Photos & Story by Scott A. Smith
Aging like the finest of all wines, Deep Purple’s music forever will be one of pop culture’s brightest musical highlights.
Mark II Purple tracks like “Highway Star,” “Child in Time,” “Woman from Tokyo,” “Speed King,” “Space Truckin’” and, of course, the six-string anthem, “Smoke on the Water,” have endured strong shifts in musical trends and the passing of time, and, as evidenced by Whitesnake’s new Purple Tour, post-Mark II Purple compositions like “Burn” and “Mistreated” also deservedly remain in rock’s best-of-the-best club.
Led by lead singer/band co-founder David Coverdale, Whitesnake paid a moving tribute to Purple’s Mark III and Mark IV (1974-76) eras, covering Purple’s “Burn,” “Mistreated,” “You Keep On Moving, “The Gypsy” and “You Fool No One” on Aug. 15 at the Walmart AMP in Rogers, Arkansas. Naturally, it looked and sounded like an effortless move for Whitensake to include those tracks in its thrill-filled, two-hour set — Coverdale temporarily replaced Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan from 1974-76, serving as the vocalist and songwriter for the Mark III/IV LPs “Burn,” “Stormbringer” and “Come Taste the Band.”
Although the Purple covers definitely included heavy traces of Whitesnake’s distinct, metallic touch, the reinterpretations didn’t stray too far from the Purple originals. Whitesnake’s performances of those cuts were even better than their good versions found on Whitesnake’s recently released “The Purple Album” CD. Right from the starting gate, Whitesnake let fly a rousing, sweaty take of “Burn,” with guitarist/musical director Reb Beach unleashing the song’s volcanic, perfect guitar intro and main riff as if it were he, and not Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, created it.
It’s impossible to think of a better one-two strike to open a concert than what Whitesnake did in Rogers. “Burn” was beautifully brutal, and three seconds after the last chords faded, the opening guitar lick of “Slide It In” ripped through the loud, massive sound system that was operated by a former Guns N’ Roses sound man. Always a wonderful hybrid of Bon Scott-era AC/DC and Montrose’s Sammy Hagar lineup, “Slide It In” retained its element of sleaze and coolness and sounded just as punchy and infectious as is it did when Whitesnake opened for — and upstaged — Quiet Riot in Oklahoma City way back in 1984.
Working hard and smiling alongside Coverdale and Beach were drummer Tommy Aldridge, bassist Michael Devin, guitarist Joel Hoekstra and keyboardist Michele Luppi. Cohesian was a major player for Whitesnake’s show, with none of the players trying to play over their comrades. Guitar solos were melodic and tight, and Alridge’s thundering, powerhouse hits on the drums always fit the music and never distracted from the Coverdale or the other musicians.
And speaking of Alridge, the former Black Oak Arkansas/Ozzy Osbourne drummer still sounds downright phenomenal on the kit. Not only does he still have speed and technique planted firmly on his side, but Alridge hits the drums and cymbals just as hard as he ever did during his initial 1987-1992 tenure in Whitesnake. In honor of his 65th birthday, the still-trim Alridge approached his drum solo first with sticks and then, like the late John Bonham, with his hands.
Before “You Keep on Moving,” Coverdale paused for a moment before describing the songs as co-written with his artistic “brother,” former Deep Purple bassist Glenn Hughes.
“I dedicate this song to the wonderful Jon Lord and Tommy Bolin,” Coverdale said of the deceased Purple alumni.
Wonderfully moody, the blues-meets-soul “You Keep On Moving” stood as one of the best-sounding songs of the night. Devin’s bass slowly pulsated as Alridge played softly on his bass drum and high-hat. As the mellow parts of the song drifted over the audience, it made one wonder why “You Keep On Moving” and “Burn” aren’t closer on the general public’s radar.
“Mistreated,” which included some of the most fiercely played guitar by Beach, was another lottery winner from the stage. It allowed Coverdale to jump back into more of a blues state of mind, a style of hard-hitting blues found in some of Purple’s Mark III and IV songs and much of Whitesnake’s pre-1984 LPs. Coverdale embraced the moment and sang with rafter-shaking conviction. The upper register of his voice is a bit raspier than it was 30 years back, but there’s still plenty of firepower in both of his lungs; Coverdale’s lower and mid-range singing sounded virtually identical to the studio versions.
Whitesnake also cranked out great takes of “Love Ain’t No Stranger,” “Here I Go Again,” “Bad Boys” and “Still of the Night,” and a solid version of “Is This Love” and the introspective “Forever More” added to the evening’s winning moments.
Even show-opener The Dead Daisies, a new rock supergroup consisting of guitarist Richard Fortus (Guns N’ Roses), bassist Marco Mendoza (Black Star Riders, Thin Lizzy), singer John Corabi (Motley Crue), guitarist David Lowy (Red Phoenix), keyboardist Dizzy Reed (Guns N’ Roses) and drummer Brian Tichy, couldn’t escape the Deep Purple theme in Rogers. Their take on “Hush,” Joe South’s song made famous by Deep Purple in 1968, was a strong spot, as was their version of The Beatles’ metal-esque “Helter Skelter.”
There was something quite magical about Whitesnake’s concert in Rogers. Making the night one with many pluses were multiple factors — Whitesnake fired on all eight pistons and never let the on-stage energy level dip, despite the show was the next-to-last gig on a fairly lengthy tour; the cooling breeze that drifted throughout the amphitheater granted physical relief from otherwise sweltering Arkansas temperatures; and the appreciate, all-ages crowd whose most members covered themselves with Whitesnake, Alice Cooper, Motley Crue, Kiss and Rush tour shirts really, really wanted to be there.
It was almost shocking to see the constant stream of seemingly countless teenagers and twenty-somethings, who were born long after Whitesnake dominated MTV with videos for “Here I Go Again,” “Still of the Night” and “Is This Love,” hovered around the T-shirt tent, eyeing the merchandise before taking their pick of eight different Whitesnake tour-shirt designs. Those young, smiling fans served as a nice contradiction to the naysayers’ still-going tirades that claim pre-Nirvana hard rock and metal isn’t worthy. That night in Rogers, there were well over 5,000 rock-hungry fans singing, dancing and watching a band that can play with a technical ability on par with almost any rock group one can name. It’s true, Whitesnake can still deliver one heck of a pleasing snakebite from the stage.