Sunday, September 5, 2010

Echoes in Gdansk

The juxtaposition of two small events the past few days has brought considerable entertainment in to my life. A couple of weeks ago I was watching David Gilmour’s Remember That Night DVD. There are several noteworthy aspects to that 2006 concert in the Royal Albert Hall (released in 2007).

David Crosby and Graham Nash sing some background vocals on Gilmour’s full presentation of his album On An Island and then they come back later for an encore; their remarkable harmonies joining with David’s great voice on a terrific rendition of Find the Cost of Freedom. Then David Bowie comes out to perform Syd Barrett’s original part in the old Pink Floyd tune, Arnold Layne. Bowie follows that with performing Roger Waters’ vocals in Comfortably Numb. Really nice stuff.

But, for me, the highlight of the DVD is the performance of Echoes, which so prominently features the keyboard work of Richard Wright. Though Echoes is one of my favorite Pink Floyd concepts (at 22-plus minutes it is hard to call it a “song”) I never really appreciated the weight of the piece carried by Wright on keyboards. He truly equals anything Gilmour does on guitar.

This inspired me to order the most-recent Gilmour CD/DVD which was released back in September 2008, Live In Gdansk. I never seriously considered buying it before, probably because I thought it was so similar to the Remember That Night DVD (same tour, recorded just a few weeks later). I don’t know what I was thinking. The Gdansk concert 4-Disc edition, while containing most of the same musical line-up as Gilmour’s 2007 DVD, offers enough bonus material and differences to justify its addition to my fairly complete Pink Floyd collection.

I bought my copy of Live at Gdansk from a New York reseller off amazon.com for half the price. It arrived on Friday via “air mail” (the term on the email receipt puzzled me, it seemed antiquated) from Argentina. We are in global economy for sure. It was still in shrink-wrap. Mint condition. So, I guess waiting almost two years to acquire it saved me some cash.

Live at Gdansk is an worthwhile addition to any Pink Floyd fan’s collection mostly because it features the final recorded performances of Wright before his death, one week prior to the release of the CD/DVD in 2008. Another nice addition to this collection over Remember That Night is a performance of the old Syd Barrett-influenced Astronomy Domine (1967), which gives both Gilmour and Wright another opportunity to show the stuff that made Pink Floyd such an incredible artistic venture in those early years.

Beyond that, however, there is the fact the concert is supported by the large string section of the Baltic Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. This is a nice variation on the songs presented on the 2007 DVD and makes up a bit for the absence of Crosby-Nash at Gdansk. The symphony is particularly noteworthy in their contribution to A Great Day for Freedom, which Gilmour did not perform anywhere else on the tour.

What makes A Great Day for Freedom such a nice experience is that it grounds the concert politically to the place of its performance, the Gdansk shipyards where the Solidarity movement first took hold in 1980. Live in Gdansk was performed on the 26th anniversary of the birth of Solidarity. Though Gilmour is nowhere near as politically motivated in his songwriting as Waters, the fact that this particular song is performed live for the first time since 1994 after just one afternoon of rehearsals amongst the giant shipyard cranes of Gdansk is rather amazing. The time and place gives new life to this otherwise so-so tune. The band gives it an excellent treatment, a better version than the original studio recording and so…to that extent…new Pink Floyd (kind of).

Rick Wright singing Waters' part on Comfortably Numb is awesome. The highlight of the concert, however, is the Gilmour-Wright duet-heavy performance of Echoes, a Pink Floyd song from 1971. The lyrics are largely written by Waters, of course. But, even on the original version, Gilmour and Wright sang in harmony together. They do so here as well. For the last time, as it turned out. As previously mentioned, the great guitar work by Gilmour is matched by several marvelous keyboard flurries and improvisations by Wright. I would venture to say there is nothing like Echoes in the rock repertoire. Just a joy to watch.

The bonus features on the fourth disc, a DVD, are chiefly alternate performances of Pink Floyd and On An Island songs at other locations both live and in studio. The entire On An Island album (released in 2006) is offered again in an audio-only Dolby 5.1 version as well. But, for me, the high-water mark of the entire collection, after the Echoes performance, is the addition of several “Barn Jams” from January 2007, months after the one-night Gdansk performance.

These were captured on video in Gilmour’s countryside estate’s Barn-studio with the 2006 tour band including Wright. They are three free-form true jam sessions. The band isn’t playing anything, they are just…playing off one another, improvising. In one jam, Gilmour plays slide guitar in a slow rocker, kind of bluesy. Next jam he is on drums with the drummer now playing bass and the bassist on lead guitar, on the new age, minimalist side of things. Finally, he’s back to his trusty Stratocaster on the edge of space rock; a classic, soft Pink Floyd sound. When I watched this one with Jennifer on Friday night she told me it was her favorite performance on the DVD.

At any rate, at long last I am coming to the other “small event” I mentioned at the beginning of this post. In exploring Live at Gdansk there was a web link on one of the discs that allowed you to explore online material as long as the DVD was in your PC. I went to the link, which was on davidgilmour.com, but found that the extra content had already been removed. The price I have to pay for waiting so long to obtain the CD/DVD. But, then I decided to explore Gilmour’s website and discovered on the front page that only last Wednesday (September 1) a special video had been posted of an event I had read about back in July. The video is made available on rogerwaters.com as well.

Gilmour asked Waters to help him close out his live set at a fundraiser for Palestinian refugee children. This was a controversial cause right up Waters’ ally. So, the two primary forces of Pink Floyd reunited for the first time since their Live8 performance in July 2005. The fact that they got together again is the big news here. The video quality is that of a bootleg, and their performances are just standard fare. Waters makes a point of elucidating to the relatively small crowd that he is there at Gilmour’s invitation. They look like they are having fun. Good vibes.

So, this brings me up-to-date with the lingering artistic efforts of the remnants of Pink Floyd. Waters is planning a new tour of The Wall. Gilmour has apparently made plans to play a one-off gig on the Waters tour. Other than that though Gilmour is living a quiet life these days. On an Island was only his third solo effort and his first since 1984. Unlike Waters, Gilmour has never been exactly obsessed with writing and composing. He’s rather lazy at it, in fact, by his own admission. The perennial question of whether they will ever collaborate on new material again goes unanswered, but they’re not getting any younger.

The 2006 tour and January 2007 Barn Jams were the last time Wright and Gilmour worked together and it echoed their early years of jamming jointly with Waters and Nick Mason. Many of Pink Floyd’s best musical ideas came during long, late-night jam sessions in large studios and arenas closed to the public. This was one reason credits for major early Pink Floyd projects (like Echoes and Atom Heart Mother) were always shared by all four band members, before Waters’ lyrics and ideas became such a singular force in the band’s direction. Wright was a significant, fundamental part of the Floydian magic. Waters and Mason are not missed when it comes to performing Echoes with Gilmour-Wright carrying the weight vocally and instrumentally.

Rick went out on a high note.

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