David Gilmour rocks Floyd classics in L.A.
From 1975’s ”Wish You Were Here” tour through what turned out to be their last concerts in the early 1990s, Pink Floyd played outdoor stadiums almost exclusively, only occasionally downsizing to mere sports arenas. So David Gilmour hitting the large theater circuit is the equivalent of just anyone else in rock doing a back-to-basics club tour. The singer/guitarist’s short solo jaunt through the States wrapped up Thursday night at the Gibson Amphitheatre in L.A., where ticket brokers were predictably able to command a hefty fee, since, in addition to this being the first time Gilmour has sung Floyd classics on the road in 14 years, there is every chance that it might be that long again before a traveling urge strikes the generally reclusive rock god. And since our avowedly tour-averse hero did just turn 60 — and the rest of us are, as the set’s opening Dark Side of the Moon medley helpfully reminded us, ”shorter of breath, and one day closer to death” — this was one instance in which no ticket scalping victims were feeling buyers’ remorse.
When the 10-date American tour kicked off at Radio City Music Hall in early April, the entire first half of the show consisted of Gilmour’s new solo album, On an Island, played in its entirety. Oops: Concertgoers lacked faith he’d get to the Floyd stuff after intermission. By the last gig, he was still playing all of the new CD, but preceded by that Dark Side medley into the opening slot, saving himself from the indignity of having to watch patrons stream out to hit the beer lines from the very first number. Not that On an Island is a bad album; its effective live presentation no doubt caused a few detractors to pop it back in on the way home. But with Gilmour’s wife, Polly Samson, writing the lyrics instead of Roger Waters, it does have a curious lack of tension. Floyd’s music was characterized by brooding, portent and cynicism, on an epic scale. When you hear the same kind of nearly sinister music applied to bucolic verses about contented true love and the pleasures of the English countryside, something doesn’t quite compute. So the new solo material that works best is the more relaxed numbers, which recall Floyd’s slightly less grandiose, pre-Dark Side days… though, naturally, the biggest cheers in concert went to the title song, the one that most consciously goes for Floydian grandeur. It didn’t hurt that in L.A., as in New York, Gilmour was joined on stage by the harmony singers who stopped by for the recorded version, David Crosby and Graham Nash, briefly forming a new supergroup — CGN?
Act II was the killer, of course. Though Gilmour has been changing the Floyd part of the set list a bit over the course of the tour, it was certain you could count on a lot of obscurities, and that none of them would be from The Final Cut. Only ”Shine On You Crazy Diamond” (again with Crosby and Nash), ”Wish You Were Here,” and ”Comfortably Numb” counted as obligatory classic-rock staples, with the real pleasures being the rarely revived ”Fat Old Sun” (half-acoustic sing-along, half-electric guitar epiphany) and a 20-minute ”Echoes.” Very new to the set list: a Floyd song that Gilmour acknowledged dates back ”before my time,” the Syd Barrett-era ”Arnold Layne,” which, oddly enough, was the most contemporary-sounding tune of the night; if you didn’t know better, you’d think it was some twentysomething band’s fresh Pixies knockoff. Taking the lead vocal on that one, as well as assuming Waters’ vocal parts on a couple of other numbers, was no less a sideman than Floyd’s own keyboard player, Richard Wright. With Wright in tow, two-thirds of Floyd’s final touring roster was in the house (along with longtime sax sideman Dick Perry, underused here). So it was pretty close to a reunion of the post-Waters version of Floyd — except that this show blasted any of their late-’80s and early-’90s gigs out of the water, thanks to Gilmour, unshackled from the group aegis, feeling free to leave a lot of the overly obvious chestnuts at home, along with the floating pig and assorted other now-kitschy props. (This tour does at least have the green laser beams and sound effects of old; a few of those old stadium habits die hard.)
At this point, I risk descending into sheer fannishness — and I am one of those folks who’ve seen every tour from ”Wish You Were Here” forward — but there was indeed the sense that we were getting a rare glimpse of one of a half-dozen or fewer true guitar giants left roaming the land. It’s undeniable that, post-Waters, Gilmour hasn’t really found a worthy bed for his skills. But even on lesser material, arguably, no other ax-slinger in rock did or does combine proficiency, soulfulness, emotiveness, and the very rare quality of economy as deftly. Who’s gonna fill his shoes? John Mayer? Jack White? We get uncomfortably numb just thinking about it.