Wednesday, April 6, 2016

For the Turnstiles, Vol III

Gibson Amphitheater, Universal City, CA

4/7/16 Update: I had to pass on seeing Gilmour for the Rattle that Lock tour. Bummer, but it just wasn't in the cards. With a bit of effort, I could've gone, but knew I would've just been chasing this 2006 show, which stands the test of time as one of the best I've seen. I don't doubt it would've been great, but don't think it could match my previous experience. Although he is playing Us and Them, Echoes has been dropped from the setlist, reportedly due to the passing of founding Floyd member Richard Wright, who toured with Gilmour in 2006. And he's added more solo and later Floyd era tunes to the setlist compared to the previous tour. But for me, the main reason I sat this one out is due to the passing of my great friend, Rob Adams, who I experienced this show with. A great friend, a great Floyd fan, and a fellow intrepid traveler. I'll never forget our shared astonished laughter when Gilmour ran off a mind-boggling rapid fire succession of notes on the lap steel during High Hopes. As we joked at the time in English accents: "Brilliant! Happy 4/20, America!" To good friends departed too early, cheers Rob, and Richard.

Here's a piece I wrote for after clearly having my mind-blown at a David Gilmour concert on his most recent and possibly last concert tour. I had seen Pink Floyd, sans Roger Waters, once before at Soldier's Field on the Division Bell tour in 1994. A great show, but more spectacle than musical experience, although the opener from that show Astronomy Domine did leave me thinking they were spinning the stadium around on an axis. I survived that experience, and while I was looking forward to the Gilmour show, expectations couldn't prepare me for what was to come. As you'll read, I left the show with the belief that Gilmour was the greatest guitarist I had seen live. I still feel that way today, at least until the next time I hear a Garcia solo. Enjoy the review below.

David Gilmour’s North American tour concluded on April 20th (brah) at Universal City, just outside of Hollywood, CA. A rather peculiar setting, the atmosphere outside resembled a Southern California mall, with theme restaurants, memorabilia best left forgotten, and karaoke singers leading the way to the amphitheater. Passing by the Waterwold theme ride (WTF?!), I felt as if I had entered into a bizarre forgotten world of a past that never existed; USA’s mythological version of Pompeii. Strangely, the surroundings set the tone for the evening, as Gilmour would update relics from the past and transport the audience to non-rational realms of the collective with new material from his third solo album, On an Island.

The triptych of “Breathe”/”Time”/”Breathe Reprise” kicked the night off in classic Floydian style. At most stops on this tour the first set consisted solely of the entirety of On an Island. This altered beginning was a wise choice as it immediately grabbed the audience’s attention before challenging us with new material for the rest of the set. After this quick nod to the past, the audience was on board, ready to go wherever Dave took us. 

The album versions of the new songs are pleasant at best: not bad, not great, somewhat bland and inoffensive. With the help of lights, fog, and a superb backing band, these songs were for the most part brought to life, placed in a context in which they made sense. The atmospherics and instrumental interludes of “Castellorizon” sailed the seas, bouncing from port to port subtly referencing songs recognized but never previously heard, before docking “On an Island.” David Crosby and Graham Nash came out to assist on the title track and the following number, “The Blue.” The album leaves C & N lost in the mix, but in concert they both did what they were born to do: Crosby to sing harmony, and Nash to act like a complete dork. During the instrumental passages Crosby was content to chill with his hands in his pockets, but apparently Nash was under the impression that he was the guest conductor for the evening, bouncing around like a cheerleader who had lost his pom-poms. Nash provided comedic contrast to Gilmour’s stoic guitar hero archetype: dressed in black, hunched over his guitar, and completely focused on the music. Gilmour’s skills have clearly not diminished with age, precisely controlling his fat reverb drenched tone, allowing every note to drip as clear as a bell. 

The focus of the show was placed precisely on Gilmour’s voice and guitar, as he switched from electric, acoustic, dobro, banjo, and lap steel over the course of the evening, and often within the same song. “Red Sky at Night,” more atmospheric interlude than fully realized song, even featured Gilmour on sax. The audience responded with sympathetic applause, clapping like proud parents at a recital: “That’s my boy!” “This Heaven” followed, and featured some of the more cringe-worthy lyrics of the evening, clearly reflecting a man who is content with himself and has little left to prove: “Life is much more than money buys/when I see the faith in my children’s eyes.” Thankfully, even Gilmour’s farts smell like roses, displaying on this tune the uncanny ability to take a sad song and make it better. The first set really took off with “Then I Close My Eyes,” which began with the sounds of waves against the shore and Gilmour plucking a banjo, followed by a foghorn, and then an acoustic duet supported by more atmospherics. The song continued to evolve and entrance over the course of ten minutes, evoking the lush pulsing feel of “Us and Them” throughout. Dark Side’s Dick Parry even came out for a gorgeous sax solo, though I’m sure not intending to upstage Mr. Gilmour’s previous efforts. 

The lullaby of “Smile” followed: a nice little love song with no aspirations to blow minds. After tucking us in a saying goodnight, we were rudely awoken with the most rocking moment of the evening, “Take a Breath.” Crackling with electricity and explosive strobe lights, “Take a Breath” brought some much-needed energy to the set, and allowed the audience a chance for a cathartic howl. The best song on the album also features some Floyd worthy lyrics in discussing the existential realities of existence and self-reliance: “When you’re down is where you know yourself/and if you drown there’s nothing else./If you’re lost you need to find yourself/then you’ll find out that there’s no one else.” The set ended nicely with “A Pocketful of Stones” and “Where We Start,” unremarkable but well played enough to encourage the audience to give the album another chance. But the first set was merely the appetizer for the main course of Floyd classics we had come to devour. 

A stripped down version of “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” kicked off the second set. Again featuring C & N, this version put more focus on the vocals and transformed the tune from a psychedelic anthem to a hymn. Singing with a more sympathetic tone, in much the same way Dylan has altered “Like a Rolling Stone” in recent years, Gilmour proved that true empathy comes from the wisdom of time rather than instant mind-expansion. The wistful Obscured by Clouds gem “Wot’sUh, the Deal” followed, again placing more emphasis on the vocals than sonic histrionics. The song’s tale of a man who had made it to the top with little left to prove was an honest self-reflection for Gilmour, and one could say prophetic for the lyricist, Roger Waters: “Cause there’s no wind left in my soul/and I’ve grown old.” A beautiful, bittersweet lap steel solo finished the song off, reminding us that although the fires have died down the embers still glow a brilliant light. “Fat Old Sun” appeared next, providing one of the highlights of the night. Gorgeous and peculiar, the mystical lyrics defy logic and reason, as did Gilmour’s soaring electric solo, the finest of the show. Next up was the pre-Gilmour era Floyd tune, “Arnold Layne,” written by the crazy diamond himself, Syd Barrett. A peculiar 60’s nugget, for a completely backwards comparison this tune reminded me of seeing Radiohead play a song off their first album, Pablo Honey, in 2001: off-kilter pop with a psychedelic under-current, this was Rick Wright’s moment in the spotlight, taking lead vocals and laying down some classic 60’s keyboard lines. 

Next up were two tracks off the last Pink Floyd album, The Division Bell. Admittedly, this album has always made me wince, as I tended to agree with Waters’ cliched Spinal Tap comparison. But Gilmour was proving all doubters wrong on this evening, again playing the “Hey Jude” role. “Coming Back to Life” was triumphant, and again featured blistering solos, as well as some fine interplay with the rest of the band. In particular, Guy Pratt on bass showed why he is the standout of the band; tasteful and understated in his playing, but animated in his stage presence, the bouncing Pratt provided leg kicks and sonic bombs to balance his motionless leader. The haunting “High Hopes” completed the nod to Floyd’s recent past. Providing another highlight of the evening, the dizzying yet precise flurry of notes towards the end of the lap steel solo in “High Hopes” left my buddy and I so astonished we burst out laughing simultaneously. And after launching us to the stratosphere Gilmour gently landed back on earth with a graceful acoustic outro. 

Echoes” was up next, and how can I describe this one? Visions of Pompeii were dancing in my head as I dodged lasers in the balcony. Keeping a tight leash on the show through much of the evening, Gilmour brought out the full Floyd hog for “Echoes,” unleashing this wild beast on the audience for 20 plus minutes. Along with some amazing playing, the song also features what may be Waters finest lyrics, ironically sung by his nemesis: “Strangers passing in the street/By chance two separate glances meet/And I am you and what I see is me.” One has to wonder if Gilmour thinks of his old writing partner when singing the words, recognizing what he has projected onto Waters, and practicing the empathy he preaches? Beyond these speculations, words really can’t do the performance justice, so you’ll just have to see it in movie theaters on May 16th, or wait for the DVD release of the upcoming Royal Albert Hall shows. After “Echoes” the audience was satiated; we got what we came for and then some. The encores of two Floyd classics, sandwiched around CGN doing an a capella version of “Find the Cost of Freedom,” allowed the audience and performers a chance to bask in the glow for a few minutes more, and say thank you to each other. 

Wish You Were Here” brought out not only the voices of those in attendance for the obligatory sing-along, but also the cell phones, as well as some strange manually operated personal fire-producing device, certainly a relic from a bygone era. But as the flames continue to transform into the digital glow, the closing solo in “Comfortably Numb” proved that Gilmour’s guitar would never become antiquated, sure to melt minds across generations and through human and technological evolution. Put simply: It fucking rocked!

Post-script: The concert video of this tour, recorded at the Royal Albert Hall, remains one of my favorite live DVD's to this day. The sound and video are really incredible. Set list is somewhat different from the show I reviewed, but hits most of the high notes with a few bonuses: