This was to all affect this year’s ‘Classic Rock Night’ at Kunstrasen. German newcomers Circus Electric, a lighter touch from the talented Devon Allman Project, and of course Deep Purple (no description necessary but suffice to say that If aliens landed and asked not ‘Take me to your leader’ but ‘Take me to a Hard Rock’ concert in the early 1970’s‘, you would quite likely have taken them to a show by Deep Purple and presented them with ‘Live in Japan’ as a parting gift. Tonight though it was time for them to be ‘Live in Bonn’
The quintessential rockers were a blueprint for much that has happened in popular music circles over the last five decades – the vocal dynamics of Queen and Meatloaf, the mix of rock meets classic from Mike Oldfield and Nigel Kennedy, revolutionary keyboard solos. It was all there in those early classic albums. It’s there still, despite the inevitable personnel changes over so many years. A great many bands are still playing with the inspiration and power of Deep Purple – but is the band itself still able to match themselves?
The answer is both yes and no. Yes, Deep Purple in 2022 can still match the power of any rock band going in 2022, but no, they can’t quite match themselves at their peak. Don Airey is a great keyboard player, as shown in his beautifully crafted solo this evening, incorporating a cornucopia of tunes including naturally enough a quick nod to Bonn’s favorite son Beethoven. Is he Jon Lord? No. Could anyone be? Standing in on guitar, Simon McBride makes a great impression, but could anyone be Richie Blackmore? No.
Ian Gillan’s vocal cords have had decades of being stretched to the limit and it’s a wonder he can still hit the higher registers so confidently, but it’s no surprise that‘Child in Time’ is no longer on the set list. So why did I come away from the show smiling? Because I had just seen the Rock legends that are Ian Gillan, Ian Paice and Roger Glover enjoying their music on a stage – maybe for the last time here in Bonn since all are now in their seventies. It’s a journey for me personally that goes back almost fifty years. To a Gillan Band concert at Portsmouth Guildhall that saw him lose his voice three songs in, but continue with the show almost as an instrumental. He wasn’t a quitter then, and he isn’t one now God bless him. As on Tuesday evening, he just let the music do the talking when his voice needed a break, But those solid rock tonsils still got a good workout at Kunstrasen, as if laying down the gauntlet to young rock singers.
Talking of young rock singers… you had to feel a bit sorry for the earliest support band. The audience was still streaming in when Circus Electric from Berlin took the stage. They are a band that well represents the debt owed by the young to the old guard in Rock. Three relative youngsters – A power trio as we called the likes of Taste and Cream back in the day. The dark glasses and permed hair of singer Adrian Dehn remind me of another classic Rocker Ian Hunter. All in all, a promising band that works its collective butts off to deliver high-energy Hard Rock in the classic style. I’m glad the train got me to Kunstrasen in time to catch them. Particular favorites were the choppy start/stop and sheer power of ‘Blonde Poison’ and the closer ‘Let Me In’ that kept it all simple – just the bits that count in Rock – a hook line that sticks, a fast tempo, and a stonking guitar solo. Someone later suggested that drummer Leonard Vaessen was so wild he reminded them of Animal on the Muppet show drums. Not a bad comparison to have for a Rock drummer at all!
I certainly was glad to be in good time for The Devon Allman Project. Devon is no stranger to Bonn, having played at The Harmonie with Royal Southern Brotherhood and later on a solo tour. So, I knew he would be good. In actual fact, he was so good that I would say that together with his fine band Devon Allman almost stole the show from the headliners. Certainly, in contrast to Deep Purple later, I had the impression that Devon’s band would happily have played all night such was their ‘Spielfreude’.
I could imagine Devon’s famous late father Gregg looking down on this one with a huge smile. Where do you start to describe a set that constantly changed styles, instruments, and at times musical personnel? Devon’s own fluid guitar playing is of course no secret. The influences of many great players are there – not hard rock shredders, but melody merchants like Peter Green and of course Duane Allman. This isn’t called ‘The Devon Allman Project’ for nothing though. It’s about exploring new sounds and combinations. Musicians are introduced to fit the music. Need some authentic-sounding Blues? Call onstage Larry McCray, a man referred to by Joe Bonamassa as ‘legendary’ when he invited Arkansas-born McCray onstage to play last year. Need something with a light commercial/cutting edge? bring onstage JD Simo, whose musical CV includes Jack White, Luther Dickinson and Blackberry Smoke. A dream team of a band musically, but a special nod of approval to David Gomez who was a big part of the style/sound changes as he switched effortlessly between percussion and saxophone.
This really was a set to savor right through to the finish with both McCray and Simo backing up Allman on guitars, each of them capable too of taking vocal duties with ‘Mr Easy‘ and ‘Down To The River’.
A set chock full of fresh music, of jazzy grooves and smooth guitar solos. The future is in good hands musically, and having proved that, what better way to close a stunning set than with a nod to the past and the Allman Brothers classic ‘Midnight Rider’. Gregg and Duane Allman may be gone, but their spirits live on. When I say it’s all in the genes I am not referring to the denim variety. An hour is far too short for such a huge amount of musical talent to fit into. If this band comes your way – do not miss.
You would have to be a pretty exceptional band to go on stage after the set I just described. The next band on was one that has I am sure long since stopped worrying about being ‘blown offstage’ by the support. Having nothing left to prove can be a blessing. Maybe also a bit of a curse. Anyways, it’s exactly 8 pm when the music of Gustav Holst fills the speakers. ‘Mars, The Bringer of War’. Perhaps those ‘elder statesmen’ from England are going to fight for the right to be top dogs tonight after all? Enter
The Gladiators Deep Purple…
Not fair! They already have superior weapons – some of the greatest songs in Rock music history. If ‘Highway Star’ was a missile in Ukrainian hands then the War would already be over. The classic album ‘Machine Head’ is fifty years old this year and plays a big part in tonight’s setlist. Like its players, the songs are still great to hear because they are the best. ‘Highway Star’ is the first of many from that disc – to come are ‘Pictures of Home’, ‘Lazy'(“An old one I wrote on the way to the supermarket” joked Gillan), ‘Space Trucking’, and of course that song about smoke…
Ian Gillan’s voice needs regular breathers, and the man himself takes a bit more time moving about the stage these days. He paces himself well to deliver when it matters, and it matters particularly on the evening’s highlight for me. He introduces ‘When a Blindman Cries’ by mentioning how we all need to stop complaining about the problems we currently have and count our blessings. The song itself is probably the least demanding vocally of everything he will sing tonight. It’s a Blues-tinged number that really cuts deeply across the audience rows and out into the evening air. Astounding that the song was consigned to be a B side when recorded because Richie Blackmore allegedly disliked it.
Blackmore is long gone from the band of course. Still around though are bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice. Both men seem at home on the stage – as if it was their living room. Usually, you will catch the bassist and drummer of a band looking across at each other from time to time. I see Glover regularly smiling over towards new guitarist Simon McBride, but he rarely checks with Pace. The two have played together so long that it’s probably all kept in order by telepathy now. The term ‘Rock Solid’ could have been invented just for them.
Glover is clearly enjoying the evening. I suspect he is particularly enjoying having a ‘new’ man on guitar. It must be pretty daunting to even temporarily step into the shoes of Steve Morse, and don’t even think about filling that man Blackmore’s giant shoes. Simon McBride has been dubbed as the natural successor to Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher (it can’t be easy being an Irish Rock guitarist!). There were times on the solo from ‘Uncommon Man‘ that he certainly tapped into the spirit of Gary Moore for sure, but as the band’s youngster (at 42) it was left to McBride to also deliver visual dynamics which pushed him more in the direction of Joe Satriani. I certainly felt grateful for his presence in the first three songs since he regularly struck guitar God poses on the front of the stage whilst for all other pictures my arms were above my head looking at a tilted camera monitor as if I was shooting torpedoes rather than pictures.
Purple arrived on stage shortly after 8 pm and left at around 9.40 pm after delivering an interesting encore mix of ‘Caught in the Act’ from 2021’s ‘Turning To Crime’, ‘Hush’ (which first saw the light of day for Purple in 1968!, a lively bass solo to prove Roger Glover had the stamina to be kicking a** right to shows end, and to leave ’em wanting more, the classic ‘Black Night’. The song didn’t reflect the time though and it was actually still light as I headed home. Some great memories for sure. ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘Perfect Strangers’ were competing for my attention as I headed for the train. Great songs, great melodies, classic Rock riffs. Do they write them like that anymore in the Hard Rock world?
To those who might say “Time to knock it on the head lads” I would recommend a listen to 2021’s ‘Turning To Crime’ and a visit to a Deep Purple concert close enough to see the smiles on those onstage faces. Then take a look at the smiles in the audience. Case closed.