the long game

Our long downtown parking nightmare is over. For another year.

I did not make it out to the Megamusicfest’s final day, for two reasons: The Tea Party; and, Weird Al. True, there were enough stages to enable one to successfully avoid either show. But why take that chance?

Instead, I bade farewell to the grounds of old Le Breton Saturday, via Deep Purple’s mainstage spectacular. And much as I love the Purple, I cannot see it as going out on a high note. Indeed, the high notes were very much lacking — not a good thing, when you’re Deep Purple.

At least, that’s how it seemed to me. I as a rule do not read concert reviews (if I care that much about a concert, I tend to attend), but chose to make an exception — if only to see whether the quintet had succeeded in generating the first-ever less than enthusiastic review of a Bluesfest show in our local papers.

After all, even somnambulist sets by Bob Dylan and Van Morrison have elicited raves in the local press. And it’s not as if the Deep Purple people — three-fifths of whom were members of the band’s legendary Mark II lineup — did not give it everything they’ve got. It’s just that, perhaps not surprisingly, they can no longer give everything they had 40-some years ago.

Specifically, I was curious to see how the vocal limitations of 69-year-old frontman had been assessed by reviewers.

Gillan “had no trouble hitting all the high notes,” said one paper. His voice, said the other, is “more than capable of handling the unearthly wail the job requires.”

Perhaps the sound was better in the VIP area. From where I stood, the ragged rock and roller sounded a lot like, well, a 69-year-old ragged rock and roller. Still capable of screaming, true. (I suspect one can draw a fine scream from the man simply by asking him about former Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore.) But the thing is, back in the day, Gillan didn’t just scream. He screamed! Often, he would scream a lyric rather than sing it. With sustain. Small wonder when Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber needed to recreate the sound Jesus made while suspended on the cross, they called Gillan.

Screaming your way to success. It cannot be easy. At any age.

And Ian Gillan is unable to do it at his.

Indeed, from the opening number, Highway Star, Gillan demonstrated he cannot even scream his way through those “I love it!” exclamations like he once could. What came out, on that and other screamers, was a rather feeble falsetto. The voice that made Child in Time a classic is no more.

And no, the band did not attempt Child in Time. For the greater good.

Not that anyone in attendance should have expected to hear it. The man turns 70 next month. And for 50 of those years, he has been screaming. Indeed, Gillan’s Mark II wail is nearly unparalleled in the world of rawk. An impossible act to follow.

He cannot follow it. Who can? David Coverdale? I think not.

So no, the voice is not still there. But kind words from reviewers are appreciated. And, under the circumstances, mandatory. They are also, alas, inaccurate. Sure, the band cooked. Ian Paice is still a pretty remarkable drummer. Steve Morse did a passable Blackmore on guitar. And adding a former Rainbow and Whitesnake keyboardist in place of the late Jon Lord was a nice touch.

But nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. It probably never was. And as I learned well the last time I saw George Jones, even the greatest voices are subject to wear and tear. Hell, Gillan first took time off to rest his strained vocal cords over 30 years ago. One should be grateful that he can still hit any of the notes. And he can still hit most of them rather well.

Just not the high ones. Fair enough.

But as we reflect on a festival that according to the press was marred by bizarre controversy over whether to allow hip-hoppers onto the mainstage and buoyed by non-performers being welcomed to the mainstage, let us consider that if the battle is between classic rock and hip hop, we can expect the latter to win the war.

After all, when Kanye West returns to town at age 69, it’s reasonable to assume he will have lost none of his ability to talk about himself. Indeed, for a working vocalist there is perhaps no better career insurance-policy than to rap. Come 2047, will Chris Martin still be singing Fix You just as we remember it? I’m guessing no. But All Falls Down will still sound awesome.

Last laugh, got.

(Or, kids, don’t scream. The fewer notes you reach for, the more you’ll be able to save for later. Neil Diamond, for instance, still has his full one-octave range. So there’s also that route.)

That talked-about battle, by the way, was evident Saturday as, on a nearby sidestage, west-coast rapper G-Eazy was greeted by many hands in the air waving like they just didn’t care, even as Deep Purple prepared to turn it up for the midsize mainstage crowd. This was G-Eaze’s first time in Ottawa. Hence, he strongly encouraged “all of Canada” to join him later that evening to do drugs.

Oh for the days when Deep Purple might have made a similar offer. Of course, today those would be prescription drugs.

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