Get ten people. Ask each of them to come up with a list of the most massive and memorable guitar riffs ever recorded. I'll bet that none of them come back without Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water" somewhere on the list, and most likely in one of the top spots. The song is a classic rock staple, and will keep Deep Purple in the cultural memory as long as it gets played.
Now, you may notice that the first line of the song mentions a place called Montreux. This happens to be the very same Montreux that holds a jazz festival every year, and Deep Purple has played there several times. Deep Purple: Live In Montreux 2006 is a record of their most recent performance there.
Be warned, this isn't your mother's Deep Purple. Gone are the two men most responsible for the band's sound: Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore. Blackmore had left the band before (most famously to create the band Rainbow with future Black Sabbath singer and metal star in his own right, Ronnie James Dio), and the band soldiered on. His latest replacement has been Steve Morse, a very versatile and creative guitarist who grew up listening to Deep Purple's classic albums. He doesn't sound like Blackmore, but he doesn't make the old tunes unrecognizable, either. Jon Lord had been with the band since its inception and, to my knowledge, had never left. His replacement, Don Airey, sounds more like Lord than Morse sounds like Blackmore, and the transition was far smoother than anyone expected.
In this set, the band play with the verve, energy, and spirit of a band half their age, constantly engaging and entertaining the audience and each other. That doesn't mean this is on par with their 70's work, though. For one thing, singer Ian Gillan's voice is pretty much shot. At times he musters up enough vocal ferocity to echo the performances he used to be able to give, but most of the time he sounds more like he's saying the lyrics rather than singing them. To be totally honest, at first I thought it was an entirely different singer. That's how dissimilar he sounds.
Still, any fan of the band who has stuck with them to this point will know what they're in for, especially if they've heard the band's last two albums, Bananas and Rapture of the Deep. This is a group equally at home playing the oldies and trying out new things. Of course, by "new things" I don't mean forays into avant-garde experiments, but the kind of new tricks that you'd think an old dog couldn't learn, but to your surprise he does. I'd say the high points of the show are the interplay between Steve Morse and bassist Roger Glover, as the two just seem happy to be alive, let alone playing a rock show for a shouting audience. Deep Purple: Live In Montreux 2006 isn't going to win any new converts to the band, nor would it be something for the casual listener, but it's absolutely worth it for anyone who's stuck with the band this long.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Eagle Vision presents Deep Purple: Live In Montreux 2006 in a 1.78:1, VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer. To my eyes, this looks like the same transfer they used on the HD DVD version released in 2007. This suffers from a lot of the same problems other concert videos suffer from. Namely, the lights of a live stage show are way too powerful for recording equipment, and so most of the details are washed away by the glaring lights. However, when the band isn't awash in deep reds, blues, and maybe even a purple or two, the detail is fairly good, even if it all it does is serve to show how old the band members look. I didn't notice any image breakup as I did in the Yes live disc. This transfer won't blow your socks off, but it's clearly better than standard definition.
Eagle Vision offers three flavors of audio for Deep Purple: Live at Montreux 2006. The first is Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, the second is DTS-HD 5.1 (also known as standard DTS), and the third is PCM stereo. I know this may be blasphemy, but I suggest going with the PCM track. The DD+ and DTS 5.1 mixes basically just spread the sound evenly to the rears, which does less to make you feel like you're in a concert and more like you're in a badly mixed recording studio. The PCM, in addition, has more sonic details and sounds warmer to my ears. If you have to have a surround experience, take the PCM and matrix it using your receiver, and you'll get a mix that sounds almost like the actual 5.1 mixes on the disc.
All supplements are in standard definition.
- Hard Rock Cafe Performance: Yes, it's a full second concert by the band, this time at the Hard Rock Cafe. However, it's very unpleasantly shot, giving you the feeling of claustrophobia. In addition, the band's playing doesn't quite feel like it's on the same level as in the main show. Still, two shows for the price of one ain't too shabby.
- Interviews: Interviews with all the current band members about topics such as the lyrics to "Smoke On The Water," this latest incarnation of the band, and Ian Gillan's voice. The interviewers let the band members talk as they please without interruption, and I for one found a good deal of useful information and worthwhile anecdotes.
Deep Purple may be past their prime, but that doesn't make them has-beens. This better than expected show from Montreux proves that, even if Ian Gillan can't really sing anymore, the rest of the band is more than capable of carrying on the Deep Purple name. While hardcore fans will want to pick this up, most everyone else should look to rent it first. Rent It.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.