When they rock, they rock and when they roll, they roll!

Where others may sap the emotions, Deep Purple squeezes, then crushes the senses and afterwards it all seems like having been bludgeoned slowly into a condition of acquiescent insensibility. ---Daily Telegraph, February 1971

And this is exactly how I felt, even after 24 years, when I saw Deep Purple, at the Sunrise Musical Theatre in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, put on a spectacular show that left me with a sore throat, a buzzing sensation in my head, and the feeling that I was going to collapse.

The concert was completely unlike anything I expected, and this is not mere hyperbole. Having heard several live Deep Purple albums, one expects a certain format to be followed in the way things are played. But this time, given the absence of original guitarist Ritchie Blackmore's dictatorial authority over the group, the show was full of surprises and this was made evident right from the beginning.

People who have seen the concert before expect to hear a steady drum beat with a strong bass backing it, the guitar kicking in, vocalist Ian Gillan screaming, and all converging into Highway Star. But instead all the instruments blared in unision:

"The golden light about you show me where you're from.
 The magic in your eye bewitches all you gaze upon.
 You stand up on your hill and behop all around you.
 They wonder where you're from."
    ---Deep Purple, Fireball

Glover, Gillan, and Morse: the new guitarist has re-introduced the idea of fun for the band.

To my knowledge, the shows in Florida are the first time ever they've ever opened with Fireball and it was the beginning of the bludgeoning mentioned above. How fitting that the song was released exactly the year the quote was originally made. The lyrics are rather appropriate when appplied to Gillan, who is more than a great vocalist. He is also an excellent frontman for one of the greatest bands ever. He literally carried the show with not only his ear-wrenching screaming, but also his amusing comments and stage antics.

Gillan had to be responsible for the audience, for guitarist Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Kansas, The Steve Morse Band), who is the replacement for Blackmore, and bassist Roger Glover didn't move around the stage in any great amounts. The brief clips I've seen of Blackmore on video amazes me, for he is one of the few players I know who can play like a maniac and move around like one also. This is indicative of the fact, I think, that he barely has to make any effort to play like he does. Morse is a versatile guitar player, but he has incredibly big shoes to fill. His lack of movement on stage could be attributed to nervousness and lack of familiarity with the material. His playing, however, was extremely clean and precise. Unlike Joe Satriani, who, at least in the bootleg The Battle, copied Blackmore's solos almost note for note with slight variation, Morse improvised a lot more. While he did keep the Blackmorean essence to the old songs, he also managed to put his own mark on them. The problem with improvising on the fly and attempting to keep the essence but trying to make it sound fresh is that it could flop sometimes and I thought this was the case with the solo of Black Night.

"Maybe I'll find on the way down the line
 that I'm free, free to be me.
 Black night is a long way from home."
    ---Deep Purple, Black Night

The Battle Rages On was the first song where Morse could showcase all his talents and I especially liked the tapping sort of thing he did at the end. It was in this song I began to appreciate what has become the highlight of the show for me overall, and that's Jon Lord's keyboard playing. Lord is 54 now, but that doesn't stop him from being the greatest keyboard player in the world. In a way, he is similar to Blackmore in that in every song they play, the keyboard solos sound completely new. The keyboard solo in The Battle Rages On was executed brilliantly.

Jon Lord: the hand that rocks the organ.

The first new song Ted the Mechanic was then played and it is clear that Morse stands out best in the new songs. The songs were slower than the traditional Deep Purple material. They are bluesy, sloven, dragging, and almost, dare I say, grungey. I would liken it to songs like Nasty Piece of Work, Never Before, and Maybe I'm a Leo. This could have been better performed, I thought, since there were times when the instruments didn't mesh as well as they could have. Morse's riffs and solos in the songs were done very well and seemed more in place. A complete version of Woman from Tokyo was then played which sounded pretty decent. Another new song with the tentative title of Perpendicular/cite> was played next and this too had almost the same feel as Ted the Mechanic. I also thought this could've been performed better as well. I'm not a big fan of When a Blind Man Cries but this was done well also.

"If you hear me talking on the wind. 
 You've got to understand, we must remain 
 perfect strangers."
 ---Deep Purple, Perfect Strangers

Perfect Strangers was performed flawlessly from beginning to the end. The crowd really got into the song and Lord's keyboard breaks were exquisite and breathtaking, complementing Morse's guitar work during the song. However, I am too used to the version on Nobody's Perfect where Blackmore and Gillan trade places that sends shivers down my spine and it was bit of a disappointment for me when they didn't do anything that delivered the same emotional feel.

Here in this prison of my own making 
Year after day I have grown. 
Into a hero, but there's no worship, 
where have they hidden my throne? 

I'm alone here
with emptiness eagles and snow.
Unfriendliness chilling my body
and whispering pictures of home.
   ---Deep Purple, Pictures of Home

There was another surprise when Pictures of Home was played. This song was one more highlight of the show for me. The timing was tight, there were little or no flaws in execution, and it sounded great! Glover's bass playing and Morse's guitar wizardry was first-class. This led into the keyboard solo which was too short for my liking. But it did reaffirm my conviction that it was Lord's playing that made it worthwhile for me to fly down from DC to Florida to see them. The solo then went into the intro for Knocking on Your Back Door, and again, like Pictures of Home, this was performed extremely well. There were a pair of bongos that Gillan would occasionally pound on/ I suppose this was for the sake of giving him something to do, since they didn't serve any major musical purpose. They then introduced Anyone's Daughter, which was another surprise.

Child in Time proved that Gillan still has a great voice, just as good as it was 25 years ago, and that he can still scream better than anyone else. Lord's keyboard solo (in the intro and in the middle) in this one blew me away simply because of the emotive nature of his playing. It is a restrained form of emotion: when you hear him play you have this immense urge to move. Yet Lord himself doesn't, even though it appears like he should be smashing the keys into the keyboard. I cannot describe it any better, but I have gotten to grow and love this sort of sound and playing. Morse's solo was short and not up to par. When Gillan was screaming, Morse played along with the guitar and during the second verse, Gillan screamed an octave lower than usual, while Morse's guitar was playing normally, and this made for an unsettling listen.

"Sweet child in time you'll see the line,
 the line that's drawn between the good and the bad.
 See the blind man, he's shooting at the world.
 Bullets flying taking toll.
 If you've been bad, lord I bet you have,
 and you've not been hit by flying lead.
 You better close your eyes, you better bow your head<
 and wait for the ricochet.
    ---Deep Purple, Child in Time

Ian Gillan: child in time.

The keyboard/guitar exchange in Anya provided a wonderful introduction to the song. Again, Lord's solos blew me away, but so did Morse's guitaring! They then played a new song called Soon Forgotten and this is my favourite of all the three new songs they played. All the instruments were in perfect synchrony and it was extremely tight. It is also a departure from the traditional Deep Purple style we're used to hearing. The new songs represented more of a equilibrium between the keyboards, guitar, and the vocals. While people might miss Blackmore, I think Morse is indeed a good addition and I think this will at the very lead led to better harmony (no pun intended) during the song writing process.

The introduction to Lazy by Morse surpassed what Satriani did on The Battle Rages On. I don't believe I've heard as good an intro to this song, in terms of pure technical prowess, in any of the albums as the one I heard in this concert. To use a cliche, he shredded! The song led into the drum solo which was stunning. I have not heard a drum solo this good in any concert or live CD. Paice is no spring chicken and what he lacked in raw speed he made up with flair and aesthetic. The vocals in Speed King really rocked, and the keyboard/guitar tussle, which started off slow, picked up to display some brilliant keyboard work and mind-numbing guitar playing. If you thought the guitar on Speed King by Malmsteen on the Smoke on the Water tribute album was good, wait till you hear Morse play the same solo!

"I'm a speed king, you've gotta hear me sing.
 I'm a speed king, see me fly."
    ---Deep Purple, Speed King

All the songs were in a typical concert format, and there no songs that went on for more than ten minutes. Gillan would often look into a book placed on the drummer stand, probably containing lyrics. Notable absences included Strange Kind of Woman (I would've liked to see Morse and Gillan do some guitar and vocal gymnastics together), and Space Truckin'. The show lasted 2.25 hours. The opening act was a local band called Naked Rhythm which sounded like a heavy version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I liked them and I thought they had potential! They do have an album out and it might be worth investing in it if you are into hardcore/funk type of music.

"Nobody gonna take my car, I'm gonna race it to the ground.
 Nobody gonna beat my car, it's gonna break the speed of sound."
     ---Deep Purple, Highway Star

The familiar Highway Star introduction to a Deep Purple concert was not replaced by Fireball, but was postponed for the encore. This was my favourite song of the evening. While Morse's solo on this one wasn't as good as anything Blackmore has done, it still sounded decent and Lord's keyboard playing more than made up for it. The last song they played was Smoke on the Water and once again, this was a crowd pleaser. Morse tried to play a more complicated solo for this song than the original, but I don't think it worked out well. By this time I was in a state of euphoria and didn't care too much about this. I had witnessed what was musically the best concert I've ever been to and walked away, my senses numb, convinced more than ever that Deep Purple can put on a show that rocks and rolls better than anyone else.

Annihilation, kill 'em all! 
Capitulation, watch the mighty fall.
The road to glory is lined in red,
and the reason now is gone... the battle rages on!
    ---Deep Purple, The Battles Rages On

It most definitely does, and Deep Purple are right at the forefront!

The Lord and I; Decoding Morse.

Music ramblings || Ram Samudrala || me@ram.org || March 4, 1995