Around The World Live

Deep Purple

When Steve Morse replaced Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple, a monumental shift occurred. Morse faced an uphill battle joining a band whose glory days as a preeminent, big-selling hard rock band were pretty much over. Just as he had done with Kansas, the Dixie Dregs guitarist eschewed the temptation to pass himself off as a clone. Instead, he humbly embraced Purple’s rich history and slyly integrated his own style, tone and grace into the mix. Since Morse came aboard in 1994, Purple has sustained its reputation as a powerful live unit with a unique history of its own, extensively documented over four DVDs on Around The World Live.

The meat and potatoes of this hefty box set is a generous spread of thick and gooey live stuff. Not to be outdone in exoticism, there’s a 1995 show from Bombay, India, a few numbers from Seoul, Korea, from the same year, a 1999 performance from Australia, and a very special 2002 gig from the Hammersmith Odeon in London, England. Make no mistake about it: in the mid 90s, Deep Purple was a revitalized music machine, writing new music, tackling odd and off-the-wall themes, and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Not longer battling with Blackmore, Ian Gillan is especially more assured as the band’s frontman and vocal piece. Morse, of course, developed an instant rapport with everyone, particularly keyboardist Jon Lord. Watching the two bounce off each other is especially poignant given the fact that the 2002 London was Lord's last show as a member of Deep Purple. If anything, this box set is a tribute to the keyboardist, who reluctantly departed the group he co-founded, feeling he can no longer give a hundred percent.

One of the benefits that came with Blackmore’s departure, according to Gillan, was the band’s chance to explore some of the more obscure songs from Purple’s vast canon. Along with the obligatory parade of first stringers like “Space Truckin’,” “Highway Star,” “Woman From Tokyo” and “Smoke On The Water,” there’s the force of “Fireball,” the bombastic screech of “Bloodsucker’ and the austere eloquence of “Mary Long” to keep things on pace and unpredictable (although, why they threw in “The Battle Rages On” and "Anya," two of the last songs Purple recorded with Blackmore, remains anyone’s guess). Somehow all the tunes from the Blackmore years perpetuate newer songs “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming” and “Ted The Mechanic” to an almost mythic status — giving them a Purple sheen with a fresh, well-scrubbed face.

At the heart of the shows, however, is the interplay and improvisation, which defines the core of Deep Purple’s exulted radiance. The loose, open-ended arrangements spawned from the hearts and minds of Morse, Lord, bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice are challenging and suspenseful enough to keep even the most judicious critic on the edge of his seat. This just makes those one-offs all the more special.

And that's what happens when Don Airey, Lord’s replacement, joins the group for the first portion of the 2002 London show. Proofing his worth, Airey scurries through an absorbing keyboard solo before tastefully winding down and stepping away. The lights dim, then slowly come up, revealing Lord behind the keyboards, taking command of his signature lick on “Perfect Strangers.” On the set’s numerous interviews, both Airey and Lord recall that the switch was an emotional and dramatic moment, spilling over with respect and gratitude, during an already intense evening.

Meanwhile, Steve Morse continually grinds his ax, stretching the imagination and blazing through a fiery solo before running through a myriad of classic riffs from the likes of Skynyrd, the Who, Zeppelin and the Beatles before surrendering to the call of “Smoke On The Water.” For all his strengths, Morse can't avoid the impact of that one mighty riff.

Each of the first three discs are rounded out with loads of extra interviews and performances. The fourth disc collects a series of interviews, rehearsal footage and old clips for the 88-minute Access All Areas documentary. Simply put, we get a fairly straightforward, somewhat fragmented overview that grazes the recent history of the band, while offering polite acknowledgements of the days before Morse. Obviously, a complete history of Deep Purple from all of its participants isn't in the band's immediate future. But for sheer distance and audacity, Around The World Live, housed in its hard-bound, 32-page cover, encapsulates the importance of Deep Purple’s undying pursuit of musical excellence, no matter who's on stage.

~ Shawn Perry

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