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Ian Paice of Deep Purple. All photos by Terry Steeves.

Bluesfest: Deep Purple, commanders of classic rock

By Terry Steeves on July 21, 2015

It’s as much output that can be produced by a set of drums, bass, guitar, and a Hammond organ, by musicians that are masters of their instruments. It’s a wall of sound consisting of music from genres of heavy and progressive rock, with the use of blues, classical, and other scales. Add to this a singular, hair-raising voice, whose challenging vocal melodies are just as grandiose, and I’ve just described Deep Purple, who gave a commanding performance in front of a massive crowd at Ottawa Bluesfest last night.

After 47 years, the music of Deep Purple has journeyed on despite many band member changes. Tonight, we saw the majority of the Mark II line-up  of 1969-1973, four years that saw the most successful period in the band’s existence. They are Roger Glover (bass), Ian Paice (drums), Ian Gillan (lead vocals/harmonica), Steve Morse (replacing the incomparable Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, 1994-present), and Don Airey (replacing the late, great Jon Lord on keys, 2002-present). They defined a genre with their signature brand of heavy/progressive rock that set them apart and garnered them world-class distinction, and would make up part of the essential diet for rock musicians and appreciators for generations to come.

Ian Gillan of Deep Purple

Ian Gillan of Deep Purple

The crowd roared during a preliminary dramatic sequence, which sounded very much like a musical intro fit for a Roman chariot race, while the band members proceeded to lock themselves in place. They delivered their customary show-starter anthem, “Highway Star” (Machine Head – 1972), which set the instrumentally blazing pace for the evening. Both the classically-inspired guitar and organ solos, originally written by Blackmore and Ritchie, were magnificently played by Morse and Airey. Gillan’s vocals, respectfully lived up to the song’s challenging range, and warmed up as the show progressed. He also later gave us a taste of his harmonica skills in the rockin‘ blues staple, “Lazy” (Machine Head – 1972).

Up next was “Apres Vous”, a cut from their last studio album, “Now What?!”, released in 2013. I loved its recurring heavy melodic intro, great driving beat, and its colourful solo segment, all of which harboured the elements that have stayed true to the Deep Purple sound. More insane Hammond and guitar solos dazzled us throughout the steady galloping stride of “Hard Lovin’ Man” (Deep Purple In Rock – 1970), and straight into the classic, “Strange Kind of Woman” (Live In Japan – 1972). “Vincent Price” (Now What?! – 2013), jarred me with its demonic bassline, and Hammond intro straight out of the house of Dracula. I loved Morse’s atmospheric guitar solo, which was haunting and full of bending notes.

What came next was some of the most impressive displays of classical rock I have ever witnessed in, “Contact Lost” (Bananas – 2003), “Uncommon Man” (What Now?!), and “The Well Dressed Guitar” (Rapture of the Deep – 2005 bonus disc). Morse showed his amazing guitar prowess as he delivered the majestic, melancholy intro, and his impressive finger-tapping technique. Airey later filled the air with great, medieval horn synth blasts, and joined Morse with duelling shredding arpeggios that burned up the classical scale. Glover kept up an intensely challenging bassline along with Paice’s powerful and unwavering metronomic backbone, as they brought this musical masterpiece into epic proportions. Paice’s phenomenal drumming skills would be later highlighted in “The Mule” (Live In Japan – 1972), where he went into a jaw-dropping rollercoaster of syncopations ranging from single stroke expertise to drum roll madness.

Steve Morse of Deep Purple

Steve Morse of Deep Purple

My personal pièce de resistance came with “Perfect Strangers” (Perfect Strangers – 1984), and its iconic heavy exotic pungency that continues to trigger that familiar tingle up my spine. The song’s theatrical and ominous quality was further intensified under the ceiling of the dark sky peeking through the clouds. Glover stood out in front to deliver his power chord intro to “Space Truckin’” (Machine Head – 1972), which was followed by one of the songs that continues to encapsulate the theme of classic rock, “Smoke On The Water”. It’s emblematic guitar/bass intro has become the cornerstone of one of the most popular riffs in rock history, and one almost every aspiring guitarist has learned to play at one time or another. The band took a break to allow the audience to chime in on the song’s chorus, which powerfully trailed into the night sky.

The encore segment began with the band‘s first hit, their cover version of Joe South‘s, “Hush” (Shades of Deep Purple – 1968), which was rich in its jazzy tone, and highlighted another guitar/keyboard segment. “Black Night” (Live In Japan – 1972) displayed the band’s signature simultaneous bass-keys-guitar melody line. In essence, the show tonight was a series of outstanding work by each musician, that have kept the music of Deep Purple very alive and well, and continues to be celebrated by all.