Dave LaRue

REVIEW: Deep Purple – In Concert with the London Symphony Orchestra (1999)

Thanks for joining me this week for Purple Week at mikeladano.com.  Today is Part 5 and the last album for now.    But don’t worry, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Deep Purple around these parts…  

Part 1:  Shades of Deep Purple
Part 2:  The Book of Taliesyn
Part 3:  Perfect Strangers
Part 4: Whitesnake Live in ’84 – Back to the Bone
Part 5:  In Concert with the London Symphony Orchestra 

DEEP PURPLE – In Concert with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Mann (1999 Eagle Records)

The original Concerto for Group and Orchestra (1969) was Jon Lord’s baby.  The rest of the band didn’t care too much for it, and it had only ever been performed twice.  The Albert Hall recording became a successful live album, and it was performed once more in Los Angeles.  Soon after, the original score was lost, permanently.  Even if Deep Purple wanted to (and let’s face it, if Blackmore were in the band he’d probably say no), it could never be performed again without the sheet music.

I’ll let Jon Lord take it from here.  From the liner notes to the CD:

“Marco de Goeij, a young Dutch composer…had decided to re-create it by listening to the recording and watching the video.  Over and over and over again.  A task of mind-bending complexity, dexterity and musicality, which then only left me the far simpler job of filling in what he had been unable to decipher, re-creating what I could remember of my original orchestration, and in part, as those who know the work will hear, re-composing where I felt it needed it.”

Conductor Paul Mann had independently been searching for the original lost manuscript.  When Jon informed him of the re-created one, Mann was on board with the London Symphony to do it once more.  Deep Purple now had a new guitar player, Steve Morse, who undoubtedly would have to bring his own slant to the guitar solos.  For Jon and the fans, it’s the stuff of wishes come true.

Since the Concerto was really Lord’s project, it seems like a fair compromise for each of the members of Deep Purple to also get a moment or two to showcase their solo work.  In fact many musicians from those solo works are welcomed to the stage, including the Steve Morse Band, Ronnie James Dio, Mickey Lee Soule (ex-Rainbow and ex-Gillan), Sam Brown, and more.  Deep Purple fans are generally open to different styles of music, and this album showcases those styles in a professional, classy format.

Once again at the Albert Hall, the set commences with a disc highlighting the solo careers. Lord’s “Pictured Within” (with Miller Anderson)  and “Wait a While” (with Sam Brown) begin the proceedings with a quiet, powerful pair of songs backed by Jon’s piano and dramatic strings. These versions are, dare-I-say-it, superior to the original studio versions.

From there, Roger Glover’s solo career gets a looksee, with “Sitting in a Dream” and the irresistibly bouncy “Love is All”, my favourite. Ronnie James Dio reprises his vocals from the original Butterfly Ball versions, sounding as great as he did nearly 30 years prior!  It really is impossible not to like “Love is All”, which of the two is especially fun.

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In 1988, Ian Gillan and Roger Glover did a project together called Accidentally on Purpose, a quirky tropical pop rock album.  “Via Miami” is one of the more upbeat tracks from that album.  Ian’s “That’s Why God is Singing the Blues” features his solo band’s guitarist Steve Morris (not Morse!)  Both it and “Via Miami” spark and roll along joyfully.

Steve Morse (not Morris!) is up next with the Dixie Dregs’ “Take it Off The Top”.  It’s the Steve Morse Band and the Kick Horns.  It’s always a pleasure to listen to Dave LaRue, Van Romaine, and Steve Morse playing together, but to hear them at the Albert Hall?  That’s a venue suitable to the genius they wrench from strings and wood.  Graham Preskett joins on violin to dual Morse with string acrobatics.

Ian Paice’s spotlight song is a horn-laden jazz version of Purple’s “Wring That Neck”. This is my kinda jazz, the kind with a rock beat you can swing to!  The violin solo lends it a bluegrass feel, too. The first CD ends with a powerfully heavy “Pictures From Home”, originally from the immortal Machine Head record, performed by Deep Purple with the London Symphony.  It’s a powerful, dramatic song on which for the full Deep Purple to enter.

Disc two features the entire Concerto from start to finish, all three movements, roughly 50 minutes in length. This truly was Lord’s baby, the piece that kept him up nights in 1968 and 1969 writing little black notes on white paper. It made Deep Purple a unique property when it was released on LP 1969, but had not been heard live in 30 years. Purple fans will be in seventh heaven with this de-extinction. Indeed, Morse’s guitar is different, but he hits the right notes at the right time while still playing within his style.  Otherwise, I’ll be damned but I can’t tell the difference.

What can I say of the Concerto itself?  I think it’s pretty cool, and I’ve always geeked out to stuff like this.  Jon envisioned it as “rock band meets orchestra” — at first they say hello, and play around, then they start shouting at each other, and before long it’s all-out war!  Speaking of shouting, my favourite is probably Movement II, which has Gillan’s all-too-brief but oh-so-perfect vocal.

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The disc concludes with three more (three Morse?) of recent vintage. “Ted The Mechanic” and “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming” are two of the best songs from Purpendicular, and “Watching The Sky” is probably the heaviest song from Abandon. I personally feel that all the Abandon material was better live than on album, and “Watching The Sky” maintains that.  Unfortunately none of the Abandon songs were really that great.

Of course, “Smoke On The Water” ends the album with guests returning, including Ronnie James Dio who takes a verse. “What do you think Ronnie!”  Then the Elf himself is up at the microphone singing “Smoke on the Water” with Blackmore’s old band Deep Purple.  I shouldn’t need to tell you that this is one of my all-time favourite live versions of “Smoke”.

This album, which ended up being one of Lord’s last with Purple, was really a special gift to the fans. It is a beautifully crafted live performance containing some of the rarest of the rare gems in the extended Purple canon. An event like this will never happen again. There is a DVD of this show, but beware, it is only about 2/3 of the set.  What a disappointment that DVD version was.  You want every moment, but you won’t get it.

If you do hunger for more after this, then you can binge on The Soundboard Series 12 CD boxed set. It consists of 6 shows, two of which featured full live performances of the Concerto, with guests such as (yup!) Ronnie James Dio. There is also Live at the Rotterdam Ahoy which lacks the Concerto portion, but makes up for it with a more extensive set of classic rockers, including Dio’s own “Rainbow In The Dark” and “Fever Dreams”!…But that’s another review.

5/5 stars. For the true fan, and anybody who’s not afraid to expand their listening territory.

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REVIEW: Flying Colors – Live In Europe (2013)

FLYING COLORS – Live In Europe (2013 Mascot Music)

There hasn’t been a new band that got me going like Flying Colors did in a dog’s age.  Their 2012 debut is a fantastic album, and it’s only grown on me more since I first reviewed it.  Songs like “Kayla”, “The Storm”, and “Shoulda Coulda Woulda” had me hooked on repeat — in the car, at home, it didn’t matter.  Flying Colors has been on constantly for months.

That’s why I decided to get the double Live In Europe CD.  I had to have more.  Who cares that it’s a double live album immediately following a debut!  All 11 songs from that album are here, plus covers and songs from each member’s past.  I am glad to report that Live In Europe is as stunning as the debut, even over its long running time.  When you have a band made up of guys like Mike Portnoy, Steve Morse, Dave LaRue, Neal Morse and Casey McPherson, you can count on a live show full of explosive instrumental pyrotechnics.  And that is present.  But it’s the quality of the songs and the humour of the band that makes it special.

The band open the set with three album tracks in a row, each different from the last.  “Blue Ocean” is the long, breezy opener, which is followed by the pummeling “Shoulda Coulda Woulda”.  Then, “Love Is What I’m Waiting For” is more soulful.  All three are outstanding songs with stunning playing.

Portnoy does most of the talking, but Casey McPherson gets the first solo outing.  “Can’t Find a Way” is from his former band Endochine, but played by Flying Colors, it fits seemlessly in the set.  Its soft vibe is similar to some of the quieter material on Flying Colors, and McPherson’s emotive vocals set it apart.  Steve Morse throws down one of his classic solos and seals the deal.  This powerful number could have been on the album easily.   They follow this one with my favourite song, “The Storm,” and the whole place ignites.

From 1978’s What If album comes the Dixie Dregs’ “Oddyssey”.  Since Flying Colors don’t have a violin player, it’s very different, but every bit as jumpy and complicated.  Coming back to something a little more straightforward, the band rock out to “Forever In A Daze.”  Then McPherson stuns the crowd with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.  Yeah, it’s been a trendy song to cover lately, but when you pull it off as well as MacPherson does, why not?

The first CD ends with a mellow “Better Than Walking Away,” and by now a Flying Colors concert already feels like an emotionally uplifting experience.  It is a song like this that underlines not just the chops, but the melodic tendencies of this band.  It’s always fun to listen to a bunch of guys shred for 90 minutes, but it’s even better when they play a bunch of great songs, too.

The second CD commences with “Kayla,” which to me is already a classic.  The vocal harmonies of Neal Morse and Casey McPherson really dance.  After this, Mike Portnoy takes over, at the request of Neal Morse, sings lead on his “Fool In My Heart.”  I quite this swinging little ballad, and there’s nothing wrong with Portnoy’s vocal.  Dave LaRue’s solo piece, “Spur of the Moment,” leads into a Dream Theater classic.  “Repentance,” from 2007’s excellent Systematic Chaos, is part of Mike’s “12 Step Suite.”  As such it’s only fitting that he sings it himself.  It’s not the whole 10 minute version, it’s pretty much just the first half, “Regret.”  But it is every bit as powerful as Dream Theater’s original, yet very different.

From 1998’s The Kindness Of Strangers, Neal Morse performs “June” by Spock’s Beard.  This bright ballad enables McPherson and Portnoy to harmonize very nicely with Morse.   It’s certainly a nice respite before the slamming “All Falls Down.”  After the band lays waste with that tune, it’s only epics from there forward.  From the album, 8 minutes of “Everything Changes” is only topped by 12 minutes of “Infinite Fire”.  While these two are still “songs,” the shredders get their wishes granted with some long-bomb jams.

In a band like Flying Colors, you can’t single out any one player as an MVP.  It seems like a band powered by all five members equally.  Having said that, Steve’s Morse’s guitar solos are always a treat, and it also a pleasure to hear the rhythm section of LaRue and Portnoy gel like this.  They give the whole album a tremendous pulse.  Turn up your bass and see what I mean.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Flying Colors – Flying Colors (2012)

 

FLYING COLORS – Flying Colors (2012 Mascot Music)

How many bands is Mike Portnoy in anyway?  I have no idea, but I’ve bought many of them over the years.  Flying Colors is another, a supergroup featuring Steve Morse, the unrelated Neal Morse of Spock’s Beard, Dave LaRue from Steve Morse Band, and Casey McPherson of Alpha Rev.  McPherson is the only one I’m not familiar with from elsewhere, and he handles lead vocals as well as keyboards and guitar.  Peter Collins (Rush) produces, a man who knows plenty about progressive rock that gets played on the radio.

FLYING COLORS_0004Together they created an accessible album of jaw-dropping chops but also something melodically engrossing.  While these guys are all primarily renowned as musician’s musicians, together it seems they know how to write a song or two.  The 7-minute opener “Blue Ocean” is a great example.  It’s very hard to describe because it’s not any one thing.  It has a hypnotically cool lead vocal, but backed by a neat shuffle and Morse’s trademark hybrid style.

“Shoulda Coulda Woulda” is a heavy one, again with a hypnotic vocal.  It’s unforgettable and one of the most powerful tunes.  Steve Morse lays yet another awesome guitar solo on top of it.  It’s not how many notes he plays or how fast he plays them.  It’s what he wrenches out of them.  Then like a 180, “Kayla” opens with some gorgeous classical guitar, as if we switched to a Blackmore’s Night album!  But this is temporary; “Kayla” is a sparse mid-tempo rock song, with an anthemic chorus.  “Kayla” is one of the most instantly catchy moments on Flying Colors.  The vocal harmonies in the middle section are killer.

This is followed by my favourite tune, the radio-ready “The Storm”.  The chorus here is the best one on the album, powerful and layered.  The verses are soft and melodic; commercial rock goodness.  Portnoy perfectly compliments the song without overplaying.  Only a classic Steve Morse solo could further elevate “The Storm” to the heavens, and that’s exactly what happens.

LaRue funks it up a bit on “Forever in a Daze” which thumps along nicely.  “Love is What I’m Waiting For” has a Beatles vibe, which is interesting enough.  It’s probably worthy of radio play in a perfect world.  “Everything Changes” is another 7 minute long-bomber, and I don’t want to call it a ballad, so I’ll call it “quiet”.  It’s an epic.  It has acoustic guitars and strings and all kinds of cool stuff, including plenty of electric Morse.  Once again, I hear Beatles.

The introspective “Better Than Walking Away” is another really good song, soft and pretty but lyrically intense.  Then like a cold slap in the face comes “All Falls Down”.  This the most “metal” moment on the album, a blazing blitzkrieg of guitars and drums.  It’s over in 3 minutes and 20 seconds, but it’ll leave you knocked out.  I really love the vocals on this song too.

Approaching the end, “Fool in My Heart” is a slow dance.  Its melodies are warm and classic sounding.  This serves to cleanse the palette  before the final 12 minute feast of “Infinite Fire”.  It’s one of my favourites, and it’s over more quickly than it seems it should be.  It doesn’t wear out its welcome; it has a bit of everything in it including melody and spellbinding playing.

How the hell have Portnoy and Morse managed to put out multiple great albums in 2013 is beyond me.  Why are guys like these not the biggest rock stars on the planet?  Thankfully, a live album and second studio record are on their way.

4/5 stars

FURTHER READING:

REVIEW: Steve Morse Band – StressFest (1996)

STEVE MORSE BAND – StressFest (1996 BMG)

Steve Morse certainly needs no introduction here.  What’s incredible is that the dude joined Deep Purple in 1994, released a Steve Morse Band album in ’95 (Structural Damage), and then both Deep Purple and SMB albums in 1996.  Even more incredible when you consider that Morse wrote all the material for the SMB albums himself, and co-wrote every track on Purple’s Purpendicular.  The man seems to have no shortage of ideas.

StressFest is another reliable Steve Morse Band album.  Joined by Dave LaRue and Van Romaine once more, the band  created another textured, varied album that skirts multiple genres with jaw-dropping chops.  There are traditional sounding electric blues jams like “Live to Ride”, more delicate moments, blazing guitars, funk, jazz, bluegrass, rock…a little bit of everything.

One cool tune is “4 Minutes To Live”, a soft composition with a “piano part” that is actually Steve playing through a guitar synthesizer.  But don’t let that scare you.  There are plenty of 64th-note thrills and chills, fast picking and deep bends.  Backed with the inventive drums of Romaine and the bouncy bass of LaRue, Morse’s songs are a challenging but rewarding listen.

STRESSFEST_0003What’s especially cool (and reason enough to check out an album like this) is, even though both Deep Purple and the Steve Morse Band are loosely classified as having some sort of relationship with progressive rock and serious musicianship, the music they create is nothing alike.  Morse’s guitar is the foundation of both, but there’s little overlap.  StressFest‘s songs wouldn’t work as a Deep Purple album, even though there are elements of them that could.  Likewise, Deep Purple’s material in general is quite different from the Steve Morse Band.

I remember my parents brought this CD back home to me from Michigan, because you couldn’t get it in Canada, even though it was distributed by a major label.  Sadly, it is still only available on import in Canada.  Bad, Canada!  Bad, bad Canada.

4/5 stars

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I love the cover art; that does look like a stressful day indeed!