In early 2002, legendary Deep Purple keyboardist and founding member Jon Lord announced his retirement from the band. Veteran keyboard player and fellow virtuoso Don Airey took his place, a position he has held ever since. In September 2002, the band decided to give Lord a proper sendoff, including him at a gig at the NEC in Birmingham, England. The performance was filmed and it was a memorable one, making up the DVD Deep Purple - Live At The NEC.
Airey is the sole keyboardist for the first half of the show, with Lord joining in midway through the proceedings. The show opens with "Fireball" and its killer drum intro courtesy of Ian Paice. Vocalist Ian Gillan pushes the limits of his voice in this exciting track that showcases not only Paice's playing, but also that of Airey and bassist Roger Glover. The band is all groove on "Woman From Tokyo," with Gillan once again in strong voice. Deep Purple is one of those bands where the songs only sound right with the original singer singing it and this song is a prime example of that.
On the driving hard rock of "Mary Long," guitarist Steve Morse shows off his considerable chops. He has taken heat from old fans of the band simply for not being Ritchie Blackmore, but the fact remains that Morse is an incredible payer in his own right. Along those lines is the heavy funk-rock groove of "Ted The Mechanic," a shining moment from the Morse era of the band and one that showcases the considerable musicianship of everyone involved.
After a potent "Space Truckin'," Airey gives an unaccompanied keyboard solo, incorporating everything from classical bits to the theme to Star Wars. Toward the end, Lord appears and begins the familiar intro to "Perfect Strangers." It is a dramatic moment matched by the intensity of Gillan's voice. Airey and Lord share duties throughout the rest of the performance.
"Speed King" finds Morse and Lord trading licks and one can see the fun they are having from their expressions. The band comes full circle with a fun version of "Hush," their first hit single. The show closes with a pounding version of the Machine Head classic "Highway Star," the band proving they are as good as ever musically.
The video is presented in 16:9 and looks good, especially considering it was filmed in the pre-HD era. Audio options include DTS Digital Surround, Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 and Stereo. The mix is full and powerful, worthy of this important gig. Also included is an interview with Glover and Gillan.
Lord passed away in 2012, but his legacy lives on. Deep Purple continues to tour and Airey plays his parts respectfully. Deep Purple - Live At The NEC gives fans a chance to witness Lord's historic final gig with the band he helped found and is not to be missed.