Here’s where the Steve Morse edition of Deep Purple staked its claim to the band’s stirring history — and, in many ways, began to refashion it for a new age.
Gigging in support of the harder-rocking, yet comfortably prog-informed 1998 release Abandon, a jaunt that long-time singer Ian Gillan punningly dubbed “A Band on Tour, Deep Purple arrived in Australia with an interesting set of new songs — and an eye toward consolidating its legacy. Unlike the previously released Live at the Olympia, a 1997 live document that focused more fully on the initial Morse album Purpendicular, only four of the tracks on Total Abandon aren’t from period in which Ritchie Blackmore led the band — offering fans a definitive early feel for how his replacement at guitar was progressing.
Verdict: Morse adds a sleek virtuosity that the rough-hewn Blackmore couldn’t approach — in particular his fleet and triumphal turn on Bach-inspired “Highway Star” from 1972′s Machine Head — even if the former Dixie Dregs and Kansas star can’t always, at this point, match his predecessor’s emotional complexity with the older work. But Morse throws his whole being into the catalog, and finds a way to reanimate even the most broken down of Deep Purple’s warhorses, like “Women From Toyko” and “Smoke on the Water.” (Not that those aren’t signature moments in the band’s history, but their very songbook-level familiarity simply can’t allow much purchase for newer ideas.)
This live set — due April 24, 2012, from Eagle Rock — also includes “Bloodsucker,” the Blackmore-era song that had been given a rare studio reworking for the Abandon album. They even add some new, sharper edges to the Machinehead deep cut “Pictures Of Home.” Elsewhere, the groove-focused “Almost Human” and moody “Watching the Sky” are included from Abandon; the deeply funky “Ted The Mechanic” and rare band power ballad “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming” originally appeared on 1996′s Purpendicular.
Before the show is over, Total Abandon: Australia ’99 recalls not so much the Blackmore years as it does the band’s fiery Tommy Bolin period. There’s a similar level of front-line guitar craft, and a similar level of energy. Deep Purple sounded like it was having fun again.
And, to my ears, the group never really looked back so intently again. By the time they issued Bananas, some five years later, original keyboardist Jon Lord was gone — and Deep Purple had metamorphosed. The addition of Morse, like an ozone-producing jolt of lightning, had transformed what once seemed like a ghost band trying to reclaim its glory days into a freshly rejuvenated force to be reckoned with.