David Gilmour, Radio City Music Hall, NYC- 4/5
David Gilmour long ago passed the point where he needed to justify his music. Long ago he cemented himself in the pantheon of great guitar players and more recently, as one of the great band leaders of all time. He hoisted the Pink Floyd machine on his shoulders after Roger Waters’ acrimonious departure and propelled the band forward to even greater heights. Both as a member of Pink Floyd and as a solo act, David has always had a fundamental understanding surrounding the necessity of a stellar live show, highlighted by, more often than not, over the top production and lighting. One need only look at the Division Bell tour to realize this. But such amenities never served to dwarf the necessity for top notch music and interesting song lyrics, both of which he consistently delivers.
On his newest solo release, On an Island David Gilmour’s trademark sound permeates the entire album, albeit in a slower, more relaxed incarnation than is found on previous releases David Gilmour and About Face (ignoring the two post-Waters Floyd albums which are, more or less, David Gilmour solo albums). His live show is, not surprisingly, an extension of the album’s laid back sound. As a result, the show featured two sets of music that were, in essence, polar opposites of each other.
Backed by virtually all of the 1994-era Floyd, minus Nick Mason on drums and Tim Renwick on guitar but including original Floyd member Rick Wright on keys (who got the loudest ovation of the evening when introduced) and replacement bassist Guy Pratt, Gilmour took to the stage behind a wall of smoke thrilling the crowd, many of whom recognized the fact that they very well may never see Gilmour live in concert again.
Moving through much, if not all, of the new album during the first set, one thing became painfully clear; half the audience either hadn’t heard the new album or couldn’t have cared less about it. The amount of moving about, talking and disrespect during the first set was embarrassing and distracting. Even if much of the new material is slower and mellower than many are accustomed to, surely there is a minimum level of respect and attention that must be given. No?
But I digress.
The new album does have its highs and lows, and while the lows weren’t exactly legendary in their live embodiments, the highs were exactly that, specifically “On an Island,” “The Blue” and “Take a Breathe” the last of which easily could be considered the second best song of the night. Gilmour’s guitar solo after the psychedelic middle section was thrilling in its voraciousness, as was his playing during the outtro section of “On an Island.” In fact, when Gilmour wasn’t restrained by a slower song structure, his playing was every bit as lively, inspired and impressive as it has been for years, belying the fact that he is now 62 years old.
But of course, as exciting as those songs were and are (“Smile” easily could’ve been written around the time of Meddle), the second set was the reason people came to the show, and Gilmour and Co. delivered and then some.
Opening with the reworked “Shine On” (reworked since, I believe, his European acoustic tour) accompanied by David Crosby and Graham Nash on vocals, the set kicked off in high fashion as Gilmour showed no signs of complacency with a song he’s played hundreds of times. Moving through “WotsUh The Deal” from the vastly underrated Obscured by Clouds album, several selections from The Division Bell including “Coming Back To Life” and Dark Side staples “Breathe->Time->Breathe Reprise,” fans were treated to an interesting array of Floyd classics, however it was the set closer that really served to put the cap on the evening.
As the band began the intro notes to the Floyd classic of all classics “Echoes” the crowd took to their feet to cheer in appreciation. Gilmour has always recognized the importance of Pink Floyd and their deep catalog of songs to those who have come to see him live. He too has apparently never tired of the “hits” either, however it’s always been Gilmour’s willingness to perform several obscure Floyd songs that play a part in keeping people coming back. Whether it be “Fat Old Sun,” “Astronomy Domine,” “WotsUh The Deal” or any of the multiple Syd Barrett songs he plays, Gilmour never fails to treat those who come to hear him. But “Echoes?” This is an indescribably important Floyd song in so many regards, if for no other reason than almost every single person in attendance was once a fifteen year old high school kid discovering something about life while smoking pot with this song on the stereo. The importance of seeing this song performed live by Gilmour and Wright cannot be understated, and they did everything right into bringing to life.
With soaring guitars, thumping basses, perfect drumming, swirling strobe lights and lasers to rival anything one could’ve expected under the best of circumstances, “Echoes” proved to be not only the highlight of the night, but potentially one of the highlights in my entire concert attending lifetime. Gilmour’s guitar has arguably never sounded as “big” as it has during this song, with more effects than I care to detail twisting and mutating his guitar sound into something that was larger than life. And when working along side the green lasers shooting violently throughout Radio City, “Echoes” managed to shake me to my very core. The excitement of hearing the song live and the perfection in which the song was delivered, exceeded even my own lofty expectations will make these “x” number of minutes in my life hard to top. (Tangentially, I had the privilege of celebrating my father’s birthday at this concert while he sat right next to me. As he introduced me to much of the music I love to this day, including Pink Floyd, the debt I owe him was somewhat repaid in my securing tickets to this sold out concert).
Encoring with the predictable and no longer necessary tandem of “Wish You Were Here” and “Comfortably Numb,” Gilmour still managed to close out the concert in strong fashion. However the combination provided the only “criticism” of the evening, as I began to wonder why Gilmour wouldn’t want to dive deeper into Floyd’s repertoire and instead choose to encore with equally loved songs such as “Young Lust” or “Have a Cigar.” Surely an encore comprised of one or both of those songs would be every bit as satisfying to the audience as the aforementioned duo. But that’s a debate for the next tour. For this tour needs only one word: “Echoes.”