by Bryan Holland
The evening was primed and ready for a night of great, classic hard rock. The setting, a small 3,000 seat venue on western Long Island, by the name of NYCB Theatre at Westbury that allows for an extremely intimate show. The band, a group known mostly for their classic hits from the late 1960’s to early 1970’s, was Deep Purple. A band I believe, after catching their current live show, needs to be on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot sooner than later. They are one of the pioneers of hard rock and owners of one of the most recognizable guitar riffs ever to hit the radio waves.
Deep Purple came out with the intention of letting everyone know they were there to rock, to show they’ve still got it and to have a great time doing it. They were set up in the middle of the theatre with a huge video screen behind them, often showing laser like visuals accompanying the songs. They follow the classic rock lineup of drums, guitar, bass, keyboard and vocals; each having their chance to shine.
They kicked off with “Highway Star” and the crowd was enjoying it right away, mostly scattering to find their seats, hands filled with beers and popcorn. It seemed as though they really hit their groove around the 4th song, “Strange Kind of Woman”. Towards the end of that song, singer Ian Gillan and guitarist Steve Morse did a call and response back and forth that showed amazing vocal range and deft guitar work, all while smiling big and having a blast. When a band is thoroughly enjoying their time on stage, it easily rubs off on the crowd; and this crowd was no different.
The next song, “Vincent Price”, named after the famous horror actor from the 1960’s, truly had the feel of a dark, ominous Halloween night. With lyrics like “it feels so good to be afraid”, this song had a mesmerizing feel and sounded just as great live as it does on their album. Bassist Roger Glover kept a head-bobbing groove throughout and there was a bass heavy breakdown in the middle with wailing guitar that sounded like screams in the night.
A few songs later, they delved into “The Mule” which segued into an amazing drum solo by Ian Paice. He does amazing work and I noticed he is a lefty drummer, which you don’t see very often. It started off simple enough but he started going into extended drum rolls with an even tribal feel that blew the crowd away. The lights dimmed and he picked up drum sticks with neon lights on them. Now you could see just how fast his hands were moving and it had the crowd screaming out for more.
Keyboardist Don Airey was next up to show off his chops and he did not disappoint. The rest of the band left the stage and Don started floating around some melodies reminiscent of Beethoven and other classical composers before letting loose on some more upbeat parts. This led into a tease of “America the Beautiful” which garnered appreciation from the crowd. Then they played the hits.
A personal favorite, “Perfect Strangers” was next. With a bluesy melody that jumps to a rocking chorus, it’s catchy and a fan favorite all around. At this point, the band was really hitting their stride and showed no signs of slowing down. They vaulted right into “Space Truckin’”, another fan favorite and the energy of the crowd took off. There was almost an anxious vibe in the crowd, as many of them weren’t experiencing their first rodeo and knew what was coming.
After a brief pause, the infamous guitar riff that propelled them to fame all those years ago, came shredding through Steve Morses guitar. The crowd screamed and sang every single word to “Smoke on the Water”, standing in admiration of a band still going strong. The vibe of this song is as rock and roll as it gets, as essential to the annals of rock history as Led Zeppelins “Stairway to Heaven” and just as recognizable. Even if someone can’t name Deep Purple as the writers, they know the part. They can hum the whole thing to you. And that is why this band is so great.
After the dust settled from “Smoke on the Water”, they came back out to rock once more, kicking into “Hush”, which is a cover of a Joe South song, made extremely popular by Deep Purple in the 70’s. The crowd knew the show was practically over, so they hung on to every note and word a little longer, dancing in front of their seats. They finally closed with “Black Night” and everyone began to leave shortly after. Mothers and fathers with their sons and daughters, bonding on the walk to the parking lot over a band that, although becoming famous all those years ago, still has a sound that can only be described as, if not essential hard rock, then timeless.
Deep Purple is currently on tour, you can check out their dates here