click to enlarge
Photo via earMUSIC/Ben Wolf
Veteran hard-rock band Deep Purple
is still one of the hardest-working outfits in the business. Despite several lineup changes over the years, the band, whose debut album was released more than half a century ago, continues to keep a frantic touring schedule and regularly circles the globe to play to loyal followers all around the world.
The current lineup has released several impressive studio albums over the last decade or so and its most current world tour brought the band to St. Petersburg’s Duke Energy Center for the Arts at Mahaffey Theater on Monday night much to the joy of a roomful of middle-aged, ardent fans.
Following an opening set by longtime southern rock group Marshall Tucker Band that seemed to warm up the crowd nicely, the theater’s stage came to stark darkness as blue flashing lights began to pulsate. Emerging to the delight of the audience was the current five-piece band including the best lead singer the band’s ever boasted, longtime front man, Ian Gillian.
Immediately popping the top on a 95-minute set which, despite its sheer volume, sounded fresh and clear for the duration (thanks to an exquisite sound mix), the band kicked off its set with “Highway Star,” one of the many selections from its milestone album, 1972’s Machine Head
that made the night’s setlist.
Donning a plain button-up shirt, jeans and sneakers, and looking more like he was ready for a leisurely stroll through the nearby bustling downtown St. Pete streets rather than fronting one of the world’s most legendary hard-rock bands, Gillian looked relaxed and at ease fronting his still-vibrant group. Sometimes struggling to reach the opening number’s high notes, Gillian still barreled through the chugging rocker which was only a precursor to the warmer, more commanding vocal skills he’d get to show off as the night wore on.
Although not touring in support of a specific album (the group’s last recorded release was 2021’s all-covers album, Turning to Crime
), Purple did pay homage to its fine 2020 studio album Whoosh!
by spotlighting two of that album’s finer songs including the rocker “No Need to Shout.” The large screen behind the band was mostly used for projecting the live performance as it was happening but, for this number, images from the song’s music video were beamed in unison with the band’s playing.
One significant change in the group’s current lineup is the absence of longtime renowned guitarist, Steve Morse. The former axeman, who emerged as a member of Georgia-based rock band Dixie Dregs in the 1970s, served as Deep Purple’s lead guitarist from the mid-‘90s through last year. Leaving to help care for his ailing wife, Morse has been replaced with another impressive, sturdy player, Simon McBride. The Irish-born player added plenty of muscle and firepower to the band and was able to add his own touch to plenty of the well-known classics played throughout the night. Several video screen closeups of his brawny playing style, across the assortment of gorgeous Paul Reed Smith guitars he utilized throughout the evening, drew loads of approving hollers and cheers from the crowd throughout the evening.
Longtime members bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice (who has been with the band since its inception and has remained its drummer throughout its many lineup changes) did plenty to keep the wheels moving along smoothly, offering a booming backbone to all of the night’s selections, as especially noted during another Machine Head cut, “Pictures of Home.” Keyboardist Don Airey (who’s been part of the fold since the early 2000s) did plenty to show off his chops which served as centerpieces for many of the night’s numbers. There’s no denying that this group of musicians brought their A game for this performance; especially impressive considering they just completed a stint as the featured artists on a recent rock legends cruise ship excursion.
The night’s beefiest performance may have been its superb take on the rocker “Lazy.” As frantic, kaleidoscopic images danced on the accompanying video screen, the band cooked up a smoking hot version of the early-‘70s tune and Gillian sounded fantastic throughout it.
Plenty of cheers and applause came in anticipation of one of the band’s 1980s hit, “Perfect Strangers.” As the song’s opening, menacing keyboard chords were struck by Airey, many in attendance eagerly welcomed this, one of the songs associated with the band’s resurfacing in 1984 after a long time away. Singing along with Gillian, the audience helped turn this into another one of the night’s stronger moments.
To wrap up the main set, the band went into overdrive and performed its most well-known song, “Smoke on the Water,” featuring one of the most famous and recognizable guitar riffs in the history of recorded music, thanks to its creator and one of the group’s founding members, Ritchie Blackmore. McBride did an excellent job of taking that seasoned riff and pumping plenty of new life and electricity into it to accompany the band and to promote an all-out sing-along of the chorus that everyone in attendance gladly chimed in for.
For an encore the band delivered the funky, jaunty, organ-heavy rocker “Hush” which also brought the house to its feet to sing along and groove to. Gillian delivered some closing words of appreciation and thanks to the nearly sold-out theater before delivering the night’s closer, another rocker “Black Night.”
There aren’t a whole lot of bands around who have the tenure, the hard rock royalty, or the status of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted-band Deep Purple still boast; still touring constantly, still pleasing their longtime followers, and still wisely combining their many classic cuts with their newer, impressive compositions, Deep Purple is still going strong and earning every accolade they’re so richly deserving of for being one of the pioneering bands to make hard rock and heavier music a bone fide force for the last 50 years.