By Sean Palmerston
One of the most archived bands of the seventies hard rock scene is Deep Purple. The band has so many live albums, DVDs and boxed sets that it can be a little bit overwhelming. It must be pretty costly to be a Deep Purple completist with such an extensive discography. The latest DVD release by the band is something of a curio, bringing to light the first official commercial release of the final Japanese performance of the band in the seventies before the band dissolution in 1976.
The band’s final album before splitting up originally was 1975’s Come Taste The Band, an album like none other in the Deep Purple catalogue. Featuring the Mark IV version of the band – Jon Lord, Ian Paice, Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale along with new guitarist Tommy Bolin – the album was dominated by a much more funk/groove feel than previous Purple releases. It was the first to be released without founding member Ritchie Blackmore, who had by now split to form Rainbow with Ronnie James Dio and, as Lord says in the documentary portion of the DVD, it sounds more like an album by Bolin, Hughes and Coverdale with some really good backing musicians.
Phoenix Rising is split into three parts. The first portion of the DVD is the live footage from the Budokan in Japan, the site of so many historical shows for the band. This one, shot on film by at last four different cameras, looks great but the performance itself is quite flawed. As explained in the documentary that follows, Tommy Bolin passed out the night before after being given morphine by the show`s promoter. He ended up sleeping on his left arm and when he came through some ten hours later, his arm was numbed. He managed to play the show that night by having all his guitarist re-tuned to that he could play them with his fingers in bar-chord position. No guitar solos at all, with keyboardist Lord picking up the slack.
The ninety minute documentary that follows directly after the live footage is the real reason for owning this package. Both Jon Lord and Glenn Hughes go into great detail about the time from Hughes and Coverdale joining the band in 1974 until the band disbands in 1976. Hughes is very open and honest about his huge dependency on cocaine, which started shortly after joining Deep Purple and had a stranglehold on his life for most of time both in the band and for at least a decade afterwards. Of course Tommy Bolin was also a very addictive personality, he was already a heroin user before joining the band, concealing that from everyone until after he joined. Having these two in a band together was toxic and, as Lord explains, they had a drug dealer in 1975 that toured with the band, carrying a guitar case full of coke from show to show. The story goes from the somewhat heroic headlining slot at California Jam in 1974 to the absolutely horrifying debacle that took place in Jakarta, Indonesia in late 1975 that led to the death of one of their handlers in less than ideal circumstances. It makes for great viewing, but it is something you wouldn’t want to be involved in yourself.
The third and final aspect of this package is a live CD collecting tracks from the Budokan shows as well as some more other live music that’s been added from other shows. Not the most interesting part, that’s for sure, but fans of the Come taste The Band album will dig hearing some of these tracks live. All in all, the documentary wins out on this package. It’s a fascinating, somewhat harrowing look into the unraveling of a massive rock and roll band. If rock and roll debauchery is something you are into, definitely pick this up but if you are a fan of the classic In Rock / Machine Head era of Deep Purple then you are better off spending your money elsewhere.