With orchestra, Deep Purple rock spectacular show

A review of Deep Purple at the Citi Wang Theatre on June 7, 2011

, Contributing Writer

The Wang Theater, with its ornate walls, sculpted cherubs and red velvet curtains, may seem an odd place to find some of hard rock’s early pioneers, but Deep Purple seemed right at home Tuesday night as they delivered a spectacular show with the support of a full symphony orchestra. The guys have had more than forty years to develop a near-perfect formula for performing onstage, and despite the fact that Steve Morse and Don Airey have long since replaced Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord, that formula has not suffered one bit.

It’s hard to classify Deep Purple as simply a hard rock band. They weave together so many different elements – metal, pop, blues rock – that their music transcends genres. Hearing songs like the tongue-twisting “Knocking At Your Back Door” and the bluesy “Maybe I’m A Leo”, along with songs that thrive on Morse’s thrashing guitar solos like “Space Truckin'” all within a two-hour span testifies to Deep Purple’s versatility. There are a lot of different things to love and their multifaceted sound has granted Deep Purple a fan base that’s still relevant today.

The tension was simply palpable as the lights darkened and the orchestra played a jazzy introduction before Deep Purple joined them onstage. And when they did, they didn’t waste any time – jumping right into fan favorite “Highway Star”, featuring the first of Morse’s many solos. Morse’s weapon of choice is a hybrid guitar he crafted himself: a Fender Stratocaster neck, Gibson bridge, and other components of various makes. He calls it the Frankenstein Telecaster and he certainly knows how to use it. In addition to his extensive soloing in “Strange Kind of Woman” and “Black Night”, among others, the band dedicated an entire portion of the show to his talents. “Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it Superman,” Ian Gillan asked fans as Deep Purple finished “Woman From Tokyo”. “No, it’s The Aviator, Steve Morse!” Morse took the next ten or so minutes to show off his stuff; it takes that long for this guitarist to display his versatility. Alternating between breakneck riffs, nimble staccato melodies and slow, soulful chords, he used a multitude of distortion effects to create the sound of an entire movie soundtrack. The rest of the band joined back in as he furiously fretted through “The Well-Dressed Guitar”. Though many Deep Purple fans rue the absence of Ritchie Blackmore, Morse is a very capable replacement.

Another newer member, Don Airey, also had his time in the spotlight. Taking his keyboard to the next level in songs like “Hard Lovin’ Man” and “Rapture of the Deep”, he soloed almost as frequently as Morse. He’s just as versatile, too – the man grew up playing classical piano, and those influences, along with his inclination to jazz, were present and even emphasized through support from the orchestra behind him.

The main set concluded, of course, with “Smoke on the Water”. The old crowd favorite took on a new twist with the orchestra’s saxophones joining Morse for the melody. Fans stood cheering, animated, for the entire song and even the orchestra composer turned to face the audience and conduct them in singing the chorus. After closing the song to a well-deserved standing ovation, Deep Purple returned for an encore that featured “Hush” and “Black Night”. For diehard fans, the set also included “No One Came”, “Lazy” and “When A Blind Man Cries”.

Local blues-rockers Ernie and the Automatics took the stage beforehand for a rousing opening set. “Ain’t No Friends in Rock & Roll” sounded great, but the real treat was saved for last. The band, which features original Boston members Barry Goudreau on guitar and Sib Hashian on drums, paid tribute to the classic rock heroes by delivering an epic mash-up of Boston’s greatest hits, including “More Than A Feeling”, “Rock & Roll Band”, “Foreplay/Long Time” and “Smokin'”. Goudreau delivered each phenomenal solo with such superb concentration that it seemed like no time had passed since Boston released its hits in 1976, and Ernie Boch, Jr. did justice to the vocals made famous by the late Brad Delp. It was a powerful moment to hear even two of Boston’s original lineup bring to life the songs of the second best-selling debut album of all time.

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