Sunday, 7 May 2023
It was a set composed of encores, or at least of songs that on any other day might have started or ended a show. That gives you a flavour of the kind of anticipation there was among the packed crowd in the small, but stylish space that is the Valand nightclub, which sits under the Teatergatan restaurant and bar on Vasagatan in Gøteborg. I say anticipation, but quite a few had been there the night before, for the first night of two performances which are the start of a tour which Hughes announced would be going round the world twice until the end of 2024.
It’s billed as «Glenn Hughes Performs Classic Deep Purple». So, you might have expected a «Glenn Hughes show». And if you went expecting that, you’d have been disappointed. As the rest of the tour title makes clear – «Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the album ‘BURN'», this is a celebration of the music, not a vehicle for the artist. What we were given instead was a first-rate performance of ten songs from Deep Purple’s back catalogue, five of them from the album in question. This was no well-executed tribute act. Having Hughes there gives the whole show an authenticity, because it is, in some sense, his music – he has the right to perform it. More than that, he understands it as only an original band member can.
Ten songs, but it was two hours. Why? For the same reason – Hughes had clearly decided that it was to be an authentic live performance of the songs in keeping with the character of the band that wrote them, not just a playing of the versions from the records with a little added spice. Some renditions were simpler than others, like «Stormbringer» from the 1974 album of the same name, which opened the set. Appropriate too, as it was a high energy start for a set which gave everything. The storm had indeed arrived. The audience were ready to breathe it in, joining in from the first opportunity.
The Voice of Rock was ready as well. This was no easy starter. The top end of Hughes’s voice was clear and strong from the first moment. And as they segued into «Might Just Take Your Life», the first of the five tracks from the «Burn» album, Hughes got to show that the lower ranges of his voice were in good working order too.
Hughes did not take the audience’s appreciation for granted, repeatedly thanking them for their support and talking about how grateful he was to see the fans – young and old – singing along. «My heart is full… I have no words, I just want to sing,» he told the crowd before «Sail Away». Not wanting to take issue with the great man, the fact is that he was as generous to his band as he was to the crowd with his energy. He may have just wanted to sing, but he clearly had no issue giving the other musicians the limelight. That is, I think, in keeping with spirit of the performance – that it was the songs that mattered. By the time we reached «You Fool No-one», which was played as a kind of medley with parts of «Blackmore’s Blues» and «Highball Shooter», we’d already had two searing organ solos from «new friend» Bob Fridzema, and two spectacular visits to the very front of the stage from long-time collaborator Danish guitarist Søren Andersen. The relish with which the band played showed that they felt the same kind of excitement – and the same kind of responsibility – as Hughes does for these songs which have not just survived, but which continue to inspire joy and excitement. Fridzema had plenty of opportunities to shine on organ and synth throughout the show. Hughes must be glad to have him along. The band were outstanding throughout, both individually and as an ensemble. Given it was only the second show of the tour, the performance was already very tight and polished. There were no technical issues and not a note was out of place. «Gettin’ Tighter», one of two tracks off the 1975 «Come Taste the Band» was a perfect example.
Without any disrespect to the others, I’ve reserved special mention for drummer Ash Sheehan. He belted and hammered his way through the show with a rare combination of metronomic precision and brutal power which made a massive contribution to the set’s energy. You could argue that his drum solo, which stood towards the middle of the set, breaking up «You Fool No-one», was a kind of peak in proceedings. It was delivered with a combination of skill and mischief, with blistering fills, technically challenging single-handed rolls, using his thumb to tweak the tuning of his high tom, and even tipping water over his snare. For all those pyroclastics, and brilliant as it was, his drumming during the rest of the set would have made as much of an impression alone. There was power from note one, but then also more subtle dynamics, laying down a groove under «Sail Away», and adding some delicate high-hat work under the start of «You Keep on Moving», which closed the first part of the show. The shuffle playing on «You Fool No-one» was also very well executed. An absolutely excellent performance.
It was an evening of ghosts, too, some living – David Coverdale – and some dead – Tommy Bolin and Jon Lord, who Hughes paid tribute to, obviously moved while telling the story of writing «This Time Around» with the latter, the two of them alone in the studio at 3am, Lord laying down the chords on the organ and Hughes spooling out the vocal, the lyric intended to evoke living each day as it comes, but before he really knew what that meant. That piece was the second of Hughes’s opportunities to give his voice centre stage. «Mistreated» was the other, and it did not disappoint, the vocal drawn out into an a capella bridge and the final «I’ve been losing my mind» delivered dripping with emotion. Sure, there were moments where he had to push his top end into his falsetto range, which is remarkably clear and strong – he is after all 71 – but all in all, his voice remains a powerful and dynamic tool with a good range and all of the character that has justly given him a life-long reputation.
The music, indeed, lives on. One of the benefits of its being a proper live performance is the songs can be given a new twist without any sense of disrespect. For example, Andersen was free to add some intriguing and evocative guitar lines to the start of «Mistreated», every bit as important to the quality of the show as his more conventional blue-rock solos on «You Fool No-one» or «Stormbringer». His solo on «Mistreated» was more delicate and subtle, and flowed beautifully into a duet with Hughes’s bass, something the two would do again later in the set, evidence of a long-standing and deep musical chemistry.
There was a brief pause, moments rather than minutes, and the band came back on for two more numbers. The first was «Highway Star» from 1972 «Machine Head», which was played fairly straight, but with Hughes yielding his bass to former Quireboys member Jimi Crutchley. Somehow, with just the mic in his hands, Hughes looked even more of a rockstar than he had before. Andersen didn’t miss his cue, either, providing a long wailing solo ahead of the final climax of the show – «Burn».
Everyone there had been waiting for it. The audience had been excitable throughout and were now at fever pitch, singing along at the tops of their voices. Hughes and his band left everything out there, giving this final piece every ounce of the energy that they had left. Hughes maintains, going back to his Trapeze days, that the audience are the music. One well-meaning heckler knowingly shouted out «You are the music, Glenn». Given what we experienced that evening, I’d have to agree. 5/6
Text: Alex Maines
Photography: Anne-Marie Forker