When Deep Purple recorded their April 20, 1999 concert at Melbourne Park in Australia, the band had become what would be known as their “Mark VII” incarnation. This line-up included long-time stalwarts bassist Roger Glover, keyboardist Jon Lord, and drummer Ian Paice. Very clearly the performance captured from that year’s international tour demonstrates singer Ian Gillan remained firmly in command as the band’s frontman, but he had lost much of his range and power. Equally as obvious, after faltering attempts to replace Richie Blackmore, ex-Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse had become more than a worthy replacement. In fact, in terms of this concert, Morse is the real highway star.
Morse had joined the band in 1996 for Purpendicular, and by all accounts, he revitalized a floundering group. After 1997’s double-album Live at The Olympia ’96, the Australian concert captured on the second live release with Morse was intended to support the follow-up studio album he recorded with Deep Purple, 1998’s Abandon. Naturally, highlights from this show feature the then new songs Morse had helped compose for both these albums including the opener, the down and dirty “Ted The Mechanic” and the beautiful “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming” from Purpendicular.
From Abandon, we get the chunkin’ “Almost Human”, “Watching The Sky,” and the straight-up metal-head basher, “Bludsucker.” That track was something of an anomaly in the Purple canon as it was a re-working of a song with a slightly different title spelling on Deep Purple in Rock (1970), “Bloodsucker.”
The rest of the 74 minute set are selections from Purple’s ‘70s output with an emphasis on songs from Fireball (1971) and Machine Head (1972). While there are no songs from the Coverdale/Hughes era, it seems the band was still influenced by the funkier elements the two had brought to the group, with the show featuring a Deep Purple more contrapuntal, more groove-oriented than their earlier days. This is evident in the workmanlike versions of “Fireball” and “Strange Kind Of Woman.” “Woman From Tokyo,” the one song representing 1973’s Who Do We Think We Are, gets a different interpretation from the original, demonstrating once again that Deep Purple was never interested in note-for-note replications of their hits. Sadly, Gillan was in especially bad form for this one (sorry folks).
However, the band is in perfect sync for “Pictures of Home” from Machine Head, where Morse gets downright exquisite and full of expression in that jam. In one of the most entertaining intros on record, Morse leads into “Smoke On The Water” with quotes from “Whole Lotta Love,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” “Day Tripper,” “You Really Got Me,” and other classics from other bands that ignited not only the crowd that spring night but Gillan as well. As of now, this version stands as my favorite incarnation of the song. Likewise, “Black Night” (from In Rock) is performed with a groove that gives it a life it didn’t really have the first time around. How do you end a Deep Purple ride? With “Highway Star,” of course, and once again we hear an acceptable version of a standard. But it’s not likely to set your casino on fire.
Before this U.S. release, Total Abandon: Australia ‘99 was available as a double-disc import as a CD and DVD in the 2008 Around The World Live boxed set. Many Purple fans likely already have this concert in one of these two formats. If so, they have no need for this boiled-down package. But if you don’t already have a sample of what Deep Purple featuring Steve Morse sounds like, there’s plenty of great guitar on this disc to make the price of admission more than worthwhile. It’s no Made in Japan, but few live sets (by anyone) are.