First Night: Bright night for hard rock revival

Deep Purple Wembley Arena London
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The Independent Online
AT 8.37 last night a plump long-haired man in a black singlet and black harem pantaloons came to the edge of the stage at Wembley arena and grinned into the darkness. "Don't jump" he said, when someone in the crowd recognised him (laughter, followed by wild applause).

The question of the night was: would Ian Gillan's voice hold out until the end of the millennium, or just the end of the gig? The answer: no problem and it came in the form of a resounding aaaaaaiiiii ... !

Starting with the funk blast of "Ted the Mechanic", followed by an authentically nostalgic rendering of "Strange Kind of Woman", Deep Purple announced that they were still very much on form.

OK, so there was no stage-diving, crowd-surfing or so forth (the lone bouncer at the front ensured this) nor were there banners reading "Come back Ritchie'. As a matter of fact everyone seemed perfectly content with Steve Morse's efforts on lead guitar. People who were still at school in the 70s heard what they wanted to hear, namely electric guitar to make them weep courtesy of the American maestro.

In the meantime, Jon Lord looked happy enough and despite recent advances in technology his keyboard sounded the same as it did in 1970.

For some reason the band didn't seem particularly loud, unless of course this critic's ears are beginning to wear out with age. Yes, the Gillan voice continues to soar to great heights but the Deep Purple formula remains drastically unchanged. Every song features a "duel" between Lord and Morse or Morse and Gillan or Gillan and Lord and of course all songs were introduced in the time-honoured way by Gillan. "This is a song about what happens when you get beside yoursel," he announced. "You shouldn't get too far because there's a big gap in the middle. That's what the song's all about."

That was the intro for "Watching the Sky". Oddly, there was no such explanation for "Smoke On The Water" but then nearly everyone knows the story behind that one. At 9.40 the classic chords were struck and at 9.45 it was all over.

Next up was "Speed King" with Gillan as a sped-up Little Richard. Ian Paice's drum solo in the middle was as predictable as a medieval battle re-enactment, but Lord, Gillan and Morse made up for the deficit.

Preparing the ground for an encore of "Black Night", "Highway Star" and next, surely, "Child In Time". Sadly no, the band said goodnight and thanks very much and next thing they were gone. There was no "Child In Time" and the departing mob wondered solemnly why.

Magnus Mills

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