There was a time when Tommy Bolin was considered one of the hottest young guitar players on the rock scene, replacing Joe Walsh in the James Gang, making two stellar guest appearances on jazz-fusion releases from Billy Cobham and Alphonse Mouzon, and replacing Ritchie Blackmore in the mighty Deep Purple. Unfortunately, you won't see any of Bolin's guitar genius on this new Eagle Rock Blu-ray release Phoenix Rising. Taking a look at the MKIV version of Deep Purple (Jon Lord, Ian Paice, David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes, and Bolin), Phoenix Rising is broken down into three main parts, the rare footage of the band from THe Budokan Hall in Japan from 1975, an informative documentary on this era in the history of the band, and some rare audio tracks.
The live footage from December 15th, 1975, has been restored in HD and mixed in 5.1 audio, and for fans of the MKIV line-up, it is a must see. Unfortunately, what eventually brought the band down was in full swing, as Tommy Bolin's heroin addiction left him all but unable to play anything but some simple rhythm guitar parts and very sloppy solos. You can see and hear Jon Lord covering mightily for Bolin on his Hammond, but in the spots where Tommy does attempt a guitar solo, it's quite cringe inducing. Hughes on the other hand is so obviously coked out of his mind, running back and forth with eyes ablaze and backing vocals out of tune, that he also does his part to bring down the set. Coverdale for his part seems either drunk or desperately trying to shut himself out from the train wreck that is going on around him, rambling to the audience in between songs and trying way too hard to scream like a banshee. Lord & Paice though, always the professionals amidst a never ending sea of chaos throughout Purple's long career, are spot on. "Burn" just suffers from the main guitar riff so low in the mix, and Bolin's inept solo, while "Highway Star" just isn't the same with Coverdale & Hughes singing the Ian Gillan parts. Again, Bolin is unable to deliver a guitar solo worth anything here. "Love Child" and "You Keep On Movin' " fare better, both great vehicles for Coverdale, but "Smoke on the Water" is pedestrian at best. This was obviously a band sputtering out of control and ready to crumble, which is really a shame considering their lofty history and the fact that Come Taste the Band, the album this line-up created, was so solid. The quality of the video and audio though is quite good.
That disappointment aside, the main reason to check out Phoenix Rising is the stellar documentary 'Gettin' Tighter', which gives full insight into Gillan leaving, Coverdale & Hughes' arrival, Blackmore's leaving, and Bolin's entrance, plus everything after leading up to the demise of the band & Bolin's death. With expert commentary from Lord and Hughes, you get firsthand insight into all the crazy events. The now sober Hughes talks in great detail about his cocaine addiction and many of the insane things that went on, and at some points it becomes 'the Glenn Hughes show', but it's so fascinating and sad at the same time, you can't help but be locked into it all. Be on the lookout for glimpses of a very young Linda Blair with Hughes in photographs that pop up in the background during some of the interview footage (she was often rumored to be involved with either Hughes or Bolin back in the day) as well as a shot of Ozzy Osbourne with Hughes partying backstage at a gig. There's tons of live and backstage footage spliced in between all the interview segments, which makes for eye popping viewing.The portrait that is drawn of Bolin by both Lord & Hughes is of a lovely, talented, caring person who became completely consumed by his drug addiction. There's also plenty of info on various tours the band took part in, including a one-off show in Jakarta, Indonesia that resulted in one of their crew members tragically getting killed. It's a gripping documentary of a once great band falling to pieces.
Toss in a some rare live audio tracks from this line-up ("Gettin' Tighter", "Stormbringer", "Burn", and "Homeward Strut" are quite good actually), and you have a must own for Deep Purple fanatics. It's just a real shame that the only good footage from this version of the band is this miserable performance from Bolin & Hughes. Better than nothing I guess.
Live at Budokan Hall, Japan 12/15/1975
2) Love Child
3) Smoke on the Water
4) You Keep On Movin'
5) Highway Star
Gettin' Tighter-80 Minute Documentary
Rare Live Audio Tracks from MKIV History
Jakarta, December 1975-Interview with Jon Lord & Glenn Hughes