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Deep Purple, ‘Phoenix Rising’ – DVD Review

Deep Purple Phoenix Rising
Kayos Productions

Deep Purple‘s new DVD ‘Phoenix Rising,’ is a hell of package. This impressive collection documents the group’s “Mark IV” lineup — the short-lived, post- Ritchie Blackmore version of the band, which featured future Whitesnake frontman David Coverdale, recently added singer-bassist Glenn Hughes, keyboardist Jon Lord, drummer Ian Paice and often-overlooked guitar ace Tommy Bolin.

Few legendary bands receive such a thorough retrospective, and this collection does a real service to an underrated incarnation—one contemporary headline called it “Shallow Purple”—that warrants a closer look.

The DVD case is jam-packed with a DVD, CD, and two slick booklets that present a vintage tour program and press clippings from the ‘70s. With a running time of over two hours, the DVD itself is similarly dense, with a mini-concert film and an 82-minute documentary, ‘Gettin’ Tighter,’ which documents the band’s final year before its 1976 breakup.

‘Getting’ Tighter’ does an excellent job setting the stage for Mark IV: As it begins, Deep Purple is Billboard magazine’s top-selling artist. Then lead singer Ian Gillan is out, Hughes joins the band, and rookie Coverdale also climbs aboard, admirably filling stadium-sized shoes. Blackmore’s days are numbered, but we still get festival footage of him at the guitar-smashing height of his powers. After Blackmore’s departure, recalls Hughes, none other than David Bowie convinces the band to continue.

Enter Tommy Bolin, who’d recently escaped the post-Joe Walsh James Gang and landed in the Los Angeles jazz-fusion scene. The fashion plate guitarist had the charisma, style and sadly, bad habits that allowed him to effortlessly slide into a band that was quickly succumbing to the grip of drugs — all of this, the players note, takes place in an era where cocaine was regarded as a non-addictive, socially acceptable party drug.

The band quickly assemble their single studio album, 1975’s underrated-but-respectable ‘Come Taste the Band.’ It’s a promising start, but things get bad and stay there. The group launch a world tour that starts in Hawaii, hits Jakarta, and stops in hell. Around $750,000 goes missing, but money is the least of their problems. When a roadie dies under mysterious circumstances, the band themselves are detained and accused of murder. Deep Purple never recovers. Bolin feels straitjacketed by the band’s classic rock style and quits—and not long after suffers a fatal overdose.

The centerpieces of the documentary are two new interviews with Hughes and Lord. Both discuss the band’s entire career with exceptional frankness. Hughes unflinchingly recounts his descent into cocaine madness. Lord evaluates ‘Come Taste the Band’ with balanced honesty: “It is, to me, not a Deep Purple album,” he says, but later adds, “If you listen to it now, it’s a surprisingly good album.”

The documentary consistently uses side-by side dual frames, and while the approach keeps the story moving along, it still won’t get a hook in non-fans. The second frame is a parade of endless teaser clips, an appetizer for ‘Deep Purple Rises Over Japan,’ a half-hour live film of mysterious provenance from 1975.

As presented on the DVD, the ‘Rises Over Japan’ clips are far cleaner than the footage that’s been floating around for decades. The five-song sampler features the Mark IV band running through a cross-section of Purple favorites. Coverdale — sporting in Skynyrd-style facial hair — leads the band through ‘Love Child,’ arguably the lineup’s strongest song, as funk creeps in around the edges via Lord’s keyboards. Awash in red and blue lights, the band close with a fierce, but oddly toothless, version of ‘Smoke on the Water.’

The bulk of the CD features endless live versions of Coverdale-era material,  including the Bolin showcase ‘Homeward Strut’ and a surreal medley that morphs from ‘Smoke on the Water’ to Hughes’ high-pitched take on ‘Georgia on my Mind.’

There’s also two tacked-on bonuses: 1975 interviews with Hughes and Lord, and a new electronic press kit for ‘Come Taste the Band.’ With some overlap from the documentary, it’s basically just a commercial, but then again, it’s for an album that deserves the plug.

Deep Purple 'Phoenix Rising' DVD Giveaway

Enter your e-mail address for a chance to win one of five copies of Deep Purple's 'Phoenix Rising' DVD from UltimateClassicRock.com. Contest ends September 16, 2011. Click here for official rules.

Watch a Teaser Trailer for Deep Purple’s ‘Phoenix Rising’

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