To successfully run the gauntlet of the rock & roll dream without suffering serious and often irreparable damage caused by creative differences, relentless touring and the often bruised ego, is challenging to say the least. With this, countless groups throughout time unable to weather the storm have often opted for necessary member changes to avoid their foreseeable demise.
Nothing could be more the case than with British heavy metal pioneers Deep Purple, who graced the stage of Detroit’s Fox Theatre Friday evening. Confidently titled “The Songs That Built Rock” tour, Mark VIII of the band featured original drummer Ian Paice, bassist Roger Glover, vocalist Ian Gillan, guitarist Steve Morse and keyboardist Don Airey. Seemingly unblemished from the seven prior member configurations and with symphony orchestra in tow, the quintet reminisced with long-time fans their impressive catalogue of classic hits set to a backdrop of classical accompaniment.
With an eclectic audience ranging from the newest to the deepest of Purple fans, all were revved up for their long-awaited return to North America after a four-year absence. Entering to a symphonic overture, members took to their respective positions and awaited the legendary voice of Ian Gillan as they transitioned into the energetic “Highway Star”. His unique timbre and vocal range distracted fans from his rigid stage presence, awkward facial gestures and overall appearance as what seemed to be black medical scrubs draped over the iconic front man. This hardly the gown for rock & roll royalty!
Conversely, the spotlight focused on Stage Left truly featured the highlight of the entire evening. None could have walked away from the show without witnessing the brilliant guitar work of virtuoso Steve Morse. Now seventeen years with the band, Morse not only filled the shoes of his predecessor Ritchie Blackmore, but also unravelled the laces, as his interpretation of these masterpieces was captivating. Armed also with charisma and an incessant smile, he easily connected with veteran fans.
Returning us to days when musicians could truly express their proficiency on their instruments, the two-hour show allotted time for individual members to step out into the limelight. In particular, the solid groove generated by Glover and Paice attested to their many years of performing together while providing a ruthless rhythm section. Airey, who stepped in for former keyboardist Jon Lord ten years prior, lit up his Hammond organ complete with Leslie cabinets to remind us of the gritty tone which Deep Purple is known for.
The show’s imposing set list confidently bolstered the tour’s brawny declaration of “The Songs That Built Rock”. Stellar hits “Woman From Tokyo”, “Lazy”, “Perfect Strangers” and “Space Truckin’” lead into the iconic “Smoke On The Water”, which seemed to literally rock the venues foundation as fans stomped, pounded and thumped every available appendage. Reappearing for a two-song encore Deep Purple jammed to their rendition of Billy Joe Royal’s “Hush” as well as their classic hit “Black Night”.
Though some of Deep Purple’s members may have come and gone and others remain to carry on their legacy, classic rock & roll still remains a passion not only to those who have created it, but to those who have embraced and sustained it throughout the years. For if not for the tenacity of these legendary acts, the genre may one day vanish into obscurity. Or could it be possible that the prophetic words of Neil Young will ring true? “Hey, hey, my, my.... rock & roll will never die!”