Home Gigs Deep Purple / Blue Oyster Cult, Utilita Arena Birmingham, 25th October 2022

Deep Purple / Blue Oyster Cult, Utilita Arena Birmingham, 25th October 2022

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Tonight, we have two rock legends playing, each band has a career that stretches 50 years, with various line-up changes both bands are as strong as ever.

Up first tonight Blue Oyster Cult, WHEN it comes to iconic bands still on the go in the second decade of the 21st Century Blue Oyster Cult are among those that still stand tall, and still deliver live.

Blue Oyster Cult performed with a sense of ease and a sense that this is where they are comfortable.

All tracks, not just the so-called hits were delivered with precision, yet with no sense that they were slavish – several times Bloom and Dharma exchanged licks that were slight improvisations. These weren’t mistakes, almost as if they wanted to keep the songs fresh for themselves.

From the moment that they opened with ‘Transmaniacon MC’ to they left the stage to unanimous applause they were too cool for most to comprehend.

They may be aged, but they have aged well. Moving around the stage as if sliding along while exchanging looks with themselves and the crowd, and no clichéd cajoling the crowd to join in.

Legendary is, nowadays, an oft over-utilised word in the musical press. There are, indeed, precious few outfits or performers deserving of that characterization in truth. Formed in 1968 and still performing, in a seventh decade, with a fervour Deep Purple are one such band, however. With a back catalogue packed to the proverbial rafters with classic after classic and a list of members that expounds as a veritable ‘Who’s Who?’ of the top echelons of rock Purple are a bonafide legend.

This evening Birmingham’s Utilita Arena (formerly the National Indoor Arena) plays host to the penultimate night of the UK leg of the rescheduled ‘Whoosh’ tour. The mainland
European tour beckons but tonight Birmingham is in for an absolute treat DP style. The third largest arena in the UK, whilst not quite sold out, is full of expectancy.

Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’ sends tremors as harmonic dissonances proliferate. From the gigantic video screen behind the backline line the iconic ‘In Rock’ imagery peers down. The stage darkens as the classical piece ascends majestic stairs in full prog splendour.

The key is turned, and the Deep Purple engine turns over a treat and accompanied with rapidly flashing white spots, so drummer Ian Paice gets matters tumbling along. Joined by bassist Roger Glover and then the delightful keys of Don Airey and six-string wizardry of recent full time recruit Simon McBride the unmistakable introductory strains of ‘Highway Star’ accelerate as enigmatic vocalist Ian Gillan steps out from alongside the drumkit.

A powerhouse set opener which is perfection personified. Lifted from the 1972’s worldwide success of ‘Machine Head’ this track is one of six from this album to be unleashed upon England’s second city this evening. This represents nearly half the set but with 60% of the highly revered DP Mk IIa line-up – in the form of Gillan, Glover and Paice – treading the Arena’s stage tonight it’s a totally just choice.

Continuing in the ‘Machine Head’ vein DP roll right into the glorious realms of ‘Pictures Of Home’ with McBride’s fretwork to behold weaving intricacies with Airey’s keyboards. In fact, the fourth permanent guitarist in the Deep Purple ranks – following Steve Morse, Tommy Bolin and, of course, Ritchie Blackmore – this unassuming Irishman slots in seamlessly.

This came with the blessing of Morse who, in July, announced he had permanently left the band stating “I’m now handing over the keys to the vault which holds the secret of how Ritchie (Blackmore)’s ‘Smoke on the Water’ intro was recorded.”

Gillan takes a step back as his musical brethren storm headlong along into ‘No Need To Shout.’ Harking back to the halcyon days of ‘Stormbringer’ and ‘Demon’s Eye’ this is pure nostalgia and warmly received by the ensemble.

At track end Gillan pauses to thank one and all and jokes “A bit of light jazz, some skiffle to get us started this evening” before the “deep and meaningful and mercifully short” ‘Nothing At All.’ A whimsical quirky introversion with Airey’s classical styled keys and Gillan’s crystal-clear vocals tickling the rafters.

The platitudes and pleasantries of this standout moment from 2020’s ‘Whoosh’ are refreshing in the extreme; all the leaves have been, with seasonal appropriateness, blown off this particular tree.

‘Uncommon Man,’ in the words of Gillan, dedicated to “The memory of our beloved Jon Lord,” intros with McBride’s haunting six-stringing. The Belfast-born guitarist, captivating and enthralling, working up to a shimmering crescendo as Airey complements prior to Paice percussive forces heralding a notching up through the gears as the wondrous prog-beast roars majestically.

Make no bones about it this is as slick a production as you’re likely to witness this year. Based upon the earthquake-proof foundation of expert craftmanship Purple confound the passing years. Airey’s uncommonly extravagant keys that bring in the oft-bluesy ‘Lazy’ see him take time to pour a drink without dropping a single note.

Written regarding those less fortunate in life, those that are much more stoical about their difficulties ‘When a Blind Man Cries’ is loudly cheered as Gillan emotively introduces this pensive classic from ‘Machine Head.’ Delivered with melancholic affection the mid-point of the evening is reached atop a peak so remarkably high.

Emerging from the morning mists of the Hungarian plains, her name carried upon the wind, the uplifting ‘Anya’ sparks a flame of revolution across the forbidding distance. Weaving a tale of gypsy spirit DP stride forth in confident manner.

Bridging the ‘tween song segment Airey despatches a cathedral-scale solo with an industrial fervour that melds the theme tune to ‘Match Of The Day’ with ‘Iron Man’ to bring down the house prior to summoning a Pink Floyd spirit as a distant bell tolls. Titular track ‘Perfect Strangers’ transcends the decades with aplomb as it stalks and prowls with a feral pervasiveness. A strand of silver hangs in the skies.

“Alright let’s get up there for some Space Truckin’” cries Gillan as DP ready us for head-nodding astral rocking with yet another track brought forth from ‘Machine Head’ with all its original intensity. McBride steps forth in a solitary spotlight, with outstretched hands before demonstrating, most ably, that he has, indeed, worked out to unlock Blackmore’s vault. The inevitable ‘Smoke on the Water’ brings the main set to a combustive finale with that funky chord running in and out as the Arena sings the chorus.

Gillan and his cohorts slip right into their well-established version of the Joe South penned ‘Hush.’ Written for Billie Joe Royal – on the dashboard of his car somewhere between Atlanta and Nashville – DP have taken this number into their very soul first recording it in 1968 on their debut long-player ‘Shades Of’ and then re-recording it twenty years later for the live lp ‘Nobody’s Perfect.’

Glover lays down a funky bass solo that precedes the show-stopping energies of Purple’s highest charting UK single (peaking at no. 2) ‘Black Night.’ DP Mark IX pay complete reverence, suddenly we’re back in 1970 as the crowd roar along with McBride’s riffing.

Gillan expresses the band’s gratitude “Bloody marvellous, unreal, you guys have been superb!” as they deservedly take the applause from The Utilita Arena crowd at the end of 95 minutes of pure incantational enchantment.

Photos by Pete Key for MPM

Review by Gazza for MPM

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