[The Mail On Sunday, 2006]
ROYAL ALBERT HALL, LONDON
WHITE BREAD, BLACK BEER
PINK FLOYD HAVE acted out, at a grander level, the kind of dispute over their name and legacy that once set off a fist-fight between rival line-ups of a certain glam-rock band when they happened upon each other at a service station. Floyd's Live 8 reunion looked none too warm; and while I'm no mind reader, it was tempting to infer a case of “close your eyes and think of Africa”. Curiously, the respective summer tour schedules of David Gilmour (“the Voice and Guitar of Pink Floyd”) and Roger Waters (“The Creative Genius of Pink Floyd”) will at no point overlap. No danger of a punch-up in the first-class lounge, then.
Gilmour has a solo album to promote; and while old-timers in concert ignore the classics in favour of recent material at their peril, its relative success does give him some leeway. Not enough leeway to play the whole damn thing, if you ask me - but, inexplicably, nobody thought to.
What grifters used to call the Bait And Switch is cleverly employed in the first half of the show: opening with Breathe (the heartbeat intro never fails to prompt an anticipatory thrill) and Time, then switching to the rather more staid new stuff.
To describe Gilmour and company's faithful replication of On An Island as pedestrian is not to dismiss it out of hand. There are parts of it which approximate a pleasant, slow stroll through familiar scenery; while others are more like a slog in the drizzle. It has a certain New Age quality. Often, you feel that you're hearing a Windham Hill version of a Floyd song you already know - at one point, I could have sworn they performed an instrumental variation on Us And Them. This Heaven could be a Sting tune, although it is mercifully devoid of anything resembling Sting's voice.
Then Gilmour picks up the saxophone, and very nicely he plays it too. Still, there is any number of saxophonists who can do what he does (one of them, The Dark Side Of The Moon veteran Dick Parry, is onstage), but only one guitarist. Touring as a solo artist - rather than rolling out a Floyd show, with much the same band, including keyboardist Richard Wright - presumably allows him to follow his whims, rather than observe the template imposed upon the brand-name concerts.
Things start to look up after the interval, with as affecting a take on Shine On You Crazy Diamond as I've heard either Floyd singer perform - rougher-edged than the customary, meticulous live version, with the vocals close to a cappella, and a predictably choice turn on harmonies from David Crosby and Graham Nash. A rare and welcome airing for the mellifluous country-rock of Wots... Uh The Deal, from Obscured By Clouds, is followed by a sequence of turgid songs from The Division Bell. Then the slate is wiped clean in a final half-hour full of marvellous surprises.
It begins with the asdic ping of that magnificent pop-rock mood piece Echoes - forerunner of and equal to Dark Side, alternately ethereal and storming, and never more so than tonight. Wish You Were Here, with the meshing acoustic guitars of Gilmour and Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera, is exquisite.
The unexpected arrival of David Bowie for the encore is a coup de théâtre greeted with the delight it deserves. This is no smug celebrity-mate guest- spot. No voice could suit Arnold Layne better, other than Syd Barrett's own. Bowie (who covered Barrett's See Emily Play on his 1973 album Pin-Ups), delivers it masterfully. Given its fascination with Victoriana, archetypal English psychedelia resonates particularly well with the Albert Hall. This was a moment worth sitting through any amount of Gilmour's more tepid catalogue for. And the closing Comfortably Numb, with Bowie performing a kind of sprechgesang on the lead vocal, isn't half bad either.
If ivory towers were a feature of the pop landscape, then one of the loftiest would have been long occupied by Green Gartside, the man who is Scritti Politti. Once he was a musical Marxist theoretician, then a chart regular. Now there is something appealingly singular about Gartside's infrequent appearances above the parapet. White Bread, Black Beer, his first album in seven years, is a fine one - a set of dainty, artful songs much beholden to Brian Wilson's mid-60s vocal arrangements. Although, as always, Gartside's appetite for fresh ideas is far too omnivorous to permit a descent into mere mimicry.
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