Deep Purple Rises, Repeatedly, From Its Own Hard-Rock Ashes

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Deep Purple
Phoenix Rising
Eagle Vision, $14.98 DVD, $19.98 DVD/CD, 142 mins.

Deep Purple has been through so many different lineups that fans and hard-rock historians often measure then in "marks," abbreviated "Mk." While Purple's Mk II incarnation is the one casual fans remember most and had the majority of recognizable hits, the short-lived Mk IV lineup - Jon Lord, Ian Paice, David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes and Tommy Bolin - has its own diehard advocates.

Though these five men only produced one studio effort (1975's Come Taste the Band) bookended by international tours, this was DP's most combustible amalgamation, proffering a more groove-based sound before internal and chemical issues ultimately - if temporarily - killed the group.

Phoenix Rising details the "untold story" of DP Mk IV, first with Deep Purple Rises Over Japan. The 30-minute concert film, originally shot for movie theaters but not released until 1985 - this was before MTV and YouTube, kiddies - has the band blasting through "Burn," "Love Child," "You Keep on Moving" as well as earlier lineup hits "Highway Star" and (of course), "Smoke on the Water."

The performance is fully restored and remixed, and it's fascinating to watch how commanding the pre-Whitesnake Coverdale, all of 24 at the time, is as a front man.

The DVD's centerpiece, though, is Gettin' Tighter, an 80-minute documentary featuring contemporary, and extremely frank, recent interviews with Hughes and Lord (though, sadly, not Coverdale and Paice) and plenty of great live footage.

After the departure of founding guitarist Ritchie Blackmore from the Mk III lineup, DP wasn't even sure they would continue - imagine trying to replace Jimmy Page in Led Zeppelin or Eddie in Van Halen. They found the answer in a young, flashy, slightly effeminate axeman named Tommy Bolin. However, he (along with Hughes) had increasingly catastrophic substance abuse problems, and died of a heroin overdose in December 1976 at age 25.

"It was like a Fellini movie with drug dealers, pimps, and whores," notes Hughes, who castigates himself mightily for his behavior. "Playing the music got in the way of my using drugs....I don't know how I survived. Tommy didn't."

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The documentary's compelling segment dissects the band's disastrous and tragic 1975 shows in Jakarta, Indonesia, which saw them bullied by promoters into playing more times to more people than originally agreed to - with a pack of government-trained attack dogs let loose to maim fans at the last show - ripped off to the tune of an estimated $750,000, and reeling from the death of a crew member who either accidentally fell or was pushed by thugs down an empty elevator shaft after intense arguments with the Indonesian promoters and then other crew members.

Incredibly, Hughes and some other entourage members were even arrested on suspicion of the murder, with one government official twirling a gun on the table in front of the shell-shocked bassist.

Both Hughes and Lord insist the murder theory is the truth, while a title card at the end notes their opinions are not those held by Coverdale. The band barely made it out of the country with their lives - made all the more impossible as the air was mysteriously let out of their plane's tires, leaving roadies and the pilot to change them themselves.

Harrowing stuff that would seem fantastical in 2011. So it's not surprising that Deep Purple called in quits in 1976 after these events, though they would resurface almost a decade later with a reconstituted Mk. II lineup.

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