Deep Purple with Orchestra Live at Montreux 2011 – specifically the thirty-eight piece Neue Philharmonie Frankfurt Orchestra – captures a high energy show from The Songs That Rock Built Tour in superb high definition. The concert, taped July 16th, 2011, is currently available from Eagle Rock Entertainment on Blu-ray as well as in a double-compact-disc set. The orchestra is utilized tastefully, not as a gimmick but legitimately integrated into the arrangements. The focus remains squarely on the five-piece rock band.
And that’s exactly where the focus should be, because this group of sixtysomethings truly rocks with impressive intensity. The 18-song setlist contains the group’s two biggest chart singles, “Hush” and “Smoke on the Water,” as well as classic rock staples including “Woman from Tokyo,” “Highway Star,” and “Black Night.” The current lineup has been together for the last several years, sort of a modified version of Deep Purple’s classic early ‘70s configuration. Only a couple of their newer numbers are included: the title track from 2005′s Rapture of the Deep and an outtake from 2003’s Bananas, “The Well Blessed Guitar.”
Co-founder and keyboardist Jon Lord bowed out in 2002, and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore left the band nearly a decade before that. But the longtime backbone of the group, drummer Ian Paice, is on board and sounding better than ever. Bassist Roger Glover is in fine form, spotlighted late in the show with a powerful solo spot. Guitarist Steve Morse, essentially Blackmore’s replacement (after a very brief stint by Joe Satriani), nails his impassioned leads with expert precision. The group’s newest member – Lord’s replacement on keys – is Don Airey. His versatility is fully displayed during a nearly six-minute solo spot that finds the keyboardist briefly touching on nearly every genre of popular music.
That leaves the weak link, frontman Ian Gillan. Strolling out at the beginning of the show, dressed like he’s ready for a game of shuffleboard before catching the early bird special, Gillan doesn’t roar so much as whine out of the gate. To be fair, he seems to ease into things as the show proceeds. And he still sounds better than some rock vocalists of his age group. But his voice really strains at times, sometimes coming reasonably close to approximating his prime but usually quite thin. It’s not weak enough to ruin the show, though. Like with many aging bands, if you’ve been following Deep Purple regularly you’re likely accustomed to the vocal deterioration. On the other hand, if you haven’t heard these guys in a while you may find yourself stifling a chuckle each time Gillan screeches (he sounds a little like Beavis from Beavis & Butt-Head).
Visually the Blu-ray lives up to the high standards set by previous Eagle Rock Entertainment concert releases. Framed at 1.78:1, the 1080i digital video transfer looks great. Paice’s cymbals sparkle under the stage lights, close-ups of Morse’s fingers on the fretboard are crystal clear, and Gillan’s sweaty face and neck are vividly captured. The orchestra members are quite dimly lit behind the group, yet even shots of them allow us to see the concentration on their faces. The only minor complaint is that sometimes the bright stage lights result in some white crush. Facial detail occasionally gets blown out, but this is fairly rare. It never detracts from an otherwise excellent visual presentation.
There are three audio options present: DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital 5.1, and LPCM Stereo. The star of these is, not surprisingly, the DTS-HD track, which really cranks out a powerful sound. This mix sounds undeniably “live,” delivering a throbbing bass sound but never sacrificing any element. Paice’s cymbals sound as crisp and bright as his kick drum sounds deep and resonant. The orchestra is mixed perfectly, cutting through the churning rock when appropriate and staying in the background during more subtle moments. Thankfully, Gillan’s vocals appear to have been somewhat buried in the mix, minimizing his weaker moments. Sampling the Dolby track, I heard a somewhat flatter sound without all the separation of the DTS – but still an acceptable alternative.