives the opportunity for the band to play plenty of their current material. In fact, over a third of the set is taken from the last two albums, and it’s all the better for it. Purple have always been a live band and part of the thrill of seeing them is watching them lock in together and, as ever, Ian Paice is still simply a joy to watch and listen to as a drummer, and is particularly astonishing as he leads into ‘Lazy’ from Don Airey’s keys. Making it look so effortless, he remains one of the greatest rock drummers to grace the planet.
Steve Morse has had his fair share of critics over the years and mostly due to the fact that he isn’t Ritchie Blackmore and plays his parts verbatim. I for one have always admired his playing and what he has brought to the band (both in terms of musically and in stability) and have never been anything other than impressed with his playing since I first saw him at Villa Leisure Centre on the Purpendicular tour. Tonight proves no exception and he excels himself on ‘Birds Of Prey’.
Gillan’s on stage ramblings and sometimes baffling introductions (head gardener, the incorrigible gluten free Don Airey!) between songs add to the enjoyment. Don Airey’s lengthy solo is made all the more fun to watch with the stage cameras projecting the action onto the big screens behind so we can keep up with his fingers. There’s much improvisation, as you would expect, and he even throws in a snippet of ‘Iron Man’, presumably in recognition of the town he’s playing in which leads into a magnificient ‘Perfect Strangers’.
Predictably, the main set closes with ‘Smoke On The Water’. The encore sees them jam out a short ‘Going Down’ before segueing into a further jammed out ‘Hush’ complete with Roger Glover bass solo. ‘Black Night’ brings the proceedings to an end, including Morse playing a section of Europe’s ‘Final Countdown’ to repay their earlier compliment. It rounds off what has been an exceptional night of music and a great start to the weekend.
This may be billed as the Long Goodbye Tour, and if this does turn out to be their last visit to the city, then they’ve certainly ended on a high. Although I suspect that it’s not the last time we’ll see Deep Purple play the UK. Indeed, Gillan mentions that they are now feeling in a much better state than they were as a band a couple of years ago when they thought this would be the last run. “Let’s see what happens” is his verdict. While the current section of the tour is close to finishing, they have already penciled in some dates around the world in the middle of next year and I wouldn’t be surprised if they returned to the UK for a key festival date or special appearance.
Time for Bedlam
All I Got Is You
Birds of Prey
Knocking at Your Back Door
Smoke on the Water