Deep Purple "Phoenix Rising"

Deep Purple "Phoenix Rising" 
Eagle Vision
All Access Review: A - 

All was not well with Deep Purple when version Mark IV accepted a lucrative offer to jet off to Jakarta, Thailand, to play before a people hungry for just a little taste of big-time, arena-sized, hard rock. For starters, Mark IV had in its stable not one, but two, drug-crazed toxic twins in bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes and guitar wunderkind Tommy Bolin, both of whom were being dragged to their own personal hells by severe addictions and free-for-all excess. That factor alone should have spelled doom for Mark IV, but there were other divisive issues, like the fact that keyboardist Jon Lord wasn’t completely onboard with the soulful, more groove-oriented direction of the newly constituted lineup, now down to two original members, Lord and drummer Ian Paice. The old guard was, somewhat reluctantly, ceding authority to the new one, and into the void of leadership stepped Hughes, Bolin and hairy vocal god David Coverdale, who had replaced Ian Gillan.

Their styles inevitably clashed. And Lord will tell anybody who cares to listen that 1975’s Come Taste the Band was really not a Deep Purple album. It was a Hughes-Coverdale-Bolin project, backed by two longtime Deep Purple veterans, as Lord explains in “Getting Tighter,” a frank and revealing 90-minute documentary packaged with the new DVD, “Phoenix Rising,” that delves, often uncomfortably, into Deep Purple’s troubled transition from the Ritchie Blackmore years into its short-lived, turmoil-filled Mark IV phase. It is accompanied by a true treasure, the lost, but incredibly well-filmed 30-minute “Rises Over Japan” concert footage that is now finally seeing the light of day. An electric performance sees Coverdale and company roaring through “Burn,” giving a smoldering rendition of “You Keep on Moving,” slinking around the funky “Love Child” and blazing through “Smoke on the Water” and the scorching closer “Highway Star,” which drives the audience nuts – after all Japan always has been, historically, a Deep Purple stronghold. It’s one of the very rare pieces of film that shows Bolin playing with Deep Purple, and for that, it is absolutely essential. The playing is muscular, Coverdale’s vocals are masculine and sexy, and the band seems invigorated, even if they know the end is near. But, then there’s that documentary, as strangely gripping as a car wreck.

Through gritted teeth, and trying to be as diplomatic as possible, Lord recounts those days of ruin in his own words in “Getting Tighter,” just as Hughes presents another perspective, one of a repentant wild man who has come to grips with the fact that his lurid appetites probably contributed to the fall of one of rock’s greatest groups. It’s a fascinating account of a period in Deep Purple’s existence that has, in some ways, been sort of brushed under the rug … with good reason. For all involved, it’s not a particularly pleasant episode – Coverdale would not even consent to take part in the film. These were, after all, the last days of Deep Purple – yes, different versions of the band would later reunite, but for all intents and purposes, this was it. And for Hughes, especially, that brief time he was with Deep Purple, as artistically gratifying as it may have been, was when his addiction took hold. 

Then, there was Jakarta, a tragic piece of history that would rank right up there with Altamont had it not happened in a place ignored by most of the world, like Thailand. Not pulling any punches, Lord and Hughes, the only Deep Purple members interviewed here, explain in detail what happened to Purple. From the notorious California Jam gig, where Blackmore memorably destroyed a TV camera in a complete onstage meltdown, on through Hughes’ recruitment, Mark III’s Stormbringer and Blackmore’s subsequent departure, and then trumpeting Bolin’s flamboyant arrival, the drugs and the Jakarta incident, followed by the almost anticlimactic breakup.

For those unfamiliar with the Jakarta story, it’s a murky tale to be sure. Invited to play Jakarta as the first rock band from the U.K. or America to play Thailand, Deep Purple gladly accepted a big cash offer to do it. Met with incredible fanfare – oddly way-over-the-top as Hughes recalls riding with tanks and soldiers on a convoy through town, as the people lavished the band with an outpouring of affection – Deep Purple experienced corrupt promoters who tried to stiff them on their payment and stuff over 100,000 people into a 50,000-seat stadium. Then, there was the murder of one of the minders hired to care for Hughes and Bolin. Hughes was arrested for the crime, and the band was forced to play a second show while grieving terribly for its loss. Hughes openly describes the duress he was under and recounts how thuggish security guards turned the dogs loose on the crowd, as all hell broke loose and fans were mauled by the animals.

Not a pretty picture, is it? Well, neither is the guitar case of cocaine Lord says he saw. This is as ugly a story of rock ‘n’ roll excess as has ever been told, though there are bright spots. The amount of rare vintage concert footage, from various phases of Deep Purple’s life, is astounding, as are the interview pieces from yesterday with Bolin and Paice and the film of Deep Purple, and its entourage, actually in Jakarta, getting off the plane and setting up for those doomed shows. And for all of Lord’s reservations about Come Taste the Band, he does extol the virtues of Bolin’s thrilling musicianship and the album’s strengths as a rock record. For his part, through the self-flagellation, Hughes also seems to sincerely view the work on that record as one of the most artistically rewarding times of his life.

And so, what’s here is an amazing tale, one that’s far more than just a tawdry, sensationalized “Behind the Music” stumble into the gutter. But, questions remain, such as why no Coverdale? Why is he not a part of this? And why are Hughes and Lord the only ones talking? Couldn’t the filmmakers bring a broader perspective to the documentary? If “Phoenix Rising” – and its centerpiece “Getting Tighter” – comes up a bit a short, this is the reason. Ultimately, however, there is so much to love about this collection. The electronic press kit for Come Taste the Band in “Phoenix Rising” is a wonderfully detailed look at the record, complete with a track-by-track assessment by Hughes and Lord. And that’s not all. There is also a great reproduction of an old Record World magazine section devoted to Deep Purple that includes a wide array of interviews with band members and their associates, advertisements, photos … if the documentary wasn’t enough for you, this should seal the deal. Furthermore, there is a special two-disc DVD/CD package that will include an audio version of “Rises Over Japan.” Run, don’t walk, to get this.

-          Peter Lindblad

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