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February 27, 2007

Albums to avoid: Deep Purple Live at the Birmingham NEC 1993

Contact Music reports:

Veteran rockers DEEP PURPLE are pleading with fans to not buy their latest album - a recording of their worst ever concert. The SMOKE ON THE WATER band are incensed record label Sony BMG has released double live album NEC 1993 to help promote the latest Deep Purple tour. [...] Singer IAN GILLAN and guitarist RITCHIE BLACKMORE were locked in a feud at the time of the gig in Birmingham, England. Gillan has slammed the record executives behind the decision to release NEC 1993, calling them "opportunist fat cats".

I wouldn't call this performance the worst Deep Purple concert ever. That dubious honour probably goes to one of the gigs from 1976 when half the band was performing in a haze of cocaine and heroin (neither Gillan nor Blackmore were in the band at that time), but there are good reasons not to buy this record:

1) It contains some of the band's worst Spinal Tap moments. During the opening number, Highway Star, Blackmore ruins the instrumental buildup by not turning up; later in the song, he interrupts his solo to throw a glass of water at a cameraman who came too close to him. Blackmore was 48 years old at the time.

2) It has been released before, twice. The first release was the 1994 video, since reissued as a DVD, Come Hell or High Water, which includes the opening number. It has commentary on the incident from Gillan and bassist Roger Glover. With the video content and the context provided by the commentary, the incident is actually rather entertaining; we see the four members of the band who bothered to show up onstage working their guts out to compensate for the lack of Blackmore; keyboardist Jon Lord in particular performs heroically, dripping with sweat just one minute in. As the concert goes on from there, the band recover themselves musically and the second half of the concert is rather good although the tension of the first few minutes never quite goes away.
The second release of the concert is part of a boxed set, Live in Europe 1993, where it is bundled with another concert in Stuttgart. Again, putting the incident in context helps; but this live record suffers from a new mix that seems to be designed to make the album sound more like a bootleg. Pat Regan's original mix of the video and CD of Come Hell or High Water (the CD was compiled from both concerts) was perhaps sweetened a little too much, especially the drums; it was, however, a clear mix that preserves the live athmosphere. The mix on the separate release is presumably the same as that on the boxed set; however, the boxed set is comparatively cheaper, so if you must have bootleggy recordings of one of Deep Purple's most embarrassing moments, get that release instead.

By the way, I don't believe for a moment that BMG is releasing these records to "promote" the band's new tour. Deep Purple haven't been under contract with BMG for ten years, at least not in Europe; the current touring lineup is very different from that in 1993, and Live at the Birmingham NEC is unlikely to persuade many young people to come to see the current lineup. It's a cash-in that the musicians won't benefit much from at all. (via)

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