Monday, February 16, 2004

Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy, Feb. 8, 2004 at the Orpheum Theatre
Thin Lizzy came on with lights flashing and sirens wailing—tonight there would be a jailbreak, apparently. The sound was shatteringly loud, and the kick drums were distorting a bit. Thin Lizzy were basically a cover band, albeit one with a pedigree. John Sykes, who handled guitar and vocals (sounding not unlike Phil Lynott), was only with Lizzy for one album in ’83. Scott Gorham, the other guitarist, hailed from the band’s glory days. The bass player was a generic Richie Sambora type. The drummer, Michael Lee, had double bass drums just like Brian Downey, and a big cooling fan blowing in his face. Very rock. The set list was basically one half of the Live and Dangerous album (“Don’t Believe a Word,” “Rosalie,” “The Cowboy Song”, “Still in Love With You,” and so on), with a couple songs from the ’80s thrown in, like “Chinatown” and “Cold Sweat.” They didn’t play “Emerald,” unfortunately, which is one of those songs I’m always in the mood to hear. The set was over in a flash, way too short to do justice to the Lizzy back catalogue. After 45 minutes, they gave the crowd the beer-commercial-tainted “The Boys Are Back in Town” (cue Fancylady’s dash for a slash) then left the stage.

Intermission and time to survey the crowd. Lots of normal folks, and more aging rockers than you can shake a Thai stick at. Families occupied whole rows, the dads anxious to show Puddle of Mudd-loving offspring how the guitar ought to be played. And a lone hipster in a trucker hat featuring the word “BUDGIE” chicken-scratched above the brim with a Sharpie. Sure, he may like one of the most rocking bands in history, but he wasn’t going to shuck off the irony and expend some effort replicating their logo. Come on, Roger Dean designed it—it’s nearly as cool as the Yes logo!

Deep Purple were everything I expected them to be—poised, well seasoned, and masterful. They make it look so easy. After opening with a new song off Bananas, they went into “Woman From Tokyo,” and the gig took flight. I’ve always thought this was a semi-silly song, but man, did it ever work on stage. Purple are masters of the sustaining tension and delaying the payoff, and the long, trippy “So far away” section in "Woman From Tokyo" was a perfect example. Then they crashed into the main riff again and Don Airey raced through that piano solo and it doesn’t get any better than that. The first half of the set was 50/50 old/new, and included “Strange Kind of Woman” (I like a shuffle), “Perfect Strangers,” and “Knockin’ at Your Back Door”. The new songs from Bananas were all very classy, tight, a little busy and proggish. I get the impression that they can toss this stuff off effortlessly after all these years. Having Steve Morse in the band must help, because that guy is a music machine. He probably writes 15 riffs before breakfast.

Ian Gillan looked comfortable in baggy white togs and bare feet. His voice is a well-worn instrument these days, upper range mostly gone, but everything else hanging in there. Ian Paice (hero!) played like Ian Paice behind his Ian Paice drum kit. Looks like fun. Roger Glover (wearing the aging rocker head scarf favoured by Ian Anderson and most of Fleetwood Mac) is hard to pin down as a bassist. He’s not an introverted genius virtuoso like John Paul Jones or Entwistle, nor is he the embodiment of low-end simplicity like a Cliff Williams. Not to slight him, but Glover just does the job, and he sounds great.

They devoted the last half of the show to Machine Head, playing all tracks in order, slipping “When a Blind Man Cries” (a b-side you’ll find on the CD reissue) between “Lazy” and “Space Truckin’.” Gillan had some serious trouble with the album's opening and closing tunes, but handled the rest of the songs okay. During this segment of the show, the bananas backdrop disappeared in favour of film clips related to the early seventies—Janis and Jimi, Nixon and ’Nam, protesters and pot leaves. This was a bit forced, distracting and unnecessary. The songs didn’t need that kind of visual buttressing, and Deep Purple's music, to me at least, stands apart from that sort of clichéd nostalgia. Machine Head certainly still holds up today—I play it several times a year. It’s a helluva lot more than a period piece.

After a short break, they came back and played “Hush” and “Black Night” for the encore. It was all good, though I was hankering for something from In Rock. However, Sox tells me that “Child in Time” hasn’t been in the set since ’87, and most of the other songs on that album are probably out of Gillan’s range, too. Whatever—the crowd did a soccer chant along with the “Black Night” riff, the Gimli-like figure of Gerald the Rattlehead was bouncing up and down the aisle, and even though the gig would end in a couple minutes, everything was just about perfect.

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