Best known for the songs "Why Didn't Rosemary," "Child In Time," and "Hungry Daze," Deep Purple was all the rage back when your parents wore bell bottoms. Judge Norman Short, who I believe still wears bell bottoms, reviews this concert disc with the band playing their hits with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Smoke on the Water, with a full orchestra.
Deep Purple, better known as heavy metal progenitors of the '70s, has been one of the most prolific rock and roll groups in adopting the DVD format. They've always produced videos for their fans, and now they've done their fourth concert DVD, this time from London's Royal Albert Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra. Rather than their regular rock and roll show, we are treated to a real fusion of the classical and classic rock, even with a completely original concerto. This proved to be an eclectic and excellent show, and not what I expected at all. Check out this DVD from Image, with great video and mostly great sound presentation.
I've been a fan of Deep Purple since I was able to form the first guitar riff most would-be rockers learn; the ubiquitous beginning to "Smoke On the Water." The band is one of those "never say die" stories, having survived an eleven-year breakup and going on to pack concert halls more than 30 years after they started. I've listened to their music many times over those years, but I've never heard anything from them like this.
The concert opens not with a bang, but with an orchestral selection. The music is soft, melodic, and sweeping; nothing like the hard rhythms the group is famous for. The first tracks are all such, with guest singers coming in to lend their softer vocals to the orchestra. Yet another surprise comes from Ronnie James Dio, heavy metal singer for bands such as Black Sabbath, who sings two numbers in a much more restrained style than I've ever heard from him before. But this is the prelude to the real meat of the show.
Back in 1969 keyboardist Jon Lord first performed a concerto he had written to fuse the band's sound with a symphony orchestra. It was performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra that year (and is still available on video), but at some point afterwards the composition was lost, seemingly forever. But a remarkable effort was made to recreate the score by Dutch composer Marco de Goeig, who used the video to rescore the composition note by note, with Jon Lord's assistance. Many, many hours of work ensued until the concerto was complete again, and could be performed for this concert. The concerto lasts about 50 minutes, and is in three movements. In the beginning I thought the first movement didn't work very well; it seemed as if the band and the orchestra were competing with each other. Only as the concerto went on did I realize that this was the intent; that it belies the preconception that rock and roll and classical music cannot mix, then the second and third movement shows the orchestra and band becoming allies rather than adversaries. A masterful work, and well worth hearing.
After the concerto, there is a short interruption for applause and mutual admiration, and then Deep Purple gets ready to do what their fans expect from them. The next five numbers are classic Deep Purple, with the orchestra playing a more subordinate role. Finally the encore comes along, with everyone joining in for "Smoke On the Water." I dare say the band would be lynched if they even though about ending a show without it.
So the music is great, how about the DVD? The video presentation is quite good; the full frame transfer is very bright, clear, and sharply detailed. It passed my guitar string test, flesh tones looked good, and there was no breakup in the image.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The sound was mostly wonderful. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack delivers a wide, spacious soundfield, which wraps around to the rear for ambient effect as if you were sitting in the audience. The sound is very clear, very detailed, very intense. Except when it isn't. Unfortunately, there are about a dozen times throughout the concert where there are momentary dropouts in the volume level; abrupt ones that are here and gone in a second or two. It is distracting, though it is a bit nitpicky because those dozen dropouts are sprinkled throughout a two-hour show. Still, it was distracting, and definitely lowers the rating for sound. Without those volume drops, I would have given this a very high rating. Extra content is also not the best; only a few text screens explaining about the recreation of the concerto score is offered. In comparison, the last DVD I saw from Deep Purple featured a 76 minute documentary for extra content. I realize every disc can't have such extensive bonus features, but this did feel a bit light.
Despite momentary flaws in the soundtrack, I felt this was a very fine concert, and certainly more than I expected. If you really want to hear what rock and roll mixed with classical music can do, then give this disc a try.
Deep Purple is commended for a fine effort that goes beyond what most bands do with a similar concert. A major fine for the people who let the volume dropouts stay on the soundtrack. Court is adjourned.
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