In the world of hard rock, the first three chords of the Deep Purple song “Smoke on the Water” are sometimes called “The Holy Trinity,” and not coincidentally they are often one of the first things that a fledgling guitarist learns how to play.
But don’t let the apparent simplicity of the opening to this song fool you, because in addition to some of the best riffs in the business, Deep Purple also gives you mind-blowing guitar and organ solos, a super-heavy rhythm section and soul-piercing vocals.
On Tuesday night, Deep Purple rocked the Ventura County Fair with classic Mark II lineup members Ian Gillan on vocals, Roger Glover on bass and Ian Paice on drums, along with guitar hero Steve Morse and keyboard wiz Don Airey. I think almost everyone who saw the show would agree that Morse and Airey are great substitutes for original guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and the late organist Jon Lord.
The show kicked off with “Highway Star,” which set the tone for the evening: loud, powerful, and amazing. Here Morse and Airey immediately won over the skeptics with solos that stayed mostly faithful to the original recordings, but also had their own flair.
They continued with the classic Deep Purple tracks “Into the Fire,” “Hard Lovin’ Man” and “Strange Kind of Woman,” and these showed that Gillan’s voice has held up surprisingly well, with the songs performed in the same key as they were more than 40 years ago. OK, they didn’t play “Child in Time,” which would even stretch the voice of a twenty-something, but Gillan can still belt it out.
The band then did some of their newer material, including several tracks off their 2013 album Now What?! While these weren’t familiar to the crowd, they show that the band has more creative energy than most of the legacy bands that are still out there.
The main set closed strong with “Space Truckin’” and the aforementioned “Smoke on the Water,” both off the landmark Machine Head that arguably laid the groundwork for heavy metal. And during their encore, the band played two early favorites: their organ-heavy cover of “Hush” and “Black Night.”
Deep Purple first rocked the world more than 40 years ago, but their music still resonates today, loud and clear.
Into the Fire
Hard Lovin’ Man
Strange Kind of Woman
The Well-Dressed Guitar
Hell to Pay
Smoke on the Water
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.