California Jam was the name of a 1974 festival that occupied the grounds of Ontario Motor Speedway on 6th April 1974. Co-headlined by Deep Purple and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, with a sub-billing featuring the likes of Black Sabbath, Eagles, and Earth, Wind & Fire, it attracted a whopping 250,000 attendees. It was something of a significant show for Deep Purple, as it was an early live outing for the band's Mk III lineup - David Coverdale; Ritchie Blackmore; Glenn Hughes; Jon Lord and Ian Paice. Captured on film for posterity, it can now be experienced by current and future generations of rock fans in a newly released and newly restored/edited cut. Previously available on both VHS and DVD, it's now making its BD debut, although it's the DVD that's been provided for review here.
With just seven songs in the set, but spanning over 80 minutes of music, Purple's show was biased towards their 'Burn' album, released just 2 months prior to California Jam, although still includes solo spots, and satisfies fan expectations with big numbers like 'Smoke on the Water'. It's a great performance from Purple Mk III, if a little surreal towards the end. As their set nears its conclusion, and while Blackmore is trashing his guitar, and hurling Marshall heads and cabs off the stage, a pyro at the rear seemingly erupts in a bigger than expected explosion, with a temporarily raging fire, that apparently singed some of the band members. This was Burn... literally! They opened with 'Burn', which becomes reified at the end. An unexpectedly dramatic climax... or was it so unexpected? It transpires Blackmore's gear trashing was the culmination of a tumultuous relationship between the festival promoters and Purple. More on that shortly.
Visually, expectations should be lowered for the 4:3 presentation of the show. These are vintage materials, and they look as such. Any degree of sharpness is lacking from the image (thus, I can't really imagine the HD format would offer any noticeable degree of improvement worthy enough to opt for the BD edition), although there's enough clarity in the image, at times, during close-ups so it's not all blurry edges. It's also worth mentioning that the image is fairly clean throughout, with hardly any dirt and debris, so perhaps the restoration has removed any specs that've found their way onto the source materials over the years. In terms of how the show's been filmed and edited, it's not particularly a dynamic visual experience, although plenty of close-up, long, lingering shots of band members, together with a quirky use of split-screen, make for a fairly engaging watch. Sound-wise, there are no selectable options from the disc's main menu, so there's a forced Dolby Digital 2.0 track. However, this suffices just like the visuals, if you lower your expectations for anything too sonically sparkling.
A bonus feature of some rough-and-ready 'Super 8 Crew Recordings' (around ten minutes in length), in particularly bad shape, is a curio for only the diehard Purple aficionado, albeit a nice addition, nonetheless. A retrospective documentary feature would've been nice, given the significance and controversial reputation of the show, and festival itself, in the annals of rock music history, but at least a booklet is included with some well-written liner notes by respected journo, Geoff Barton. His words neatly contextualise Purple's California Jam show, and are loaded with quotes from Hughes and Coverdale, that include some great and insightful anecdotes about their experience of the fest, including the latter's recollections of the band being asked to perform 45 minutes ahead of their scheduled slot and thus quashing their desire to take to the stage at the point of sundown. It's said that Blackmore locked himself in his backstage caravan, refusing to emerge, with the entire debacle resulting in Purple threatened with never working in the States ever again, and an inference of some kind of Mafia involvement! Heavy stuff! Kind of explains Blackmore's rebellious actions at the end of Purple's set.
All in all, there are better Purple DVDs available for the casual fan, although this is undoubtedly a release that their hardcore devotees will want to own. Great music, okay visuals and sound, a nicely compiled booklet, plus a touch of drama thrown in for good measure!
CALIFORNIA JAM 1974
Review by Mark Holmes
9th December 2016
2) Might Just Take Your Life
3) Lay Down, Stay Down
5) Smoke on the Water
6) You Fool No One / The Mule
7) Space Truckin'
Bonus Material: Super 8 Crew Recordings
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...there are better Purple DVDs available for the casual fan, although this is undoubtedly a release that their hardcore devotees will want to own. Great music, okay visuals and sound, a nicely compiled booklet, plus a touch of drama thrown in for good measure!"