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Friday, July 01, 2011

DVD Review: Deep Purple - Phoenix Rising

Deep Purple - Phoenix Rising
2011 Eagle Vision
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Admittedly you have to be a real hardcore Deep Purple fan or a music journalist to stand up and say the MKIV incarnation of the group was red-hot. On paper, it both reads for and against support of the argument. Ian Paice and Jon Lord, the remnants of MKI to III Deep Purple, in league with David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes and Tommy Bolin. Most Ritchie Blackmore purists scream foul at this lineup and no doubt many naysaying fans during the mid-seventies did likewise, despite the enormity of 1974's Burn.

Still, 1975's Come Taste the Band is a damned fine heavy rock album. Is it a true Deep Purple album, though? Jon Lord says nay, though he supports the record based on the principals who laid it down. To paraphrase Lord's testimony on Deep Purple's new DVD Phoenix Rising, Come Taste the Band was all Coverdale, Hughes and Bolin with the support of two legends.

Over the past few years, there's been a surge of interest in Tommy Bolin's work. Perhaps the mystique of Bolin's overdose at the height of his creative talents draws people to investigate him, which leads to Zephyr, The James Gang, Moxy and of course, Deep Purple. Teaser and Private Eyes are Bolin's official solo albums, while he left behind a trove of work that's been collected as a box set, The Ultimate, a side album From the Archives Vol. 1 and 2006's double volume Whips and Roses series.

Bolin recorded Teaser simultaneously with Come Taste the Band after easily winning his Deep Purple gig following Ritchie Blackmore's walkout. While the void Blackmore left behind was considerable, it's been said (especially on this DVD) that the newer constituents of the band as of Burn and Stormbringer had a heavy hand in the songwriting. Blackmore and the official ambassadors of the group had become disenfranchised and less inspired to bring new stuff to the table. It's why Stormbringer is a little more cautious than both its preceding and following Purple albums.

Phoenix Rising examines this critical juncture in Deep Purple's perplexing and jumbled evolution. While the Mark IV lineup hardly stands up to Mark II in terms of relevance and a broad audience appeal, even MKIII was remarkable with Lord, Paice, Blackmore, Coverdale and Hughes. Burn remains one of Deep Purple's finest hours. The vocal congruity between Hughes and Coverdale is still a powerhouse pairing, and boldly encased within the construct of a global giant. Even with Ian Gillan later returning to claim his mantle in refurbished lineups of Deep Purple, do take note of the spaces Coverdale and Hughes smothered within each other's company. Together they are simply magnificent, even through all three of their Deep Purple albums.

Like them or hate them, the MKIV unit of Deep Purple has well been worthy of individual examination and Phoenix Rising offers the story of this lineup plus the inclusion of a half hour concert mini-film, "Deep Purple Rises Over Japan." After watching the "Gettin' Tighter" documentary portion of this DVD, you very well might reconsider your position if you're against MKIV.

Both Jon Lord and Glenn Hughes spill their guts on-camera during "Gettin' Tighter" and you understand much better why the band went on its first hiatus after Come Taste the Band was released and toured. It has nothing to do with the music on that album. If you really take a moment to soak up what MKIV dished out on Come Taste the Band, you'll agree songs like "Comin' Home," "I Need Love," "Dealer" and "You Keep On Moving" are well-played songs of misfortune. Without the Deep Purple name behind it, likely nobody would've heard Come Taste the Band, but it remains the oddball album people are just beginning to flock to because of Bolin's contributions, if not Hughes and Coverdale's.

Hughes, one of the most soulful hard rockers who's ever stepped into a pair of tight slacks, lets his guard down and colors Phoenix Rising with stories about his cocaine addiction, his endearing friendship with Coverdale (we're still waiting for a separate Hughes-Coverdale project to enjoy, gentlemen) and the horrifying tale of Deep Purple's '75 concerts in Indonesia. Hughes and Lord recount the loss of one of their touring entourage in Indonesia, while local promoters, in cahoots with the government, scammed Deep Purple and not only for the bodily loss of their friend. Shoved back onstage after suffering this loss, not to mention Hughes' arrest as the last visible witness to the victim, it really shows a harrowing side to MKIV Deep Purple that hits harder than the politics going into and detonating its formation. The fact Bolin and Hughes' substance addictions were undermining their onstage performances are another factor altogether.

As Tommy Bolin died shortly after Deep Purple split up, the morbid curiosity of his overambitious life is one reason you'll be wanting Phoenix Rising. Explanation for the lineup's sheer existence is another, particularly in light of the fact this fivesome only achieved one recorded slab together.

The live footage in "Deep Purple Rises Over Japan" is, as Glenn Hughes refers to it, "a postcard from Hell," not so much for the output, even with a sluggish minute or two into "Burn." This concert was done days after their torment in Indonesia, so you have to forgive the band's initial sputtering, plus the fact Tommy Bolin's hands were locked up from the Indonesia incident. To imagine Bolin's pain trying to unlock his usually limber hands in the middle of a monster crowd at The Budokan Hall, further kudo points go by default to MKIV. The show does rev up fairly quickly, so hang in there. The show includes Taste selections such as "Love Child" and "You Keep On Moving" outside of "Burn," "Highway Star" and "Smoke On the Water."

Phoenix Rising may not have much to offer the Gillan Purple campers, but it does rank high on the numerous DVDs Eagle Vision has released on this band. While Eagle has already released the notorious MKIII era California Jam 1974 concert in which Ritchie Blackmore wrecked havoc (and an ABC television camera), the stories behind his explosive mayhem are one of many to be heard. MKIII and MKIV Deep Purple may not have been as prolific as their predecessors, but they weren't really given the necessary nurturing time to blossom. In light of all the departures Deep Purple slugged through with Coverdale, Hughes and later Bolin, this band's legacy was passed forward into the eighties and beyond thanks to these guys. They really should be thanked instead of scorned, in that regard.

Rating: ****

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