|Deep Purple – Live in California 74|
|Written by K L Poore|
|Tuesday, 24 January 2006|
My wake will be an alcohol-drenched, maudlin affair, rife with cheese- dripping appetizers, half-hearted shoving matches and talk. Lots of talk. Luckily, I won’t be the subject of that boozy chatter for the first hour or so, because my family and friends are a curious lot. No one will even notice the little cardboard box with my name on it sitting there on the coffee table. They’ll start right in on the three things I know everyone in the room has in common: music, movies and politics. Eventually, someone will question why “Remember” by Harry Nilsson is playing repeatedly (my singular request) and that will lead to a discussion about my life-defining love of music. They’ll wind their way through the Beatles and Charles Mingus. Jimi Hendrix and Thelonious Monk. Stephen Sondheim … Frank Zappa … Chris Whitley … Nick Drake … and eventually someone’s going to drop the Deep Purple bomb.
And the room will go quiet.
Since so few of those future mourners know this devastating secret, a secret I’ve kept hidden like the bottle of cheap Scotch in my sock drawer, I think we’d all be better served if I stood up in front of everyone, right now, on this side of the grave, and proclaimed: I’m a Deep Purple fan.
I have been for years. It’s something I can no more account for than I can explain why I love French fries dipped into a vanilla shake. But so it goes.
I was secretly ecstatic when I read that Deep Purple Live in California 74 was going to be released on DVD in 5.0 digital sound. Even if it is Purple Mark 3.
The history of Deep Purple and their fluid line-up is a somewhat sordid mess, kept neater for aficionados by chronologically titling their successive rosters (they’re currently on Mark 8, with two reunions of Mark 2 interspersed), but in 1974, when Richie Blackmore (guitar), David Coverdale (vocals), Glenn Hughes (bass, vocals) Jon Lord (keyboards) and Ian Paice (drums) embarked on a 28-date tour of America, they were (we are told in the liner notes and audio commentary) the biggest-selling album act in America. Little did most fans realize that it wasn’t the same band that had decimated underground radio with In Rock, Fireball, Machine Head and Made in Japan, the latter two containing versions of their classic cut “Smoke on the Water.” Yes, the song you hear every time you come across a kid and an electric guitar. That Deep Purple (Mark 2) featured Ian Gillan (Jesus in the original studio recording of “Jesus Christ Superstar”) on vocals and Roger Glover on bass, and to this day is referred to as the classic lineup. The ‘74 version of the band was basically Blackmore’s creation and inserted Hughes, who brought a funkier feel, on bass and vocals, and Coverdale, who brought, well … David Coverdale. You know him. After his Purple days ended, he positively thrilled your little sister as the manly, hirsute leader of Whitesnake, complete with Robert Plant-ish dye job and Tawny Kitaen videos.
Meanwhile, as Purple slogged across the country playing to and winning over unsuspecting fans, the ABC network was looking for a spectacle they could put on TV as part of its “In Concert” series. They found it by teaming with promoters to put on California Jam, an outdoor festival to be held at the Ontario Motor Speedway, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles.
On Saturday, the sixth of April, about 200,000 gathered under a burning sun to see Earth, Wind & Fire, the Eagles, Black Sabbath and others, culminating in performances by co-headliners Deep Purple and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. In a story that has become legend for fans, Deep Purple was given the choice of going on at dusk or closing the show and chose the former. A decision that inadvertently ended up spawning an even greater spectacle than ABC desired.
When Purple arrived at the site an hour early “to prepare,” they were reportedly told by the producer (this is almost unbelievable) that the show was running an hour early and that they had to go on immediately. Your typical backstage snit ensued, complete with “You’ll never work in this town again” and “We’re going to dump you from the bill.” Blackmore, whom even his closest acquaintances would label as difficult on a good day, was “wound up” by these threats, setting the stage for their performance.
A few weeks prior to the Jam, Purple released their first Mark 3 U.S. album, Burn. It’s an inspired heavy rock collection that, except for some stomach-churning lyrics (e.g.: “You have wasted/the love I tasted”), can compete with the best of the Mark 2 incarnation. The band was energized by the positive reception of the new material and Blackmore, for the first time in a couple of years, seemed totally engaged in the band’s live performances.
The DVD opens with a vintage “World Wide - In Concert” logo and Don Imus dishing the obligatory “sit back and enjoy” intro. After a few minutes of Purple fiddling onstage before the first notes ring out, during which Coverdale, only a year removed from selling clothes in a boutique in the north of England, looks completely out of place and stunned by the size of the crowd, the band tears into their new LP’s title cut and just rips it up. A propulsive rock opener, “Burn” features the best of what Mark 3 had to offer: classic Blackmore guitar, dual vocalists and remarkable drumming from Ian Paice. There’s good reason that, when he decided to return to the Cavern Club in 1999, Paul McCartney chose Paice to fill the drum seat. It’s Paice, more than any other member, who has enabled Deep Purple to continue to tour until today.
You’re immediately struck by the sound of the DVD. The audio was mastered by Steve Scanlon and the 5.0 mix places you in the front of the audience, with the just right amount of ambience. That audience which you are now a part of is almost comatose (attributable to good measures of heat and herb) and doesn’t really get interested until Glenn Hughes lets loose a few Ian Gillan-like screams. Seems they’re still unaware of the lineup change.
The band roars through the next three numbers, all from Burn: “Might Just Take Your Life,” “Lay Down, Stay Down” and “Mistreated.” “Mistreated” is Mark 3’s tour de force and rightly so. A thundering blues-rock number, it features Blackmore at his best, intermingling blues with European classicism and a perpetual scowl.
The band is very tight, very loud and provides the DVD viewer with an unintentional bonus: amusing ’70s between-songs stage patter. This is, without question, the highlight of Coverdale’s career, and as he introduces their new rockin’ radio hit, it’s instantly apparent that a majority of the monstrous crowd hasn’t heard it yet. Hughes rambles his way through his intros with annoying backstage party sniffs and condescending chat and, in what must have been humiliating, keyboardist Jon Lord takes a moment to introduce the new lads, who are greeted with total indifference.
The liner notes take care to point out that not only is this the only complete concert caught on film (preserved due to the foresight of the band’s management), but also one of Mark 3’s greatest performances and, after these four tunes, it is a claim that’s easy to understand. For the opening 30 minutes, it seems as if Mark 3 could blow just about any band off the stage (something that I’m certain worried Emerson, Lake & Palmer, who by this time were backstage doing ELP-type things). Ready to take the children of California by the throat and not let go, Purple launches into “Smoke on the Water.”
And that’s where the concert, and the DVD, go wrong.
“Smoke on the Water” is interesting, if somewhat ragged, and is the beginning of about an hour of music encircling it; “You Fool No One,” “Space Truckin’” and the main themes of Mark 2 classics “The Mule” and “Lazy” are jumping-off points for extended solos. Extended is the proper term here and everyone gets their turn in the spotlight. Each solo shines for a brief moment or two, but these are still rock musicians, we’re not talking John Coltrane, and they invariably end up going into places that send your attention elsewhere and cause you to drift off into contemplating your own mortality. And in rock music, especially in the world of Deep Purple’s (Mark 3) heavy “where’s the birds?” music, that is worse than dying.
Hughes does a little soul moaning and plays an obnoxious bass/wah wah solo. Coverdale stands at center stage, looking lost, waiting his turn. Jon Lord, an incredible composer/musician in his own right, crawls around on his keyboards looking for the Keith Emerson setting. And Richie Blackmore does what he does best. He looks gloomy and wound up. Which takes us back to the concert producer and the finale, “Space Truckin’.”
It seems that he’d really, really pissed off Blackmore in their pre-show confrontation and obviously didn’t have a clue about how that would play into Blackmore’s “personality” (the quotes are mine). It also didn’t help that, pre-snit, he’d asked Blackmore to “favor the camera.”
“Space Truckin’,” according to the liner notes, is a song where you “get the verses out of the way and then let the band battle it out for 15 minutes or so until someone calls time.” About eight minutes in, any tendency you have toward ADD shows up, along with the spacey keyboard pyrotechnics – and we’ve still got 20 minutes of song to go. At about 13 minutes, Blackmore breaks out Henry the VIII’s favorite tune “Greensleeves,” and around the 14-minute mark, the crowd is happy but ready to hear “Karn Evil 9.”
But Purple isn’t done. They go blistering towards what must now seem a reasonable conclusion, only to interrupt themselves with more nonsense. The still wound up Blackmore dances on a really sweet early-‘70s Stratocaster (with the big headstock), breaks it into manageable pieces, favors the camera by bashing it with the largest piece, blows up a Marshall stack (complete with fire and roadies with extinguishers) and then drags it piece by piece and drops it over the edge into (what I’m hoping is) the gap between the stage and the audience. If you’ve ever lifted a 4x10 or 2x12 speaker cabinet, or even a Marshall head, for that matter, you’ll probably be relieved to know that, as the police reported the next day, there were no deaths. After stomping another Strat and then realizing it won’t stay in tune, he calls a halt to his madness. The lads give a few waves and off they go, escaping the flies, California heat, and what was probably the grandest, if not largest, concert in Purple’s Mark 3 history.
It’s my love for all this hyper-rock that will amaze my closest friends on that gloomy day of my wake, all those years from now. It will be hard for them to picture me as a boy, thrilling to Richie Blackmore beating a vicious camera into submission. Never knowing how, even at that age, I cringed when ABC superimposed Batman graphics (POW! BAM!) over each blow on the original broadcast. I wanted to see the damn camera break. Nor will my mourners be able to imagine how disappointed I was when Blackmore left to form Rainbow, Tommy Bolin taking his place in Purple (Mark 4). Or the sigh, like a final breath, that I let out a few years later when I realized the Mark 2 reunion wasn’t going to ignite those dangerous sparks inside me again. It merely made me feel old … old beyond my years.
So now I’ve added a second request for my wake. When the discussion invariably makes its way to Deep Purple, someone will pop this DVD in, the sound will be cranked, and they’ll experience what it was like for me as a boy all those years ago.
Thrilled by excess.
Basking in the pomp.
Rockin’ hard in California.
For at least the first 30 minutes.