The annual Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland is well known as a two-week celebration of the world’s best jazz music, but also for its roster of all stars from other genres, especially rock, pop, blues and soul. They’ve invited the likes of David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, and Marvin Gaye to the fest over the years.
On its 40th anniversary, from June 30 through July 15, 2006, Montreux celebrated its past and present, inviting acts ranging from Steve Winwood, Taj Mahal and Paco de Lucia to Morrissey, The Strokes and The Deftones. But Deep Purple is perhaps the rock band most closely associated with the festival – see the Montreux-based story behind “Smoke On The Water” on the DVD – and hence headlined the final night. They delivered a blistering, unforgettable 100-minute performance that was captured on film and released last year (Eagle Eye Media).
As if that wasn’t enough, you get a bonus DVD of an intimate hour-long performance by DP at what was then a newly reopened Hard Rock Café in London, England, on October 10, 2005. Plus, there’s over 20 minutes worth of band interviews, totaling over 186 minutes of entertainment.
The classic Deep Purple (Mark II) lineup of Ian Gillan (vocals), Ritchie Blackmore (axe), Jon Lord (keys), Ian Paice (drums) and Roger Glover (bass) may never get back together, but aside from Gillan’s aging vocal chops, the current group is almost as strong as its ever been. Guitar virtuosos Blackmore and piano wizard Lord have been replaced by two heavyweights for a long while now, Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Kansas) since 1994 and Don Airey (Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Andrew Lloyd Webber) since 2002, respectively.
Along with Judas Priest, Queen and other hard rock/metal giants of the ‘70s, Deep Purple were among the first to incorporate the kind of speedy heavy metal riffs into their sound that would influence thrash metal pioneers like Anthrax and Metallica in the ‘80s. But like many of the greatest bands in the world, Deep Purple was more than a hard rock band – they never called themselves a “heavy metal” band. They incorporated blues, jazz and prog-rock into their albums over the last four decades. And for nearly 3 hours over 2 DVDs, DP celebrates both Montreux’s legacy as well as their own.
Purple fans young and (mostly old) will be pleased with the amount of classics included in the Montreux set, including nearly all of the landmark Machine Head album (and even a b-side from that era, “When A Blind Man Cries”).
From the get-go, the band was on fire, as Morse, Glover, and Airey traded solos on opener “Pictures of Home,” while Gillan sang with a grin, roamed the stage, or sang with his hand on Morse’s shoulder, perhaps as a show of solidarity and togetherness. And the band was tight all show long, even through complex, off-timed beats and speedy sections of music. The blues boogie hit “Strange Kind of Woman” is just one example.
Steve Morse puts his own stamp – where he can – on several Blackmore-era staples, but also invokes a little bit of his predecessor (Joe Satriani) here and there as well; his improvised intro to “Highway Star” is an example of both. And Deep Purple is prone to spontaneously jam throughout a show. Airey, when not playing his Kurzweil keyboard, shreds on a distorted organ, with his right hand flying up and down the instrument while his left hand bounces off it, playing lower parts in unison.
And just in case people temporarily forgot they were at a jazz festival, between “Highway Star” and “Smoke On The Water” was a brilliant couple of minutes of jazz jamming by the band (primarily Morse and Airey). Speaking of “Smoke,” the nearly 200,000 people at Montreux were very loud and attentive when called to sing the mega hit’s chorus.
After a thrilling sequence of more fan favorites, including “Lazy,” “Space Truckin’,” and “Highway Star,” Deep Purple’s producer Michael Bradford – a big man with dark sunglasses – played some wah-wah-fueled guitar on the final three tracks of the night. On two of them, including an extended version of “Hush,” he engaged in back-and-forth guitar solos with Morse.
The second-to-last number was a fun, audience-inclusive blues rocker written specifically for the Montreux fest called “Too Much Fun,” which featured the event’s founder himself, “Funky” Claude Nobs. And speaking of the audience, the look on Glover’s face was priceless when his jaw dropped after he watched the crowd sing the riffs to show closer “Black Night” before he even played the riff a second time around.
Sixteen songs later, it was an impressive set from a legendary rock band that is supposed to be past their prime.
On DVD 2, the considerably shorter Hard Rock Café show in London was taped for an invite-only audience, and they, for whatever reason were quiet for much of the night (unlike the Montreux crowd). That didn’t stop DP from giving their all, however.
The band was almost as tight here as on the Montreux set. But singer Ian Gillan had a hard time reaching some of the high notes and staying in key, most notably on “Highway Star,” which was otherwise brilliantly performed by the rest of the band.
Some newer songs were performed during both shows, including the social justice-themed “Wrong Man,” from Rapture of the Deep (2006). It is definitely the heaviest, meatiest number on both DVDs, with the guitars and bass in drop D tuning. It’s solid all around but the verse riffs are a bit stronger and more memorable than the chorus sections. And the exotic title track of the Rapture record was a spot-on performance, even if I didn’t really care for the song all that much.
A hot and lively performance of the jazz-inflected bluesy hard rocker “Lazy,” was another standout on both the Hard Rock and Montreux shows. It’s one of a few old favs Gillan played harmonica on, and although he isn’t the greatest harp player I’ve ever heard, like many great singers, he’s got the natural talent to express himself through other means. And his playing style fits right in with what the band is doing and thus, is not a liability by any standard.
For the final song of the evening, “Smoke On The Water,” the London crowd came alive during the show-stopping performance, singing the song’s chorus with a clearly British accent back to an iconic band that formed not far from here, in Hertfordshire, England.
If you couldn’t figure it out by now, I high enjoyed the Deep Purple: Live At Montreux 2006 2-DVD set. As someone who was too young to see Deep Purple at their creative peak in the ‘70s with their core lineup, just the fact that the band is still going and kickin’ ass after four decades is amazing and something every DP fan should be grateful for.
You can’t go wrong with three hours of Deep Purple, even at this stage in their career. Plus, it’s a big improvement over their Live at Montreux 1996 DVD release as well, which was about half as long as this release. So hunt down a copy at your record store of choice and buy it in standard DVD form, HD-DVD, or Blu-Ray. Then put it in your DVD player and let it transport you to a world where great rock bands once ruled the world.