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Earlier, we discussed the performance of Deep Purple at the
Montreux Festival in 1996. That DVD also had additional footage
of about four or five songs, performed at Montreux in 2000. In
particular, I remember discussing the change in guitar
personnel from Ritchie Blackmore to Steve Morse, and its effect
on the Deep Purple sound.

“Deep Purple: Live at Montreux 2006,” is a two-DVD set, featuring
yet another personnel change with Don Airey on keyboards, and also
adding a new element to the band’s chemistry. Apparently, Airey
stepped in for an injured Jon Lord during 2001, and ended up
permanently replacing him, as of March 2002. When interviewed
on this disc, lead vocalist Ian Gillan indicated that Lord might have
remained with Deep Purple, but the band preferred not to
take six months away from the stage. Jon Lord apparently
also wanted to spend more time on his own musical pursuits.
Therefore, they reached the painful decision to part ways.

Deep Purple could have done a lot worse than replacing Lord
with Airey (1948 – ). Like Lord, Airey had a strong foundation in
Classical music, and was apparently playing a lot of Jazz, before
going the “Rock route.” Over the years, Airey has played with
numerous groups, such as Rainbow, Ozzy Osborne, and Black Sabbath.

From the beginning, an important factor determining the sound
of Deep Purple was their use of “dueling” instruments, trading riffs
back and forth between Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar leads and
Jon Lord’s excursions on the Hammond B3 organ. A certain
improvisational freedom was their rule in the early years,
particularly when the band was playing “live.”

Steve Morse and Don Airey are now the “duelists.” To my ears,
the difference between Airey and Lord is not as pronounced
as the difference between Morse and Blackmore. However,
the new lineup is further removed from the Deep Purple sound,
during their 1970’s heyday. Airey’s keyboard setup is naturally
a bit more “sophisticated” than the one Lord used, and Airey
switches between playing the piano, the synthesizer or the
organ, depending upon the sound he desires. Nevertheless,
assuming that “the boys” wished to keep Deep Purple
performing, Don Airey was a good choice.

The 2006 Deep Purple Montreux set on this DVD lasted
about 100 minutes. It was longer than their 1996
performance, and included about four songs from their
“post-Blackmore” era. The last newer song, “Kiss Tomorrow
Goodbye,” was about seventh on their set list, whereupon
Ian Gillan said, “That’s the last new song we’ll inflict upon you.”

I guess that was his acknowledgment of awareness of
what the audience wanted to hear. It’s too bad. He’s now
in his early sixties, and his voice at this stage was often not
up to the vocal demands of the older songs. The newer songs
were presumably written to feature his vocal strengths, sans
the screams listeners encountered in songs such as,
“Space Truckin’” and “Highway Star.” In fact, when they
performed “Space Truckin’” on this disc, I noticed that Steve
Morse “helped” Ian Gillan a bit, by providing the proper pitch
for his screams.

By primarily focusing on their “old favorites,” as they did in 1996,
Deep Purple essentially cemented their status as a “nostalgia act,”
albeit a good one, Gillan’s labored singing notwithstanding.
Similar to their 1996 performance, the band included earlier songs
that weren’t regularly featured during their 1970’s concerts.
For example, they opened their set with “Pictures of Home,” which
I thought was nice.

Featured solos included one by Steve Morse that morphed
into an impromptu “Whole Lotta Love” (by Led Zeppelin) and
“Voodoo Chile” (by Jimi Hendrix), with accompaniment from Ian
Paice and Roger Glover. A Don Airey synthesizer solo
incorporated the intro of Ozzy Osborne’s “Mr. Crowley.”
Airey then switched to the piano, and performed a brief take on
Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca.”

The 2006 Montreux Festival marked the 40th anniversary of
this event. When interviewed, the members of Deep Purple indicated
that they wanted to commemorate this milestone with something
“special.” At the end of their set, Don Airey launched into a jazzy
piano solo, incorporating the melody of “Smoke on the Water.”
He was joined by the other instrumentalists and Deep Purple
briefly became a Jazz combo, until Morse played “The Riff,” leading
the band back to their iconic version of the song.

The encores featured their producer, Michael Bradford,
playing guitar on an extended jam of “Hush.” This was followed
by a new song written for the festival, with Montreux Festival
founder, Claude Nobbs, and Ian Gillan both jamming on harmonicas.
A bass solo by Glover morphed into the “Black Knight” riff, and it
was followed by a proper band performance of the song, and then
punctuated by some blues vamping and dueling guitar solos
between Morse and Bradford. The end of Disc One included
25 minutes of interviews with each of the band members.

A bonus Disc Two featured a 59-minute set, allegedly performed
during  2005 at London’s Hard Rock Café, in promotion of Deep
Purple’s then-new album, “Rapture of the Deep.”

Using hand-held cameras, the band was captured in this intimate
venue. If anything, the actual performances were more
exciting and adventurous than during their 2006 performance
on Disc One. In particular, Morse and Airey played with a
greater sense of abandon, and even Gillan’s vocals didn’t bother
me as much, although he may have been assisted by some
effective sound mixing. This set reminded me of older “live”
footage of Deep Purple from the early 1970’s.

All in all, this band can still play quite well, and if they want to
keep performing as “Deep Purple,” it’s fine with me. In fact, I
understand that a DVD has been recently released of their
2011 Montreux Festival performance. I’ll check out any available
footage from them, and judge them accordingly.

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