Friday, January 22, 2010

Pink Floyd's The Wall LIVE!!!!

Pink Floyd was, of course, a legendary band for many reasons. One is the storied meltdown of founding member Syd Barret, presumably from a few too many fresh dipped doses. Also, the complexity, progression and innovation of the band's oeuvre created an almost cult like devotion. From the early Umma Gumma and Meddle unto Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Here, Animals, and culminating in The Wall. (I won't mention the early works of Saucerful of Secrets et al because it seems to me it's not really the Pink Floyd we'd come to know, nor are the later works because Roger Waters is no longer present. Yes, I know they did The Final Cut in '83 but I'd put an asterisk on that one.) Combine that w/ awe inspiring live performances, the design of the stage shows became the Industry standard, and the bands absolute refusal to sell out. Many of their records were made without any eye toward singles, radio, compilation records (as much as I love the Stones they abuse the shit out of that one) or music promo videos, etc.

The band did a couple of fairly limited tours of the states in support of Dark Side Of The Moon, then much more significant tours in '75 and the In the Flesh tour supporting Animals in '77 which was legendary for both it's size and scope and overall theatrics. (The last time Pink Floyd performed a major worldwide tour with Roger Waters, it featured the famous character inflatable puppets, a pyrotechnic "waterfall" and one of the biggest and most elaborate stages to date, including umbrella-like canopies that would raise from the stage to protect the band from the elements. Here's little sample from the Oakland show, Gilmour and Snowy White are just on fire- White was second guitarist on this and Wall performances.) It was on this run through the States that the seeds of The Wall germinated in the form of the 'infamous' spitting incident! Waters was chronically annoyed that fans would make so much racket when they did their more quiet improvisational jams. Waters spit on some fans who lit fireworks during their number. He then started writing a piece about a rock star alienated by his fans, enough so to build a 'Wall' separating him from his audience. Of course, Waters was a cynical chap to begin with, just listen to the lyrics of "Have a Cigar". Not exactly a glowing view of the music biz nor Hollywood in general!

The Wall was released in the fall of 1979, but a limited tour was in the works. Both Gilmour and Nick Mason tried to convince Waters to do a full blown tour of the US and Europe but Roger thought it hypocritical given the subject matter of the record, so instead they decided on New York (Nassau County Coliseum- near my birth place), Los Angeles Sports Arena, London Earls Court, and in early 1981 Dortmund, Germany. (Waters and Richard Wright were no longer on speaking terms, in fact, on both the record and tour Wright was contracted just as a hired hand, not a full band member.)

There's almost no real quality documentation of this tour, thus it has become the holy grail if you will of concert lore. In fact, the legend of the shows was every bit as intriguing as the reality. I don't how many times I'd listened to the The Wall in a dorm room and be regaled by some story of someone who saw the actual show and how they built up the Wall in the background (only partially true), then blew it up at the end (not true)! The concert was filmed professionally at Earls Court, you can get a copy here but it was determined by the band as not up to snuff for official, commercial release. Roger Waters was credited as having conceived of and directed the potential concert film. It was an amazingly elaborate production but was plagued by very poor lighting, as Waters limitations as a filmmaker were immediately evident. If Waters had kicked his ego to the curb and just hired a real filmmaker to document this wonderous event we'd have a fantastic concert film, but this is not the case! There also exists a real ghetto copy of the Nassau County show that looks like it was shot by a fan on a super 8 camera.

On the particular DVD copy I saw of the Earl's Court show, it seems to be sourced from a reasonably good VHS tape. The credits are professionally done against the white brick motif of the album cover and then we fade to black as the PA announcer welcomes the crowd and asks they not light any fireworks, tape record the show, etc. etc. (Those pesky fireworks! Waters really has a thing about that.) Anyhow, the show starts as the band goes into In the Flesh, The Thin Ice, Another Brick in the Wall pt1, etc. A band of session musicians play the first song, wearing rubber face masks taken from the real band members, then backed up the band for the remainder of the show. At first you don't get a full appreciation of just how massive the stage is until they go into Another Brick in The Wall. They cut to a wide shot of the stage, again this is where the lighting issue really comes into play. The tighter shots of the band are well it, but as we pull wider it becomes very difficult to get a feel for the size of the stage. It is about a 70 foot rendition of the wall that appears to be on a pulley so it can be put together and wheeled apart. In the center, behind the wall a large semi circular light structure. Throughout the show various puppets, inflatable pigs, and other characters from The Wall art work on the inner jacket and sleeve designed by Mark Fisher and Gerald Scarfe appear during various numbers. At one point before the song Vera a miniature Airplane crashes into the Wall. It appears quite a bit of effort and thought was put into the conceptualization of the entire concert experience of The Wall. In fact, The New York Times wrote: "The 'Wall' show remains a milestone in rock history though and there's no point in denying it. Never again will one be able to accept the technical clumsiness, distorted sound and meager visuals of most arena rock concerts as inevitable" and concluded that "the 'Wall' show will be the touchstone against which all future rock spectacles must be measured."

It's also rumored that about $1.5 million was spent on staging the concert even before the first performance, which just begs the question: Why not hire real filmmakers w/ 35mm cameras and lighting gear and do it right. Of course, the Alan Parker film came out some three years later so that may have impacted the band's decision. Roger Waters has given conflicted answers on the status of the concert film stating from "trying to locate this footage for historical purposes but was unsuccessful and considers it to be lost forever" to "I have all of the film but am reluctant to release". While the show we do see is far from perfect, it is well worth getting a copy of. The performance itself is fantastic and well worth checking out for that alone. Water's put on The Wall years later in 1990 to coincide with coming down of the Berlin Wall w/ many a special guest star, and while it's not Pink Floyd it was at least well shot and lit. The rest of the band (sans Waters) came together again in 1987 for a tour of North America and this DVD is a fantastic presentation of their 3 night stand in Atlanta. The source is Betacam SP and looks immaculate!

Pink Floyd toured several more times w/o Waters and finally did a short stint in '05 as a complete band again in a show in London. Anyone who is reading this blog entry and has seen Pink Floyd anytime between 1968-1980 please contact me as I'd be very eager to include you in a more extensive project I'm working on about the band!

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