Legendary British rock band Deep Purple played the first of two concerts at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv on Saturday night.

The band, led by veteran vocalist Ian Gillan and with two other long-term members still in its line-up — drummer Ian Paice and bassist Roger Glover — delivered a robust and unusually humorous performance: Gillan and Paice shared a running joke in which the drummer kept interrupting the singer’s introductions to songs by starting to play them; Gillan tapped a tiny gong to unleash a colossal noise towards the end of an early number; and he stood sneakily behind guitarist Steve Morse to urge the crowd to applaud Morse’s soloing without the guitarist realizing it. Gillan, who these days increasingly resembles actor Bill Murray rather than a rock god, also wore one of those silly Bow Tie T-shirts — not your standard heavy metal icon garb.

The show was somewhat self-indulgent, featuring particularly lengthy solo spots by Morse, keyboardist Don Airey and Paice, but Paice’s protracted drum solo was enlivened by the fact that his sticks were illuminated, so the audience saw red, blue and green flashes and loops moving at dazzling speeds as he thrashed around on his drum set.

The band did play many of its most familiar numbers, notably including “Strange Kind of Woman,” “Perfect Strangers”, a far too short and sadly harmonica-less “Hush” and, of course, “Smoke On the Water.” They were clearly enjoying themselves, and the sold-out stadium was too, with plenty of fans the age of the band — that is, in their sixties — but youngsters too, including a spellbound boy of about four in the front row.

Deep Purple is currently on the tail end of its “The Best of Deep Purple” concert tour, which, after Israel, will see it play several European cities and then Japan.

Its second show is scheduled for Sunday, February 23.

Deep Purple has proven extremely popular in Israel, and sold out the Caesarea Amphitheater for two shows during their last visit in 2008. The hard rock veterans, several of whom are well into their 60s, are especially well-liked among the Israelis hailing from the former Soviet Union countries.

During their time in Israel, the rockers even made a foray into local television, filming an appearance on the HOT cable television show “Atlantica,” which chronicles the struggles of an up-and-coming Jerusalem rock band.

The Rolling Stones, another major British rock export still on the touring circuit, have for months been reported to be in negotiations for a June 10 show in Ramat Gan, but the final confirmation has not been publicized.

According to Yedioth Ahronoth, the group has been offered some $4.5 million for the gig, the largest amount ever offered to any recording artist to play in Israel.

Other international rock acts set to arrive this year include Foreigner (March 25 and 25), Steve Vai (March 26), the Pixies (June 17), Soundgarden (June 18) and Neil Young & Crazy Horse (July 17).