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Deep Purple - Live in California 1976: On the Wings of a Russian Foxbat CD (album) cover

LIVE IN CALIFORNIA 1976: ON THE WINGS OF A RUSSIAN FOXBAT

Deep Purple

 

Proto-Prog

3.61 | 30 ratings

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Progosopher
3 stars For some reason, this is the third release of this concert performance from Deep Purple Mk. IV. My version is titled Live in Long Beach 1976, and was released by Purple Records in 2009. This was a short-lived line-up fraught with tensions and failings. Reports indicate that their concerts were at times terrible and at times fairly decent. But when the band came together, they produced some awesome Rock 'n' Roll. This concert is regarded as one of the better ones between Asian, American, and British tours, if not the best. As such, it is the best document of what the band was capable of at this time. And yes, when it works, it rocks like no other band but Deep Purple can. Unfortunately, there are points where the cohesion breaks down. To look at the album as a whole, it is what Rock 'n' Roll is all about: loud, brash, and not always perfectly executed. That's what you get when you go live. The set is decided, the band has rehearsed, the show starts, and yet nobody knows really how it is going to turn out.

Burn sets the theme of the show. Both the audience and the band are excited; their energy is palpable in these recordings. There is as much electricity in the air as there is juicing up the amps. Many had been looking forward to this show (possible because Deep Purple was virtually banned from California after the destruction Blackmore wreaked at the California Jam). As the opening song, Burn sets the night on fire. New guitarist Tommy Bolin even adds a few unique touches that enhance the song. Lady Luck, from the new album, has power and rocks, but the live setting brings out its weaknesses. Bolin's solo, however, is a winner.

The first big jam of the evening follows, the ironically (in this case) titled Gettin' Tighter, another new track. The Purps stretch this one out to thirteen minutes Glenn Hughes' bass takes center stage after the main song runs its course. We can hear the unique character of this line-up, both positive and negative. A great deal of tension had built up over the Asian tour. Little of this has manifested itself yet in the concert, but it is building. Hughes was trying to steer the band into more of an R&B direction where his true interests were at the time. Deep Purple, however, is not, never was, and never could be, an R&B band. His funky bass playing on this song manifests that interest. Still, the song is a rocker and once again Bolin shows his mettle.

One more new song appears, Love Child, which again is a decent enough rocker before we get to Smoke on the Water. The song rocks as it always has. Bolin's solo is very different from Blackmore's, but it ends virtually the same. After hearing many versions of this song, some of the dozens (hundreds!) of times, I have to say the guitar solo always ends the same way. That is testament to Blackmore. And no, Bolin is not Blackmore. Even though he is a fine guitarist, I don't think he is even in the same league with Blackers. So, Smoke rocks along just fine. Then something happens, something terrible that could very well leave a permanent scar on the soul fans of not one but two great songs. Smoke winds down, Jon Lord plays some soulful Hammond, and Glenn Hughes steps in to do, of all things, Georgia On My Mind. I am sorry, but Glenn Hughes is not a soulful R&B vocalist. He is a screamer and a squealer, and does the single worst version of this song I have heard. More than that, I think it is the single worst version possible of Georgia. I rarely skip a track when I listen to an album, and even less often skip part of a song, but I simply cannot play out this version of Smoke on the Water because Hughes vomits on it at the end. Afterwards, my ears need a good cleaning.

Fortunately, that cleaning comes with the second big jam of the evening, a rollicking sixteen minute version of Lazy. Jon Lord moves away from his Hammond and plays some actual synthesizer (as he did with Love Child). Bolin has some good moments, but I believe this song stretches him out of his zone. Ian Paice provides a signature drum solo. In fact, Ian's drumming is most consistent element of this performance, and he sounds great! Even as the others burn out throughout the set, Ian keeps it going. Jazz great Charles Mingus once said that the drummer is the most important member of a band. This concert provides evidence for that assertion. After the solo, we get a Tommy Bolin original, Homeward Strut from his album Teaser. This brings me to another source of the tension within the band. Bolin was a heroin addict. Nobody already in the band knew that when they brought him on board. I thin it is right around the time of Smoke that the drugs start kicking in for him. You can hear his energy and focus decline. There was also a suspicion that Bolin was merely using Deep Purple as a means to further his own career. He had a standoffish attitude that seemed to go beyond mere rock star haughtiness. His playing on his own song, and I have not heard the studio version, is largely funky, choppy rhythm. Glenn Hughes fits in well with this style, and Jon Lord provides some cool soloing on the synths. This could only have worked with Mark IV.

Homeward Strut ends the first disc of the edition I have of this album; This Time Around begins the second. Although it is essentially a Glenn Hughes vocal piece, with accompaniment by Jon Lord and occasional intrusive flourishes by Bolin, he doesn't screech too much. Certainly not as much as he did on Georgia, even if that is possible. It blends into the instrumental Owed to G, which is a powerful tune. Bolin manages to hold it together. Unfortunately, he doesn't do so his ten minute guitar solo spot. Now, I like noodling as much as the next progger, but Bolin has no direction here, and it takes him five minutes to figure out what he is going to do with it. When he gets there, it is not much to speak of. It is a rambling mish-mash of chords and electronics, and purposeless riffs and runs.

Stormbringer closes the regular set, and it is a relief to hear both a real song and David Coverdale after the Hughes/Bolin wankfests. This song captures some of the energy of the opener Burn, but the band is clearly tired by this time. Bravely, they push on, but push it way to far. The original song was only four minutes long. Here it is ten. They try to put a good jam into it, but it simply collapses. Relying on old Buddy Holly and Sly Stone tunes only exacerbates the problem. They should have played this one straight and simply rocked the house down. Instead, they allow it all to fizzle.

Highway Star is the encore. The band has not had enough rest to pull this one off the way it should. Coverdale crudifies some of the original lyrics, and sounds tired. As Blackmore's original solo is a textbook example, Bolin either has to copy it or do his own. He does his own. Not bad, but it cannot compare. Jon Lord is almost completely absent. Instead of his solo, we get a brief rendition of Not Fade Away by Buddy Holly. Now, Buddy was a great early rocker, but I'd rather hear Jon. Really, nothing new is added.

Smoke on the Water and Highway Star appear again as extras from other shows. I don't need them, especially since Hughes does his Georgia abomination. The blues classic Going Down also appears, beginning with a directionless ramble and moving into a sloppy noise fest which does nothing for the tune. I could do without this as well.

Overall, it is a good live album, with enough problems that my recommendation comes with a few caveats. Following are some more pointed criticisms and comments:

The longer songs show a serious weakness in Mark IV Deep Purple. Heck, even some of the average length songs show this. Each and every one that crosses the ten-minute mark loses direction. The excitement, the cohesion Deep Purple is so famous for is simply not present. Since the album closes with a ten minute Bolin solo and then a ten-minute version of Stormbringer, the concerts ends with a stagger rather than a swagger.

Tommy Bolin provides some fine moments, but he is unreliable in the end. He relies on flash at the moments when he should be dazzling. He puts his own style onto many parts written by Blackmore, but he doesn't have the same panache. He also relies on big doses of phase shifting to end songs on a faux flourish.

David Coverdale is not in his best voice during this show, but still there is not enough of him. In many cases, he tries to sing in the higher registers as if he were competing with Glenn Hughes. Coverdale has a rich deep voice that added a new dimension to the Purple sound, and some commentators like his singing better than Gillan's. I am not of that camp, but I would trade Coverdale any day for Hughes.

Glenn Hughes provides the very worst moments of the entire show. His bass playing is solid, I have no complaint about that, but I believe my views on his singing are clear. Even in the songs, his high-pitched screech is grating, and that goes for the songs he has helped write. He even intrudes in on Coverdale frequently as if he were trying to be the bands lead singer. Did I say something about band tensions earlier?

Jon Lord is actually minimized in much of this show. Too little Jon, I would say, and too much Tommy. Unfortunately, I do not care for Jon's Hammond tinny tone on a lot of this. Still, he plays well, and manages to hold down the fort while the rest of the band is falling apart.

Ian Paice is the foundation on which all is built. That the band burns out has nothing to do with him. If he had lost it too, this concert would have been an absolute disaster, but he didn't and I am glad. I offer no criticism against Paice, but only praise.

So, I am of two minds on this album. On the one hand, it is classic rock 'n' roll, Deep Purple style, and it kicks my butt. On the other hand, though, the critic in me is listening carefully and cannot but help unfavorably compare Bolin to Blackers. The first disk kicks for the most part, but the second disk, especially with the extras (I will not call them bonuses), is really atrocious. I will give Deep Purple Live At Long Beach Arena 1976 three stars for the first disk alone. Listeners will want the rest of the concert on side two, but be warned, it is not the same.

Progosopher | 3/5 |

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