Yes, executing "Smoke on the Water" and "Hush" and all dem rockin' Purple pinnakles with a couple dozen strings and horns was a silly idea. How fortunate, then, that the classical gang didn't play half the time. You could even catch them sneaking peeks at one another as they idled through the bluesier sections of "Lazy" or "Strange Kind of Woman," as if to say, "Hey, this band sounds better without us."
So the more orchestra-friendly non-hits became the evening's artistic peaks. Keyboardist Don Airey wallered like a hawg in his expanded spotlight pool, especially throughout an instrumental segment where he got to gloom out his famous organ intro to Ozzy Osbourne's "Mr. Crowley" and churn some fake Gershwin with full symphonic wheeze behind him. Similarly, guitarist Steve Morse inflated his "The Well Dressed Guitar" suite into a carnival tent of textures and pyrotechnics. The vocal number that best lent itself to the tux treatment was the Arab-inflected title track of 2005's "Rapture of the Deep," Purple's last studio effort. The doomy low riff of "Perfect Strangers," of course, was made for bow and rosin.
Ian Gillan's macho leer burst from his mighty lungs with brio undiminished, and he plainly reveled in blowing the dust off lesser-known gems such as the slow torcher "When a Blind Man Cries," the proto-rappy "No One Came" and the strutting "Maybe I'm a Leo." (Tall and cropped, Gillan also looked athletic in a tight black T-shirt; he hasn't been this slim since he joined the band in 1969. Hope he hasn't dumped the sauce.) Ian Paice socked his drum kit like the all-time champ he is -- orchestra schmorkestra, take THIS, y' old poofters. Rats on the wharves of San Pedro could probably hear Roger Glover's driving lines with perfect clarity, but one question: Who needs five knobs on a bass?
It was a lovely summer night with strobe lights and purple kites -- strings or no. Deep Purple can bring 100 bagpipes and a Tuvan choir next time, and I'll still be first in line.
Ernie & the Automatics opened with generic classik roc. The guitarist and drummer are former non-Scholz members of Boston, so they signed off with a medley not excluding "More Than a Feeling," and hominids stood for it, literally and figuratively. We are all sinners, Lord.
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PHOTOS BY FUZZY BORRACHO.