On July 18th, 2015 I headed down to LeBreton Flats to the Ottawa Bluesfest. I was semi-excited as I had a legendary rock group to check off of my ever-lengthening seen-‘em list – heavy metal pioneers Deep Purple – even if I had never been such a huge fan. I wasn’t nearly as excited to see Air Supply, but c’mon now, as if I wasn’t going to at least stop by their set for a few songs.
I guess you could call Deep Purple and Air Supply equal-and-opposite. One was the preeminent soft rock band, the other was one of the first hard rock groups One is British, the other Australian (okay, half Australian and half British). They both had a few timeless hits that still get some airplay, and they both have gone through a slew of band members over the years. But c’mon, Ritchie Blackmore was one of rock’s premiere guitar riff-masters while whoever wrote songs for Air Supply – as if I could name any member of Air Supply – had a knack for channeling the emotions of a fifteen-year-old going through their first breakup, sort of like an early Phil Collins but even cheesier.
So of course I was all about the Deep Purple set and was dropping in on Air Supply as a time-killing lark. That is, until I actually experienced both bands live, back-to-back.
Like I said, I was never much of a Deep Purple fan. Sure, Smoke On the Water tickled my tiny rocker dreams as I air-guitared along to the world’s most inaccurately played guitar line (it’s in G, not E) and just like everyone else if I happen to be behind the wheel when Highway Star comes on the radio I’m going to start driving much too fast, but when my guitar teacher asked me to learn the solo from Lazy when I was in university I just couldn’t do it. Not that I couldn’t learn the parts, I mean I just couldn’t listen to the song as much as I would’ve had to to learn it. To be honest, I think it’s mostly Deep Purple’s production value I don’t like, but there you go.
Air Supply, on the other hand, struck just the right chords with pre-teen me, a kid who was raised on AM radio and who voraciously swallowed musical Pablum whole. All Out of Love, The One That You Love, Lost in Love, Making Love Out of Nothing at All*; I didn’t know a thing about love but I sure knew all the words.
But of course I had left all of that behind me long before, pretty much as soon as I started buying my own records (okay, cassettes). Come to think of it, right around the time that I put down Air Supply I picked up on Deep Purple, if only a little. And so I must tell you that I was quite surprised that Deep Purple left little or no impression on me with their live show on this day and I was very, very surprised when Air Supply delivered what I consider to be pretty much the best set of the entire 2015 festival. As a matter of fact, now that a few years have gone by I don’t remember a thing about the Deep Purple set (not even Highway Star) but I can still remember the Air Supply show as clear as day. First off, their guitar player was stellar; I mean, the guy was fantastic. And he would have stolen the show too if it wasn’t for all of those iconic songs. I can’t recall if they updated the arrangements or not but somehow nothing sounded dated. The cheesiness had solidified into solid gold and all that remained were classic melodies surrounding lyrics that every child of the ’70’s carries in their soul.
In summary, I would go out and purchase a (reasonably priced) ticket to a standalone Air Supply show in an aching heartbeat. Deep Purple, not so much.
*Didja know that Making Love Out of Nothing at All was written by the recently-deceased Jim Steinman? Yep, the very same guy who wrote all the songs for every Meat Loaf album anyone has ever purchased. Steinman also wrote Bonnie Tyler’s hit Total Eclipse of the Heart and a zillion other songs that you would probably recognize.