Ionia Free Fairground
June 17th 2005

Musically, one of the better concerts I've ever been to was the FoxFest bash at the Ionia Fairgrounds in Ionia, Michigan, on June 17th, headlined by Deep Purple. Nearly 100,000 were in attendance, a mini-Woodstock.

Broken Sunday, a local band, played a surprisingly (first time I'd heard of them) good set from about 5:15pm-6pm under cloudy skies and 65 degrees. The crowd started to build for Blue Oyster Cult, who played an excellent gig that included a monster bass solo in the middle of Godzilla. I was disappointed B.O.C. only played for an hour, because they're one of my favorite bands. They played, in no particular order: The Red & The Black, Don't Fear (The Reaper), I'm Burning for You, E.T.I., Buck's Boogie and Dominance & Submission, among others. It was superb, as always.

Then Kenny Wayne Shepherd took the stage. I didn't figure I'd be into that band much, because I'm not really into Southern blues rock, although Southern hard rock like Lynyrd Skynrd, .38 Special, the Allman Brothers, Outlaws, et al., I love. But Shepherd was extremely good. Shepherd may be the best young blues rock guitarist out there, and that's no hyperbole. The singer's was kind of like a Southern-flavored Paul Rodgers, if you can imagine that. They covered a lot of vintage tunes, including a sizzling rendition of Jimi Hendrix' Voodoo Chile. I will definitely buy their albums, now that I've been indoctrinated.

Then, on came Deep Purple. The crowd was so huge I couldn't even see the back of it from up front, stage right. Ian Gillan recognized me right off and waved. The crowd went gaga. The set list was pretty much the same as in Pittsburgh earlier in the tour. Gillan and Morse seemed impressed by the tremendous size and enthusiasm of the crowd, based on their giggling early on. Or, perhaps it was the shenanigans in the crowd, what with an amazing amount of moshing and breast-baring, all of it, going on. Gillan joked that the breast-baring was what got him into rock 'n' roll. He did some Tai Chi-like hand movements and screamed his bloody head off. I'm just amazed that if you listened to Gillan circa 1988, his voice sounded roached, and now it sounds scintillating like the early '70s, but he can't scream or hit the high notes quite as consistently as back then. But, that's no criticism: he still sounds phenomenal.

Don Airey played better than I've seen him play before, and that's pretty darn good. He was extremely creative, especially on the solo stuff, and the variations from classical to piano and sound effects. Amazing. Purple has to get more creative at promoting itself in the U.S. (or their record company does). I've never heard one song off Bananas played on the radio, anywhere, in this country. The last time the band got any real airplay at all was with Ted the Mechanic ten years ago. DP has not really charted in the U.S. since the mid-to-late 1980's, but is actually playing better than then. Fans know the old hits, of course, and that's what brought them out to Ionia. But I think the trick is to get on network television, like Saturday Night Live, the Late Show with David Letterman or The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

review: James Gemmell, Grand Rapids, Michigan

deep purple 2005 american tour reviews