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When the legendary Deep Purple Mark-II line-up reunited again 11 years after its dissolution, in 1984 they didn’t know if it was going to work out – working together in both studio and on stage after so many years. Perfect Strangers became however an instant classic album, proving the remarkable chemistry and good feeling between each of the band members. The baptism of fire for this new era took place during that mid-80’s relentless tour schedule – recently, a live recording entitled Perfect Strangers Live was released by Eagle Vision, capturing a fantastic set in Sidney, but there was another concert recording originally released by the Connoisseur label in 1991, which consisted on an even more memorable gig at Knebworth, on a rainy day when Blackmore & co. performed one of their greatest shows.
They opened the show with the most aggressive, ferocious version of the epic “Highway Star” to this date – tastefully preceded by Bach’s “Toccata And Fugue In D-Minor”, including those fantastic shredding solos by the combo Lord-Blackmore, accompanied by Paice’s energetic beat and Glover’s raw bass lines. Gillan’s voice might not be at its best, but he still screams and yells effusively. The gig has just begun and the band keeps delivering at first songs without modifying their original structures, nor adding extra instrumental sequences yet - “Nobody’s Home” or “Perfect Strangers” obey a similar configuration from the studio originals in general, occasionally introducing some distinct detail or variation subtly. Of course, songs sound much heavier, dirtier and faster here. Particularly, the cool distortion on Lord’s Hammond and Paice’s cymbals provide the music of an alternative sonic touch, making them sound ostensibly different from the studio production. “Knockin’ At Your Back Door” and “Strange Kind Of Woman” start incorporating a few improvised sections with Gillan interacting with Jon and Ritchie respectively, discovering some competent new arrangements. With the outrageous speed metal of “Gypsy’s Kiss”, Deep Purple increase velocity and roughness considerably, offering a quite impressive performance with bigger complexity and effort by Blackmore and Lord shredding enthusiastically. Instrumental level reaches higher peaks on “Difficult To Cure” with a nearly 10-minute solo by Lord unleashed, and once again playing another extended one on “Space Truckin’”, during which Blackmore also performs for more than 10 minutes of total shred, insanity and dive bombs one of his most skilled solos ever. The duel between the 2 virtuosos on the frenetic “Speed King” is another moment to treasure of pure talent and spontaneity – while the inevitable, timeless classics “Black Night” and “Smoke On The Water” close the show, with the audience singing along, going crazy.
So this is Mark-II formation hasn’t lost its touch after so many years since they played together for the last time, and it was way back in the 70’s! Each of these guys embarked on successful musical projects, yet together they’re virtually unstoppable. The chemistry between Lord and Blackmore in particular is unique – they bring out the best in one another, jamming in absolute synchronization, demonstrating astonishing improvisation skills, instinct and total precision and control on those difficult, insane shredding pickin’ parts. Ritchie’s tone sounds specially devastating here – his riffs so sharp and crude, nearly shredding uninterruptedly and adding with Lord so many excerpts from classical/baroque music during the whole show. He might not sound that meticulous, tight and perfectionist at times, but that arrogance and raw attitude provides the music of greater aggression and fury, making it even heavier. Lord as well is absolutely inspired, no longer playing with humility as backing as he did in Whitesnake but setting the basis of Deep Purple’s sound – delivering countless solos as well, some of them easily, effortlessly reaching 10 minutes, during which Jon experiments with some extravagant synthesizer textures and adds some excerpts from popular songs. The 2 virtuosos are supported by a highly-professional rhythm section – Glover’s bass without pomp or ego provides a solid rhythm basis with Paice’s stunningly-technical, percussive drumming (don’t skip that solo on “Lazy”, it’s truly dynamic and well-executed). Gillan’s vocals ain’t flawless but he sounds convincing and passionate, incorporating his unique charisma to the equation with those cool speeches in between songs – usually singing some different verses from the studio originals to not repeat himself.
Deep Purple’s Mark-II comeback was a complete success, with these guys working together remarkably, not only in the studio but on stage – again making a brilliant exhibition of skills, technique and creativity. By 1985, they were more experienced and wiser musicians than they were back in the 70’s, but they still got that fire, ambition and enthusiasm to offer something different on every show from the studio stuff – not only playing the songs as they were originally conceived, generally including lots of extra instrumental parts, extensive solos and refreshing new arrangements instead, without excluding the essential classic anthems from the set, of course. Maybe the sound quality on In the Absence of Pink – Knebworth '85 is rather terrible, and it seems tracks like “Lazy” were taken from some bootleg recording, though despite that awful handicap and the rainy weather in Knebworth that day, Blackmore & co. did an unforgettable show.