Monday, May 16, 2011

The Final Bow?

It came of my attention over the weekend that last Thursday night at the O2 Arena in London, David Gilmour and Nick Mason joined Roger Waters for a performance of “Comfortably Numb" in Waters’ latest tour of the 1979 Pink Floyd classic rock concept album The Wall.

The appearance, while a major event among Pink Floyd fans, like me, everywhere, was Gilmour honoring his end of a bargain he had struck with Waters last year at a gig benefiting Palestinian refugee children.

The troubles of Gilmour and Waters have been previously chronicled by me on this blog. Unfortunately, this brief reunion is not the harbinger of more appearances to come, although there is some previously unreleased Pink Floyd archival material in the works. It was merely a happy episode in Pink Floyd history that probably won’t lead to much of anything else.

The performance of “Comfortably Numb” itself was uninspired. It was not Gilmour at his best, though he was certainly adequate. As with the 1980 tour of The Wall, he was positioned high above a gigantic wall of bricks which is more or less constructed during the performance of the double-album show. Water’s remained, as he did back in 1980 (the last time the two musicians played together during a performance of The Wall), on the stage floor singing vocals and acting as master of ceremonies for what is essentially a rock opera.

Mason, the only other surviving member of Pink Floyd, also participated by playing drums during “Comfortably Numb” last week. But, no one could see him because by this point in the performance the wall of giant white bricks covers the entire stage. He appeared side by side with Waters and Gilmour during the final curtain call after the performance.

Will this be the final bow of Pink Floyd? Perhaps. As I have noted before, keyboardist Richard Wright, died a couple of years ago, making 2005’s concert set at Hyde Park definitively the final complete appearance of one of rock’s all-time greatest bands. Certainly, they are my favorite, second only to Neil Young himself.

All three are beginning to show their age a bit more. Waters, now 67, recently commented that although he still has fire in his belly, his voice and technical skills are almost beyond recall on many of the songs he wrote. Gilmour, meanwhile, enjoys a mastery very close to his original vocal range and his guitar prowess makes him still one of the world’s best guitarists. But, Gilmour has always lacked the “fire in the belly” that is Waters’ strength. This is one reason the two were able to reach such fantastic heights of rock and roll stardom during the last three decades of the last century.

One thing that impressed me about the internet video clips available for the Gilmour appearance in the Waters show was how the visual aspects of the current Waters Tour have vastly improved beyond the capability of 1980. I have a DVD of Waters and his chosen non-Floydian cast performing The Wall in 1990. That is a noteworthy effort, displaying Roger’s gift for stagecraft. But, the current tour seems to have surpassed all previous special effects standards for the performance of this piece.

Well, in 2011 he seems to be allowing the technology to carry much more of the load. The visual animations displayed in sync with Gilmour’s singing and playing, and Waters’ vocals and stage presence, must be something to behold live in concert. These guys were always into giving large audiences a lot of “wow-factor” in their live performances. From psychedelic light shows to large inflatable balloons, Pink Floyd concerts (and Waters’ and Gilmour’s post-Floydian endeavors) have upheld a certain standard for not only entertaining with music but with a complete audience-immersion experience (psychotropic drugs of choice recommended but not required).

But, beyond the grandiose (and somewhat decadent) nature of the show, what makes the moment special is the fact that three once highly collaborative artists, then adversarial contenders for the copyright to a massive rock money machine, managed to set it all aside for a night, welcome each other on stage, and perhaps give some closure to this segment of contemporary musical history.

Still, it would be nice to see them come up with something new one last time.

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