Deep Purple Reigned at MGM Northfield
October 18th, 2019
You know, it's becoming either extremely difficult or, much more likely, a hell of a lot easier reviewing all of these legacy acts that make the rounds to venues such as the MGM Northfield Park's Center Stage venue or the Agora Theater. Several of these cats have been touring since I was in diapers and I'm more than a half-century old. Coming off of Styx's triumphant return to the MGM, I thought it would be hard to top that display of journeymen craftsmanship.
Well, Deep Purple matched Tommy Shaw and company almost note for note Wednesday evening at the Center Stage venue. Here's an outfit that's been together since before Woodstock; yeah, the personnel may have changed a few times and the band's genesis from a prog rock unit to one-third of England's Holy Trinity of metal bands, and then to a "classic rock" outfit may be stuff of legend. And, throughout all of those transformations their musicianship remains a sight to behold.
On Wednesday, founding member and drummer Ian Paice was joined by Ian Gillan on lead vocals and bassist Roger Glover, who both joined Paice in 1969, a full year after the band formed. Steve Morse, on guitar and backup vocals, joined the band in 1994, while keyboardist Don Airey joined in 2002. These "late comers" are longtime members and their onstage antics proved that this is a tight, fantastic-sounding outfit.
Gillan, who celebrated his 74th birthday in August, still has the moxie of a rock god even if he has the look of a retired accountant. Seeing Paice tucked away behind the kit, he looks right at home. Even if the white hot spots make his mane of white hair blossom under that light. Glover held his bass like a mother holds her newborn; he cradled it as if it were a part of him. After fifty-plus years of playing the same tunes, it's amazing how the journeyman bassist can make it all seem new and fresh as he smiled at the audience as if this were the first time he had picked up his axe for a professional gig.
Yep, these guys are old...but with that age comes wisdom and, dare I say, an almost venerated perfection. Their prog rock licks bring back a lot of memories; the audience members themselves have spent the last decade or so in their AARP years and were having a great time hearing the music that they grew up on and, in some cases, became a little tone deaf due to the eardrum shredding decibel levels.
Offering a fourteen-tune set, the band pulled almost a third of their choices from 1972's Machine Head, including their magnum opus "Smoke On The Water." Starting the night with a piped-in version of Gustav Holst's "Mars, the Bringer of War," the band took to the stage and immediately segued into a trippy (and yes, loud) version of "Highway Star." Paice, at a spry seventy-one, was adept at those skins, pounding away like a man half his age.
As the evening progressed and the halfway point of the show was hit, Gillan ripped into "Lazy," another cut from Machine Head; the crowd was now mostly on its collective feet.
Saving "Smoke on the Water" for one of their last tunes, everyone was now up and stretching their arms and cell phones in the air. After that delivery, the band left the stage and came back out after a thunderous five minute applause. Gillan and company, bowing and waving, then rounded out the night with a great rendition of "Hush" and "Black Night."
The crowd got what they paid for. Stupid me, so did I. By accident, I left my earplugs on my dresser. My ears were ringing til the next morning. But, I suspect, had the same dazed euphoria that the rest of the audience experienced: A classic band, playing classic tunes, and showing everyone in attendance how it's done. In less than a week, I had experienced a pair of true master class-level performance by rock gods.
Photos and Review by Brian M. Lumley