The live album is a format that was particularly popular in the 1970s, and from that era, although obviously a subjective matter, are a number of live albums that are generally considered to be classics. Thin Lizzy’s “Live And Dangerous”, The Who’s “Live At Leeds”, Rainbow’s “On Stage”, UFO’s “Strangers In The Night”, Cheap Trick’s “At Budokan” to name but a few. Another classic that would be found on that list is “Made In Japan” from hard rock legends Deep Purple.
When a veteran band releases a live recording it’s not always an easy listen, as recent live albums from Van Halen and Whitesnake testify, as the vocalist struggles for the range that they enjoyed in their youth and, in the case of Whitesnake man David Coverdale (a former Deep Purple singer himself), rely heavily on their bandmates and the audience for vocal support. There are, of course, still decent live albums from some older bands, such as Iron Maiden’s “En Vivo!” and Rush’s “Clockwork Angels Tour” releases.
In fact, some of these older bands (such as Rush, Whitesnake and Iron Maiden) release nearly as many live albums as new studio works these days. Deep Purple also fall into this camp, having released no fewer than (I think) fourteen new and archive in concert releases in the time that they have released their last two studio albums.
The latest two of these, arriving simultaneously, are this year’s “From The Setting Sun… – In Wacken” and “…To The Rising Sun – In Tokyo”. The first of these was recorded at the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany on 1 August 2013, whilst the second comes from the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on 12 April 2014, both shows taking place during the band’s still ongoing world tour to promote their most recent studio album “Now What?!”, which kicked off in February 2013.
For many the classic Deep Purple line-up is that commonly referred to as Mk. II and was made up of vocalist Ian Gillan, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, drummer Ian Paice, bassist Roger Glover and keyboardist Jon Lord.
The line-up featured here, Gillan, Paice, Glover, Morse and keyboardist Don Airey have been together since 2002 and are very well-drilled in what they do, so how does it stack up against their not inconsiderable live back catalogue?
Well, firstly let’s look at the vocal department. I had felt that Gillan was struggling on “Live At Montreux”, the band’s 2011 appearance at the famous Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland where the band were augmented by the Neue Philharmonic Orchestra from Frankfurt.
I’m pleased to report that, although sounding a little rough at the start of each show, once Gillan’s pipes warm up he sounds pretty good for a man now seventy years of age. Of course he doesn’t have the range that he had forty-odd years ago on the seminal “Made In Japan” but he’s a damn sight closer than many of his contemporaries.
Although I must confess a preference for Blackmore’s guitar style of old, finding Morse a little too smooth at times, the guitar playing here is undeniably good throughout, as is the underlying bass from Glover.
Paice is still an inspirational powerhouse behind the kit, responsible for some memorable fills and it’s always a pleasure to listen to his performances on “The Mule” (contained only on the Tokyo album).
Airey, meanwhile, fills the space left by the departed Lord (who has sadly since passed away) expertly and contributes totally appropriate soloing himself. Overall, the interplay between these seasoned musicians, particularly noticeable during some of the extended instrumental sections, is nothing short of top drawer.
Material-wise, the two gigs aren’t much different, although the Tokyo show has a couple more “Now What?!” songs than the Wacken one. The vast bulk of the songs come from the Mk. II line-up’s classic releases between 1970 and 1972, with only three numbers apart from the “Now What?!” material coming from outside of that period, including the excellent Mk. II comeback number “Perfect Strangers”. That’s not unusual for a band of Deep Purple’s vintage, and in fact it’s nice to hear so much new stuff included, and whilst not as instantly recognisable to the casual listener it fits in with the older songs very well indeed.
Of the two, I would pick the Tokyo set above the Wacken one simply as it’s longer (1 hr 48 mins to Wacken’s 1 hr 31 mins), but both are excellent recordings of a legendary band that fully deserves it’s status as such…
1. Highway Star / 2. Into The Fire / 3. Hard Lovin’ Man / 4. Vincent Price / 5. Strange Kind Of Woman / 6. Contact Lost / 7. The Well-Dressed Guitar / 8. Hell To Pay / 9. Lazy / 10. Above And Beyond / 11. No One Came / 12. Keyboard Solo / 13. Perfect Strangers / 14. Space Truckin’ / 15. Smoke On The Water / 16. a. Green Onions / b. Hush / 17. Black Night
1,9, 14 and 15 originally from “Machine Head” (1972) / 2 and 3 originally from “In Rock” (1970) / 4, 8 and 10 originally from “Now What?!” / 5 originally a single release (1971) / 6 originally from “Bananas” (2003) / 11 originally from “Fireball” (1971) / 13 originally from “Perfect Strangers” (1984) / 16b originally from “Shades Of Deep Purple” (1968) / 17 originally a single release (1970)
“…To The Rising Sun – In Tokyo” tracklist:
1. Aprés Vous / 2. Into The Fire / 3. Hard Lovin’ Man / 4. Strange Kind Of Woman / 5. Vincent Price / 6. Contact Lost / 7. Uncommon Man / 8. The Well-Dressed Guitar / 9. The Mule / 10. Above And Beyond / 11. Lazy / 12. Hell To Pay / 13. Keyboard Solo / 14. Perfect Strangers / 15. Space Truckin’ / 16. Smoke On The Water / 17. a. Green Onions / b. Hush / 18. Black Night
1, 5, 7, 10 and 12 originally from “Now What?!” (2013) / 2 and 3 originally from “In Rock” (1970) / 4 originally a single release (1971) / 6 originally from “Bananas” (2003) / 9, 11, 15 and 16 originally from “Machine Head” (1972) / 14 originally from “Perfect Strangers” (1984) / 17b originally from “Shades Of Deep Purple” (1968) / 18 originally a single release (1971)