When Purple first started touring the States more aggressively in 1996 following Morse's arrival in the band, writing reviews of the gigs for the various Purple websites was something I completed after every show. Lately, I haven't kept up quite as much, perhaps because seeing Purple on this side of the pond (often at the same venues every year) isn't such a novelty anymore. But the show in Cohasset Mass on June 25 is worthy of dusting off the old pen and paper. Not just because Purple were great and possibly better than ever, but because it was the probably the strangest Purple show I have ever seen.
It started a couple weeks before the show when the band's gig at a sister venue on Cape Cod was cancelled. At the same time, this show went from being a full house "in the round" show to a half-house show. Both pretty clear indicators that this wasn't really a hot ticket in the area.
Then we arrived at the show. The venue, the South Shore Music Circus, was literally a circus style tent plopped in a very upscale residential area. Not the most likely place to see the World's Loudest Band. Once inside the gates, we passed the refreshment booths (selling ice cream and cotton candy) up to the little shack that housed the merchandise and the band's backstage area. Around this time the band's bus pulled in, very slowly, as if they were looking out the windows trying to decide if they should turn around. It occurred to me that the backstage shack wasn't "backstage" at all, and Purple would have to make their entrance through the crowd. This was going to be interesting.
We went in to check out our seats in the third row, only to find that two other people were sitting in them. Our seats had been reassigned when they changed the format of the show, and apparently somebody else got reassigned to the same place. Somehow we were the lucky ticket holders and got to keep the seats.
Mountain (who surprisingly were very good in Uncasville a few nights earlier) were not opening the show. A single mic and barstool were set up center stage, so I assumed they had some acoustic opener for the night. We went back out to the refreshment area, and around 8 we could barely hear the opener being introduced. We tried to listed for who it would be, but the talking just continued. I walked up to look inside the tent and there was the opener. A comedian. Okay, this was weird. Watching the comedian, we got a feel for how small the stage was. In fact both Glover and Morse's rigs were cut in half, and Airey was on a much smaller platform, just barely peering over Morse's amps. The comedian wrapped things up and show time approached. From the back of the tent a roadie arrived to deliver Ian's necessities to the tiny backstage area: A spare shirt and a bottle of whisky. With the small stage, tight seating, and a full (half) house, the vibe in the circus tent was improving. In fact, if Purple came on and delivered, this was going to be good. And that's exactly what happened.
A somewhat perplexed band strolled from the back of the tent to the stage, and put on one of the most exciting shows I've seen them do in quite some time, perhaps ever. Our seats, slightly to the right of the stage, would have been on the stage if they were playing a normal sized venue. It gave us a real unique perspective watching the band perform. The crowd, who were appreciative if somewhat restrained, livened up later in the set, pushing the band even more. The band's intense performance and the bizarre venue reminded me of traveling around to the early Morse era shows, when you weren't really sure what was going to happen. In the end, the set list may not have been a surprise, but the venue and Purple's performance was.
review: Brendan Johnston, Mansfield Center