Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: A
|Deep Purple - Live in California 74|
To borrow a phrase from Hunter S. Thompson, 1974 was the year the Mark III version of Deep Purple "stomped on the terra."
In February, after welcoming then-unknown blues howler David Coverdale and Trapeze artist Glenn Hughes into the fold, Purple released the explosive pressure-cooker of crashing rock 'n' roll and hard-bitten British soul that was Burn, which lived up to its name and then some. The old masters had learned some new tricks.
Then came a triumphant promotional tour, capped off by a rousing co-headlining gig in the spring at the California Jam Festival with Emerson, Lake & Palmer, although it's Purple's wildly energetic, high-voltage performance – previously released on DVD in 2006 and now out on CD and in digital forms from Eagle Rock Entertainment to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the event – that everyone still talks about.
Where Woodstock was a chaotic melting pot of bad acid, unabashed nudity, peace and love, gridlocked traffic, dancing flower children and stirring performances, California Jam was all business. It didn't lose money, like Woodstock did. It was the highest-grossing music festival of the time, attracting around 250,000 people. And it was orderly and went off without a hitch, serving as a template for more corporate festivals that were to come. Perhaps that's part of the reason why history seems to forget about California Jam 1974, as it goes on and on about 1967's Monterey Pop Festival or the Love Generation-killing tragedy of Altamont.
Whatever its cultural significance, there was no doubting California Jam's commitment to heavy volume, as the festival boasted what was considered the loudest amplification system ever. What better band then to test the limits of that audacious rig than Deep Purple, as hungry and as savagely brilliant as ever in this raw, but potent and lusty, recording of that momentous occasion.
Smashing through the gates, Purple plows through the frenzied title track from Burn as if intent on leaving nothing behind but smoldering wreckage, the blustery organ of Jon Lord and the tenacious guitar riffs of Ritchie Blackmore – all of it designed with bewildering complexity – trying their best to drown out Hughes' falsetto screams. It's a thrilling beginning, and Purple doesn't stop to catch their breath.
Grueling and pained, "Mistreated" writhes in its own deep and hopeless sense of loss and betrayal before turning its face to the sun, as Purple transitions from anguished growl to expansive, dream-like alienation and then opens up to slowly brightening skies. Crazed, complicated jams, like the manic episodes of a 19:32 "You Fool No One/The Mule" that find Blackmore and Lord dueling like psychotic swordsmen, are captivating and electrifying, but Deep Purple really goes to work on the earthy "Might Just Take a Life" and a fevered "Lay Down, Stay Down" – both off Burn, and both have sweat just pouring off them. Their stamina is put to an even more rigorous examination on a 26-minute "Space Truckin'" that keeps driving long after the tank has emptied, Purple growing quiet and almost jazzy before erupting like a volcano.
Live in California 74 is a vital piece of history, but it also captures, in stark relief, the creative tensions that were fueling this rebirth, with the primal, blue-collar R&B wailing, churning grooves and emotional weight of Hughes and Coverdale's burgeoning partnership fighting off the blazing horsepower of the original Purple, the Purple of Lord and Blackmore clinging to tradition and stubbornly drawing and redrawing classically inspired figures and shapes. Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than in the charged atmosphere of a sweltering, shape-shifting "Smoke on the Water," where the old guard and the new seem hell-bent on carving out their own territory and aren't above committing acts of trespass.
It would only intensify in the coming weeks and months, forcing Blackmore to reevaluate his priorities and eventually leave to form Rainbow. For this occasion, however, at the Ontario Motor Speedway in Ontario, Calif., of all places – ironic considering Purple's love of driving songs – they were jubilant, inspired and full of piss and vinegar.
– Peter Lindblad