I love Pink Floyd. A lot.This is hardly an original aesthetic opinion to have, of course. But for much of my adult life I have been a devoted fan of Floyd, more so than is probably healthy. Sure, I listened to the Wall and Dark Side just as much as everyone else. But I also listened to Meddle. And A Saucerful of Secrets. I bet (most of) you didn't even know that Pink Floyd had an album called Piper at the Gates of Dawn, did you? (It's a very, very strange album -- prototypical 60's psychedelic music, and almost unfathomably different from everything that came afterward.) For Christ's sake, I even listened to the albums they put out after Roger Waters left the band, and they were but a soulless, empty husk of their former greatness, putting out pabulum like "On the Turning Away" and "What Do You Want From Me". I'm a little better, now, but my love for Floyd has certainly not faded.
So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that Roger Waters was the closing act for the last night at Coachella. I know next to nothing about his solo work, but as the bassist and primary songwriter for Floyd, I knew I couldn't miss it. And then when I learned that he was going to be performing a full set of Dark Side Of The Moon, I just about lost it. I was not going to miss this show. I would shove myself to the front of the audience, muscle aside small children, trample the sick -- whatever it took to get me to the front to watch.
Fortunately, it didn't come to that. Through judicious planning and a willingness to be heedlessly rude, we managed to finagle a spot relatively close to the front.
Not that it would have mattered. You could have seen the spectacle from miles away (and, undoubtedly, people did). Fireworks and gouts of flame exploded from the stage at regular intervals, carefully, carefully synchronized to the music and videos on screen. The enormous inflatable pig made a careful circuit through the audience, inexplicably festooned with an Obama endorsement (also, they accidentally let go of it, and it is now in some unknown location in Southern California). Hell, halfway through the concert a freaking airplane -- adorned with a grinning shark's mouth -- flew over us and dumped glitter on us. I told you Prince was a spectacle? This topped it, hands down. I will never, never again in my life see a show drenched in this much elaborate display.
I was bored out of my mind.
Oh, it started out fine. We got a few famous tunes to start the evening -- Mother was a welcome surprise -- followed by even a few of their more obscure entries (do you remember Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun?). So, of course, I settled myself in for a contented couple hours.
I think it was really when Waters started his solo stuff that things started to go wrong. I'd never listened to any of his post-Floyd material before, so I didn't know what to expect. Suffice it to say that I wish I could have remained in blessed ignorance. Roger Waters' solo material is awful. Mind-numbingly, painfully, depravedly bad. Imagine Pink Floyd at their most paranoid, political subtext ratcheted up as far as possible, and none of the subtlety.
I hoped that the Dark Side set would recalibrate me and set me back on a path of enjoyment, and by all rights it should have. The performance was flawless, utterly flawless. The band never once faltered, the flow of the album was never lost, the Pink Floyd replacement musicians sounded exactly like the original band. I could have put on some headphones, popped in the CD, cranked up the volume and closed my eyes, and I couldn't have told the difference. The solos were -- note for note -- the same as on the album. The solo vocalist on The Great Gig On The Sky warbled the exact same phrases as the original. Even the drum breaks scattered throughout had the exact same timing, the exact same rhythms.
And with as much production, effort, and practice that must have gone into the production of this to get it work out, I feel almost ungrateful for disliking it. But dammit, if I go to see a live concert, I want something new, something that I haven't heard a thousand times before, memorized in the comfort of my own home. Some spontaneity, a new twist, a modification -- something that gives me the impression I'm listening to a real, live show and not a group of oddly dressed, lip-syncing actors. And I didn't get it.
I'm a contrarian at heart, and I tried hard -- so very, very hard -- to not let that get the better of me. I mean, how stupid does it sound to say that you didn't like a performance because they practiced too much, because they were too good at what they did? But even surpressing my churlish tendencies, even trying to appreciate the pure skill and effort that went into the show -- even that was not enough. It just wasn't fun.
And then, a few days ago, I happened to hear Comfortably Numb randomly playing at my local bar. And I was worried, more than a little. But I gave it a try. And I closed my eyes, listened, and smiled.
The largest twin tessla coils in the world. Since I doubt you can tell, these things are about 20 feet tall. Those are huge gouts of electricity shooting out, there. This is one of the highlights of the show. The moment these turned on, people started running -- literally running -- to come see them. About half of the audience for the Verve disappeared the moment the sparks started flying.
L and me, standing in front of this awesome steam-punk treehouse. The entire structure, tree and all, is constructed of metal. Later in the evening, people (through invitation?) started climbing up and watching the shows from the balcony. Clad, as I was, in my kilt -- I decided to not pursue that option.
And, just for the hell of it, one more shot of the pig. As underwhelmed as I was by the show as a whole, I was thrilled, utterly thrilled when the pig started wandering out from backstage.