I have a confession to make. I really miss seventies arena rock.
No, I’m not talking about the bloated, watered-down late seventies model popularized by blow-dried, faceless power balladeers like Boston, Styx, and REO Speedwagon. I’m talking about the real stuff, seventies arena metal: Shrieking Vocals, fuzzboxes, feedback, flash pots, and drum solos.
You know … The stuff you’d go to hear in an arena filled with the thick haze of pot smoke. Where you’d wait outside for hours prior to showtime, anticipating of the mad rush to the stage to secure the best “festival seating” once the doors opened. (Remember that?)
I was 18 years old at the time (and to quote Alice Cooper, “I Liked it”). And it was the greatest shit ever: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, and Deep Purple.
In 1974, when this DVD was filmed, Deep Purple was a band at the height of its powers. Their primary distinction at the time was the fact that they we’re generally believed to be the loudest band in the world … they we’re even listed as such in that year’s edition of the Guinness Book of World Records.
I can personally back that claim with a story of my own. I saw Deep Purple in Seattle that year at a show from the very same tour captured on this DVD. Being a dedicated rocker at the time, and being much younger and stupider than I am today, I opted to park myself and my unprotected ears right in front of the stage. What I remember most about that night, is that between songs all I could hear was this sort of low, droning hum; no applause, no crowd noise, nothing but the hum.
And for the next three days I couldn’t hear anything else either. In fact, I found myself bumping into things a lot and walking kind of sideways. What I later learned, after finally seeing a doctor, was the short-term hearing loss I had suffered from the concert had also affected my equilibrium.
Yeah. Deep Purple was loud all right.
They were also at that particular moment in time, arguably the biggest and best heavy metal band on earth.
Deep Purple played no bigger show that year than the one they played before about 200,000 people at the California Jam held at Ontario Speedway. Sharing a bill with such other hitmakers of the day as Sabbath (no slouches in the volume category themselves), Emerson Lake & Palmer, and The Eagles, Deep Purple’s set at California Jam was also filmed for broadcast on ABC’s late night In Concert showcase program.
This DVD represents the first time the entire Deep Purple performance from California Jam has been commercially available. With a running time of about 119 minutes, the set consists of a mere seven songs. Which not only tells you something about the song lengths among heavy metal bands of the day in 1974, but more importantly, that you are in for a treat if you are a sucker for extended jams.
Touring to support their 1974 album Burn, Deep Purple also introduced its two newest members that year … a then unheard of vocalist named David Coverdale, and ex-Trapeze bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes. Replacing the departed Ian Gillian and Roger Glover, California Jam had to be something of a trial by fire for the two rookies.
Indeed there are some initial jitters. Coverdale seems fixated on locating the California sunset, while Hughes does an inordinate amount of nasal sniffing in between songs. In the seventies, it seems things did indeed go better with …
Anyway, by the time we get to a blistering “Mistreated”, Coverdale in particular seems to find much of his future Whitesnake form. Belting out the bluesy lyrics with all the bluster of a younger Robert Plant, Coverdale also matches Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar pyrotechnics note for note.
Blackmore of course, was considered something of a guitar virtuoso back then mentioned in the same breath as such masters as Clapton, Beck, and Page.
For much of this DVD, the camera favors Blackmore from the rear for some odd reason. But occasionally, you can catch glimpses of his fingers flying over the fret board. It is here you can see where he earned his reputation as one of the era’s greatest guitarists and a later inspiration to everyone from Eddie Van Halen to Yngwie Malmsteen.
As the show begins to draw to a close, Deep Purple bring out the big guns in true seventies arena metal fashion. For California Jam, that meant the biggest gun of them all, “Smoke On The Water”. In an era where riffs were king, “Smoke On The Water” was indisputably the biggest riff rocker of them all.
It also meant 20-odd minutes of a show-stopping version of the concert staple “Space Truckin”, from Deep Purple’s breakthrough Machine Head album. If you are one of those people who skips through your DVDs, this is the one to fast forward to. For the aficionado of the extended seventies arena rock jam, “Space Truckin” is the payoff.
After the obligatory solos from keyboardist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice, Blackmore goes on an absolute tear, eventually destroying several guitars, a camera, a monitor or three, and finally blowing up the amplifiers. At the time, it was apparently somewhat of a controversial move, although I do recall an eerily similar scene captured on film when The Who played the Monterey Pop Festival. Still, it is a visually stunning sight, and this DVD captures the event in all of it’s incendiary glory.
Deep Purple Live At The California Jam 1974 is a worthy snapshot of a long-forgotten rock and roll era. The film quality is remarkably good given the time that it was recorded, and the Dolby 5.1 remastered audio captures the loudest band of it’s time in all of their ear shattering glory.
And just for the record, despite everything you’ve heard, Deep Purple is not the band who inspired the film This Is Spinal Tap. I have it on very good authority that was actually Uriah Heep.