Monday, July 23, 2012

Maiden Toronto

Friday the 13th is usually held up as a day of bad luck and the movie franchise that depicted the serial killer Jason Vorhees. However, up in Toronto, Canada, 15,000 metalheads didn’t come together at Camp Crystal Lake for horrors, but they congregated for the appearance of Eddie, the mascot for Iron Maiden. This tour was to celebrate the time when one of their greatest albums was released, “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.” The band set to recreate the video “Maiden England” that was produced around that time along with the set and of course the songs.

The night started off with a different beast though as Alice Cooper opened the festivities with a 45 minute set and wasted no time moving through his songs. It’s unfortunate he had to come on early as there is something wrong seeing Alice Cooper play while the sun is still gleefully shining. The most blatant tune left out was “Welcome to My Nightmare”, but he made up for it by blasting through favorites like “The Black Widow”, “Billion Dollar Babies”, and “Poison.” He also pulled two tracks from “Brutal Planet”, which is arguably Cooper’s heaviest album and it struck the right notes with the audience. “Hey Stoopid” was a nice inclusion, but my personal favorite from that album and of the show was “Feed My Frankenstein.” Of course, the song was featured in “Wayne’s World” and who could forget the classic scene when Wayne and Garth meet the band.

Cooper also seemed to take a page out of the Maiden playbook by employing three guitarists including a woman and she was most impressive. Though abbreviated, Cooper still was tied up in a strait jacket and still had his head chopped off. It was my first time seeing Cooper and he did not disappoint. I hope to see his full, headlining show someday.

Cooper whetted the crowd’s appetites for a bit, but it was so long before the “Maiden” chants started. The lead track off of “Seventh Son” led off the set in “Moonchild.” Bruce Dickinson is incredible after all these years. He keeps getting stronger and it’s unbelievable how he runs around the stage for two hours.

An unexpected inclusion was “Afraid to Shoot Strangers.” Usually, it is only the title track played from “Fear of the Dark”, but this was nice swerve. When the song picks up in the middle with the guitar break, the crowd began to roar after the stoic intro.

Two life-sized Eddie risers made their appearance and also one walked out during the “The Trooper” trying to attack guitarist Janick Gers. There were quite a sight to behold and along with a flawless set made this just about the best concert I have ever been to. “The Prisoner” was dusted off and intro along with video from the television show played. “Phantom of the Opera”, “Wasted Years”, and “Run to the Hills” all met with approval and most importantly, five of the eight “Seventh Son” songs were played. I personally would have loved to see “The Prophecy” live, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I highly encourage any Maiden fan to see this show. It is worth the price and it will be an unforgettable night. This Friday the 13th was not filled with bad luck or crazed killers; there was only a monster named Eddie, Alice Cooper, and Iron Maiden.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jon Lord: Master of the Keyboard

I am grateful that my dad introduced me to Deep Purple. He is responsible for bringing my attention to many wonderful bands as a kid. As my tastes matured and I started looking for music on my own, I became a bigger fan of Deep Purple and always marveled at the great musicianship all the band members possessed.

The passing of Jon Lord hits hard because he was one of the greats and of the musicians I grew attached to. As with many bands that came before my time, I wished I could have been alive in the seventies and experience “Machine Head”, “In Rock”, and “Burn” when they first came out. The way Lord attacked the keyboards and was able to create something so memorable was always astounding to me. There are also not too many people that could play alongside the great Ritchie Blackmore and dare him to come up with something that the master keyboardist couldn’t match. The interplay on the title track to “Burn” is the prime example of how those two would go at it and remains my favorite Deep Purple song.

There would be no Deep Purple without Lord. The man is responsible for making the ivories heavy and being like the Neil Peart of drumming. Both of them are the absolute best at their craft. The intro to “Lazy” remains a landmark moment on how to create a slick organ groove and the somber tone of “Child in Time” are memorable moments that I cherish as avid fan of the purple sound.

I never had the privilege of meeting Lord or seeing him live, but the comments from those who knew him and played with him say he handled himself like he handled the ivories: with class and dignity. It may seem silly to feel sad for someone you did not know personally, but Deep Purple were one of the foundations of me becoming a heavy metal fan and I have memories of sitting in the basement with my dad discovering Deep Purple for the first time. Thank you for the countless memories Jon Lord and your music will always be alive with this fan.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Purple Rainbow

After the famed Mark II lineup of Deep Purple came back together, all felt right again and they delivered an all-time classic in “Perfect Strangers.” Grand record sales and a successful tour ensued and they churned another album, but this time a bit uneven in “The House of Blue Light.” Throughout that time, vocalist Ian Gillan and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore decided they didn’t like each other again and now it was time for another incarnation of Deep Purple. Gillan was out and Blackmore turned to the guy he hired to bring his other band Rainbow commercial success, Joe Lynn Turner. Essentially, this was now a band mixed like a pack of Skittles. Bassist Roger Glover also played with Rainbow as Ian Paice and Jon Lord were the only members not to ride the spectrum.

In essence, this album is a mix of material that could be found on the last albums of Rainbow and also songs that still fight with the Deep Purple spirit. The opener “King of Dreams” has thumping keyboards and mystical guitars that suit Turner’s voice perfectly. In fact, Turner puts some of the strongest performances on this album.

Turner receives some unfair criticism at times about his voice and while he can croon with the best of them, he knows when to insert attitude and enhance the songs. “Fire in the Basement” has the blend of attitude and sharp singing that is also one of the stronger cuts on the album. “Truth Hurts” has Turner oozing emotion that is a combination of one of Purple’s best songs from the David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes years in “Mistreated” and Rainbow’s “Can’t Let You Go.” The team of Turner and the melancholic rhythm sparked by the bass and keyboard make for a great song.

Musically, Blackmore shows bite with his guitar work on the closer “Wicked Ways” with a driving rhythm and a nice touch of the violin sprinkled in to deliver a more striking gesture. “The Cut Runs Deep” did not connect with me the first couple times I listened to it, mostly because of the awful sounding voice shouting “the cut runs deep.” Otherwise, the guitar effects and the drumming make it a winner. “Fortuneteller” has a brooding, mysterious atmosphere about a lady who wields the cards of the future. The bombast of the chorus and the string of keyboard notes further add to the aura and is a very memorable song.

It’s unfortunate that all the songs could not be as good as “Breakfast in Bed” tries to sound like “Lazy” in the beginning with the keyboard, but quickly devolves into an inoffensive, AOR that is rather underwhelming. However, when “Love Conquers All” hits, I found myself in a true face-palm moment. Deep Purple doing a power ballad? Say it ain’t so. Deep Purple is much better than this and for them to try to hop on that train for more success is pathetic. Needless to say, the song is super cheesy and super sucks. The last bit of badness arrives in the form of the commercial, poppy “Too Much is not Enough.” It sounds like a Rainbow reject and I had enough after one listen.

“Slaves and Masters” is a solid Deep Purple album and Turner provides energy to a band that lost some spark with the last effort “The House of Blue Light.” I can’t see Gillan singing the material on the album, let alone the power ballad, but that’s a good aspect as Turner was not forced to sing something that may not have been comfortable for him. “Wicked Ways”, “Fortuneteller” and “Fire in the Basement” provide incentives for repeated listens and enjoy yet another version of Deep Purple.