Deep Purple: Rock n' Roll (or Die Trying)

Judging by the international rock n' roll icon's latest traipse through Santiago, Deep Purple just got deeper--by about six feet.

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With four of the five members pushing 60 years old, the English rock band had to heave a little bit harder to prove that you can never be too old to rock. But the crowd at Teatro Caupolican on February 26 didn't seem to notice or care that the band's 63-year-old lead singer, Ian Gillan, was coughing up a lung from the first song to the last. Even when Gillan stopped singing to lean over and catch his breath, the audience knew all the words anyway.

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However, the frontman seemed to be the only one knockin' on heaven's door (yes, the band played some Guns N' Roses, too) as the remaining musicians covered for him with a performance as energetic as it may have been 30 years ago.

Teatro Caupolican was filled near capacity with metal heads and classic rock junkies of all ages, from teenagers to greying men reliving the flower power era, all donning assorted T-shirts of Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Iron Maiden and AC/DC. Maximum security guarded the nosebleed seats, full of people screaming soccer chants over the railings as Deep Purple launched into its set with "Highway Star."

The Deep Purple marathon became a medley of '70s rock hits, from Queen covers performed by the opening band, Dios Salve La Reina, to guitar excerpts from Led Zeppelin's "Take Me Home," Guns N' Roses, The Who and Lynard Skynard. The long-haired, blond lead guitarist and youngest member Steve Morse, 54, burst with energy, stage presence and articulate guitar solos.

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In contrast, the barefoot, tambourine-playing lead singer of what Guinness World Records once proclaimed the world's loudest band could frequently muster no more than a wheeze, avoiding his legendary high notes and disappearing behind a small black screen near the drummer to catch his breath between--and during--songs. ("With regard to my trademark screaming, I think 'Child In Time' would put me in a hospital now!" Gillan indeed once told The Sun.)

However, Morse's guitar rock-outs compensated for Gillan's missing lyrics so the audience could continue yelling along without missing a beat. The crowd in turn partied like it was 1969, as balding men turned around to take pictures with the band playing in the background. One impassioned, Metallica shirt-wearing onlooker jumped up and down so fanatically that his foot broke through the plastic chair he stood on during "Hold On."

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Closing its hour and a half concert, Deep Purple finally played the one song that every '70s rock--or at least, Guitar Hero--junkie knew by heart, "Smoke on the Water."

A short pause later (possibly for Gillan to grab an inhaler), the band burst out with its encore 1968 hit "Hush," followed by an all-out, grand finale 10-minute drum solo by Ian Paice, the band's only remaining original member, that reassured the audience of why the 41-year-old band was still on the map.

Save for a break in the late 1970s and early '80s, Deep Purple's world touring spree has hardly skipped a beat since the band's debut in 1968. And with four decades in the making, they're not about to start now--after 11 stops in South America, the boys (ahem) have skipped town and are headed towards screaming crowds in Dubai and Asia.

www.deep-purple.com

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