Deep Purple said farewell to founding member, keyboardist extraordinaire Jon Lord with this concert recorded at the Birmingham NEC Arena in 2002. Previously available only as part of the Around the World Live box set, the cover of the DVD of Live at the NEC won’t win any marketing awards, but it is what is inside that counts. The video is presented in 16:9 and looks good, especially considering it was filmed back in 2002.
Jon Lord’s replacement Don Airey joins the band as they open with ‘Fireball’ with its killer drum intro courtesy of Ian Paice, and then the first of many hits, ‘Woman From Tokyo’ with Ian Gillan’s vocals warming up nicely.
‘Mary Long’ and ‘Ted the Mechanic’ are two songs I wouldn’t have picked for a farewell gig, however there are many reasons Deep Purple can and do play these live, on ‘Mary’ and then ‘Ted’ you get to see and hear why, the first of many Steve Morse guitar solos. Steve has taken over from Ritchie not by being technically better, as unfortunately he is not, (no offence meant, Steve is still a phenomenal guitarist) but by being the complete opposite, he is his own man, not a replacement. The same can be said of Don Airey, each respects the former by following the riffs, the runs, as faithfully as possible, yet taking the guitar or keyboard solo into different territory.
Steve Morse plays the Blackmore era ‘Mary’ full on, and then as a “anything you can do, I can do better” challenge delivers a spellbinding performance of the Morse era Purple, ‘Ted the Mechanic’.
‘Lazy’, the classic keyboard/guitar blues heavy track is next, and its Don Airey’s turn to shine.
“When a Blind Man Cries” is surely one of the all-time greatest ballads. Gillian’s vocals are still really strong on this and Morse plays a beautiful emotive solo.
“Space Truckin” simply rocks, the thunderous rhythm section of bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice really drive this song along before Don Airey takes control with a solo performance containing everything from Star Wars and Holst (The Planet suite) through other classical pieces. Toward the end, Airey gives way to Jon Lord who finally appears out of the darkness like a phantom, to a massive round of applause as he powers into the opening bars to ‘Perfect Strangers’.
Lord and Airey share the duties for the rest of the concert, but it’s really Lord who leads, trading licks and chops with Morse on ‘Speed King’.
A fluid solo spot from Steve incorporating everything from Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Who, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin leads into THE greatest riff of all time, ‘Smoke On The Water’, and now with both keyboardists hammering their keys like it’s the end of the world, the gig comes to a climatic finish; what a way to close a gig.
There’s more, there always is, and tonight we get three songs. Lord delivers a funky solo on “Hush” a track they have never taken too seriously, they just play it for fun, for a band so very tight on stage, it must be great to relax just for a moment.
The final two encores are “Black Night” with its famous riff, and the gloriously over the top offering of “Highway Star’.
A very fitting tribute to Jon Lord who sadly died in 2012. His legacy continues.
02) Woman From Tokyo
03) Mary Long
04) Ted the Mechanic
06) The Well Dressed Guitar
07) When a Blind Man Cries
08) Space Truckin’
09) Keyboard solo
10) Perfect Strangers
11) Speed King
12) Guitar solo
13) Smoke on the Water
15) Black Night
16) Highway Star