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Sunday, September 06, 2009

DVD Review: Deep Purple - History, Hits & Highlights '68 - '76

Deep Purple - History, Hits & Highlights '68 - '76
2009 Eagle Vision
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Not to say Deep Purple's iconic stature in rock history has been downplayed over the years, but the time clock revovles on its own and waits for nobody outside of God to keep pace. What this means is groups from yesteryear at times need a little extra push to continue staying relevant for upcoming generations. It's why The Beatles stay germaine, ditto for The Who, Led Zeppelin, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. Part of the reason--outside of certain music being so inventive and envelope-pushing they remain veritable case studies--is because their ensconced canon equates into lucrative tidings. Thus remasters, reissues, compilations and rarity specials become the norm as decades progress.

Deep Purple will usually get mentioned in the lineage line along with Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Iron Butterfly as a cornerstone group paving the way for heavy metal. Not that Purple accepted themselves as heavy metal pioneers if you're to ask Jon Lord (they're simply rock 'n roll in his opinion), but there's no getting around the volume and intensity of Deep Purple In Rock. In many ways, what Deep Purple accomplished with In Rock is still-today unprecedented. The best for them was yet to come with the subsequent Fireball and Machine Head albums, the latter of which is regarded by many as not only Purple's definitive album, but one of the inarguable classics of both rock and heavy metal.

With all the talent Deep Purple cultivated within their blaring microcosm, it's sad but not altogether shocking to witness their inevitable collapses and rebirths. Even Brett Favre has retired fewer times than Deep Purple. One can understand the destructive ramifications of having so much aptness and instinct housed together in one band just by watching History, Hits & Highlights '68 - '76. Defining the term supergroup at the height of their capabilities (known in rock lexicon as Purple's "MK II" period), part of the reason the band suffered so much internal combustion rests on the fact its players were too good.

Could it not be said by watching four hours plus of archive footage including televised appearances, live films and quirky early-on forms of rock video that the writing was on the wall for both Deep Purple's rise and fall to prominence, simply because of Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord? Most will argue the prolific guitarist and keyboardist complimented each other, which is true enough. However, watch carefully throughout History, Hits & Highlights '68 - '76 and you'll detect occasional ambivalence between both players. Soloing for interminable minutes between Blackmore and Lord were no different than Yes' Songs for Topographical Oceans; mesmerizing mastery over their instruments to the point you drown in the presence of each musician. Yet "drown" is the operative word. Even though it was rather fashionable of late sixties rock groups such as Canned Heat and Mountain to jam in freestyle for half a set, Blackmore, Lord and if allowed, bassist Roger Glover forget the audience and simply wank themselves onstage with the tools of their trade. One-upsmanship has a part in it.

You can see it on the two versions of "Mandrake Root" and three issuances of "Wring That Neck," the latter of which is mercilessly coupled back-to-back in a near 40-minute marathon of vociferous distortion and looping ostinato. Ritchie Blackmore is a true six string god, however back then you would've had to reel his ass in if you wanted to pimp more than a couple of your songs. Blackmore is seen masturbating the neck of his guitar against his amps and stroking his frets as if he might actually jerk out some jizz to his audience, some of whom dance and sway in cultish demeanor, most of whom stare in puzzlement. In contrast, when Jon Lord has his chances, he usurps his alotted time with outright greed. He closes his eyes and plunges himself into fugue lines, psych lines, classical overtures, singular plucks designed to hold his band and the crowd on edge. That is until he, like Blackmore, directs the band back into action. Keep in mind, Lord is responsible for Purple's foray into the symphonic realm ala The Moody Blues with the former's 80-minute Concerto for Group and Orchetra from 1970.

Regardless of the criticism here, Deep Purple were undeniable innovators. Their daring amplitude and willingness to coax out full-on sonic din as Blackmore and Glover hump their instruments against their stacks is a tactic being revitalized today by ambient and art-driven metal acts, much less Sonic Youth and Today is the Day before them. Though the world will always play the halcyonic intro notes of "Smoke On the Water" in their minds with the mention of Deep Purple, never let it be forgotten this is a multi-platinum-selling group who busted up the charts even in busted up and reassembled formations. They received platinum sales for the David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes-assisted Burn as well as Stormbringer. They were still selling tickets even after Ritchie Blackmore packed it in en route to a mimicking solo career and ultimately the pivotal Rainbow. Come Taste the Band may not've been wholly worthy in the shadow of the group's indispensibles (i.e. In Rock, Fireball, Machine Head, Made in Japan and Burn) but people still lined up to buy it and still packed in the arena to see Deep Purple with the late Tommy Bolin wielding axe.

History, Hits & Highlights '68 - '76 is a four-hour-plus outing with apparently not much structure intended other than to touch upon the MK (or "Mark") I-IV lineups for celebratory sake. The "history" section of the DVD is almost a joke as it quickly runs through Deep Purple's best-known stages, wrapping its business in close to 20 minutes. It suffers from abbreviation and a too-generalized narration, not to mention it yields quick-cut pieces from longer-running footage you'll be watching later on. This is a trend a lot of music DVDs have become guilty of lately; recycling the same footage in splices, thus provoking a right to viewer grievance.

On the plus side, the full-length performances are the reason you'll be thoroughly engaged in History, Hits & Highlights '68 - '76. While some of the songs are televised appearances such as Top of the Pops and some German rock and jazz shows where Deep Purple get to play live, some, unfortunately, are by-products of those times when lip-synching was commanded, not suggested. It makes "Black Night" utterly laughable to see the criminally-unheralded Ian Paice barely tap his heads while the overhead track indicates thunderous tom rolls. It's as ridiculous as watching "Philthy" Phil Taylor of Motorhead continuously driving a mosh-paced polyrhythm in the "Iron Fist" video, even during a combination snare-tom roll on the audio track. Oops.

Heck, even watching the MKI inception of Deep Purple (including vocalist Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper) grind through "Hush" in a televised party show hosted by Playboy's Hugh Hefner with a handpicked guest list shimmying for effect is smarmy in itself. Albeit, Blackmore trying to teach Hef a crunch chord is amusing, considering Blackmore's historically standoff nature. You have to wonder if he was bribed on the side to come out of his shell and act like he gave a damn showing Hef a chord. Sure, and ask Elvis in the afterlife what he thought about Steve Allen...

Let's not needle any harder than necessary, though. History, Hits & Highlights '68 - '76 is worth grabbing, even for the aforementioned quibbles, because this is time capsule stuff. Seeing a hairball Ian Gillan slam congas during "Mandrake Root" makes you want to jump up off the couch and get involved (as this writer was guilty of doing on his own conga set while reviewing). Gillan was obviously on something harder than a peyote trip during the "Highway Star" footage as he slogs, sloshes and mumbles with broken lyrics and interjected babble. It's funny as it is utterly pathetic, but it is compelling to watch and wonder how the rest of Deep Purple professionally made it through such an embarassing vocal performance. Of course, Gillan was--and still is--a master of the wail as he rips his tonsils out on "Child In Time" and "No No No."

History, Hits & Highlights '68 - '76 focuses largely on the Gillan and Glover MK II era before slipping into the Coverdale-Hughes era with decent representation. On the second disc of the set, there is a long series of interviews and backstage films made by amateur documentarians which reveal a lot about the MKIII Deep Purple. The fact Ritchie Blackmore is nowhere to be seen in the company of the other four members states a hell of a lot to the point both Lord and Coverdale later admit to having no surprise by Blackmore's departure. Coverdale is green in front of the interview mike during the MKIII stage, while in the (then) band-snuffing MKIV era from 1975-76, he has grown into his position with less shriek and more crotch-rubbing bravado, which would suit him to a tee for his future endeavors in Whitesnake. Bearded and drippy-haired, Coverdale in Deep Purple's final days is the mark of confidence, yet perhaps it could be said that without Blackmore, the intuitiveness Deep Purple played with was gone, no slam intended towards the stoic sacrificial lamb, Tommy Bolin.

The interviews with both Ian Paice and Jon Lord during the MKIII and MKIV periods of Deep Purple are actually the most intriguing sections of the whole DVD. Here we get to delve into the psychology of both men, while a rare catch-up with the reclusive Blackmore is the undeniable highlight of History, Hits & Highlights '68 - '76. Blackmore conveys everything you would've speculated at that point in time, which is to say he held a distaste for society in general and had become bored as hell with his life. Interesting to see how he tempered his entire rock star being--Purple and Rainbow together--into the Medieval-flavored rosemary and thyme new age stylings of his current entity, Blackmore's Night. One might infer the rock god has found his peace, particularly since he is caught in the history section noting his influences and interests were more in league with blues, hard rock, rock 'n roll, classical and Renaissance kindlings, while his bandmates were more interested in exploring funk. Even Ian Gillan says much earlier in the DVD he'd felt the band was going through a predictable motion before he left the first time. Was that Blackmore's stubbornness at work? You be the judge.

The infamous California Jam performance of 1974 which resulted in the controversial onstage implosion by an angered Blackmore is touched upon this set (particularly the band's onetime manager Tony Edwards issuing a statement about hightailing it from arrest on a French t.v. show), albeit it nearly serves as a mere teaser for the entire concert DVD you can find for sale, ironically enough through the same distributor as History, Hits & Highlights '68 - '76. Cheapo to a degree, but at least the point should be made when circumventing this timeframe of the band's prolonged career.

Far from perfect, History, Hits & Highlights '68 - '76 is still one to dive into for its cross-sectioned dissemination of one of rock's biggest family feud affairs. Dysfunctional to the point each member of the MKII period save for Blackmore has waltzed back in and back out again as Purple continued to surface in each subsequent decade (with Gillan and Glover humorously coming back to a Lord-less crew on 2003's gamey Bananas album), this aspect alone is going to be worth the extensive ride. If not to see a maudlin reworking of The Beatles' "Help" set to a black-and-white post-industrial England backdrop during the MKI stage. Rare live footage of "Burn" doesn't hurt either...

Rating: ****


Anonymous said...

I loved your insight to this DVD set. I was watching it (at my workplace....!!!!) and browsed for Deep Purple and your thoughts nailed the review permanently on the wall. Good Job. Thanks.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Skywalker, I thank you kindly for those encouraging words! Come back anytime!

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