DVD Review: Deep Purple — Perfect Strangers Live

Deep Purple are one of those bands with a tortured history of lineup changes, stylistic detours, and changing fortunes. While their real-life saga doesn’t rival that of the just-this-side-of-fictional Spinal Tap, some of the in-jokes in the latter group’s classic film perhaps cut a bit close to the bone for the guys in Deep Purple.

While their earliest (and all too often overlooked) material trafficked in psychedelic and early progressive styles, Deep Purple made their greatest commercial impact (and exerted their greatest influence on the rock scene in general) with ther Mark II Lineup. During that period, they released the albums most often considered their high water mark: Deep Purple In Rock (1970), Fireball (1971) the mega-successful records Machine Head and the double live Made in Japan (both 1972) and Who Do We Think We Are (1973).

And though the band would subsequently go through further lineup changes, it was that era’s classic lineup that reunited in 1984 to record Perfect Strangers. More or less a return to form, the album was followed by a staggeringly successful world tour the following year. Now, nearly thirty years later, a pro-shot full-length concert film from this tour has finally been released. The entire fifteen-song concert plus a short tour documentary make up the 141 minute DVD release.

The 1980s aren’t looked back upon too fondly in terms of concert footage. Videotape still had a distinctive look that was decidedly inferior to film, and post-production often included copious amounts of what today’s viewers would consider gratuitous and annoying effects of the most cheesy variety (see especially: posterization). Yet somehow Deep Purple’s Perfect Strangers Live manages to sidestep all of these 80s minefields. What we get, instead, is a no-nonsense concert film that has been professionally shot and recorded (the audio’s superb). And while modern concert videography almost often includes vertigo-inducing crane shots and way, way too many crowd reaction shots (especially for vintage acts), Perfect Strangers Live avoids these as well.

Instead it’s a concert artifact that hadn’t dated badly at all. Kicking off with Machine Head‘s “Highway Star,” the band takes things at a pace that’s a bit amped-up from the studio original, but is otherwise true to the song. Vocalist Ian Gillan is in fine form, and sounds more at home back in Deep Purple than he did in Black Sabbath (the band he left to take part in this reunion project). And guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was still years away from his 21st century ren-fest styled musical activities: here, fresh out of his band Rainbow, he’s playing lightning licks, infusing the familiar songs with clever little flourishes. One of those is a subtle nod to Gillan’s tenure as the lead in the touring version of Andrew Lloyd Weber‘s Jesus Christ superstar. Now, maybe Blackmore did this little theme song lick every night, but in this film (shot during the Australian leg of the tour), Gillan seems delighted and surprised to hear it.

Five songs from the then-current album are included, and while they’re not quite to the timeless quality of “Lazy,” “Space Truckin’,” and of course “Smoke on the Water,” they’re sturdy enough, and no sort of embarrassment.

The band would soon splinter yet again, continuing on and off in various permutations. Keyboardist extraordinaire Jon Lord passed away in 2012, and since the late 1990s Blackmore has centered his activities upon the more subdued sounds he makes with his missus in Blackmore’s Night. The other three Mark II band members – Gillan, bassist Roger Glover, and drummer Ian Paice – remain with the current lineup and continue to tour relentlessly. But for audiovisual souvenir of the reunited prime-era lineup, Perfect Strangers Live is as good a concert film as could be hoped for.

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