Fri, Feb 17, 12

Deep Purple brought their pioneering brand of British hard rock to Winnipeg’s MTS Centre last night (2/15/12).

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of their rock anthem, and biggest hit “Smoke On The Water,” the veteran U.K. band are currently in the middle of 17-city cross-Canada tour, which ends in Vancouver at the end of February.

Following a brief, but well received set by Montreal rockers Jonas and the Massive Attraction, the lights dimmed promptly at 8:30pm, and DP hit the stage, kicking off the night with the opening track from their classic 1971 album Machine Head – “Highway Star.”

Other than a large backdrop with the band’s logo, and a heavy-duty light show, complete with retro 70’s strobe and siren lights, the band eschewed jumbotrons, dry ice and massive stacks of amps in favour of a stripped down stage, which focused on the steak rather than the sizzle.

As “Mach 2” era (DP’s most commercially popular line-up) frontman Ian Gillian moved to centre stage, it became immediately noticeable that the “Highway Star” singer had met with a mishap, as he was sporting a walking cast on his right leg.

Though it may have limited his mobility somewhat, Gillian, looking fit for his age in a black t-shirt and jeans, still pumped out plenty of energy.

He ducked a few high notes early on (he is 66-years old, after all), but Gillian’s power and range grew stronger as the night progressed.

Propelled by the super tight rhythm section consisting of founding member – drummer Ian Paice, and bassist Roger Glover, the band’s sound still exudes plenty of feeling and power.

There is ample fire and virtuosity in the instrumental work as well – provided by ex-Dixie Dregs/Kansas guitarist Steve Morse, and ex-Rainbow/Ozzy keyboardist Don Airey.

Fans accustomed to DP’s Made in Japan era live sound, which featured ex- lead guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, and keyboardist Jon Lord, may have some mixed feelings about the newer additions.

Comparing the 2012 version of DP to the vintage 70’s “Mach 2” line-up is a bit of an exercise in futility.  Morse and Airey are excellent musicians in their own rights, and do not attempt to “clone” the solos of their predecessors, which may bother fans who prefer note-for- note covers (suggestion: stay home and listen to the studio albums).  But the current line up retains much of the spirit, the sound, the chops and the tradition that made Deep Purple a much revered forefather of the hard rock and heavy metal genres.

Sticking pretty much to the set list of staples they’ve used thus far on the Canadian leg of the tour, twin power chords, and a peddling bass line introduced the band’s next offering, “Hard Lovin Man” from 1970’s Deep Purple in Rock, followed by the swaggering, riff-heavy “Maybe I’m a Leo” from Machine Head.

The band began to hit its stride on the 1971 Fireball single “Strange Kind of Woman,” which featured some tasty lead vocal/lead guitar interplay from Gillian and Morse, and brought the majority of the arena floor to its feet.

Commenting that they had material for a new studio album in the works, but not yet ready for the stage, Gillian next offered the title track from their most recent studio album, 2005’s Rapture of the Deep, and shifted into the 1973 Who Do We Think We Are hit single “Woman from Tokyo.”

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