Rod Laver Arena, 01/03/2013
Phew! Technical proficiency hey? Not often you get to see a band bursting into extended instrumental breaks in a packed and enthralled stadium, but then it’s not often you see a lineup like this. Journey’s early set (nothing says ‘old men at work’ like a 7:15PM start), is packed with spiraling lights, colossal riffs and massive drum fills from the opening blast of Separate Ways, and there’s no let up. Boasting just one original member, guitarist Neil Schon (who is far more taken with noodling around on the pentatonic scale than actually playing a song), it’s the vibrant enthusiasm of singer Arnel Pineda, the Philippine living every Idol contestant’s dream who earns attention. Though the suggestion that Steve Perry’s iconic vocals were outsourced belittles the talent and energy the incredibly youthful Pineda brings, recent quote from keyboardist Jonathan Cain describing him as ‘the future for our franchise’ speaks volumes as loud as Deen Castronovo’s kick drum. Every sound is gigantic; every cymbal kept swinging, every available plectrum flung into the crowd, every song boasting a Superbowl guitar solo. Any Way You Want It, Forever Yours, One Love and Wheel in the Sky are all epic, but none touch the crowd response to THAT song. Don’t Stop Believin’ is everything the crowd want and before the opening riff finishes, the arena is lit by phones and the opening lines sung as one.
Against a smaller, less illuminated backdrop, the titans of heavy metal launch into the sprawling behemoth of Fireball, all caterwauling organ solos, thudding bass and Ian Gillan’s screeched vocals, a man who looks in urgent need of laxatives. Easing into Hard Lovin’ Man then Maybe I’m a Leo, guitarist Steve Morse proves himself a fiery replacement for Richie Blackmore, his fluid lead lines fully validating Australian Guitarist Magazine’s investment in the tour. Morse's solos – and there are a lot of them - are so compressed and busy that they stand at odds with the big valve crunch of Blackmore and the 'sound' of early Deep Purple, but they're a different band now. Whether that's the band the punter is paying for is another question, but Gillan’s vocals suggest enough to keep the audience spellbound and the entertainment level never drops.
Deep Purple is one of the few bands that will give you a five-minute drum solo in a stadium. No One Came boasts an organ solo that sees the rotating Leslie speakers nearly taking off with the intensity of Don Airey's playing. Displays of technical virtuosity lead us into Perfect Strangers and Space Truckin’ both of which bring the audience to their feet, fists in the air, but fists become phones for Smoke on the Water. Howled back for an encore of their first big hit Hush the band leave us with a titanic, skull-rattling version of Black Night ending our short trip back to the days when being a musician meant being able to play an instrument well; no bad thing at all.