Tuesday, April 05, 2016

In the Pink: With Floyd Classics and Fine New Solo Work, David Gilmour Comfortably Thrills at the United Center -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

David Gilmour
United Center, Chicago
April 4, 2016
(also performing 4/6 at Auditorium, 4/8 at UC)

I've never known of Pink Floyd and not liked them, but then, when you're 11 and people are singing "We don't need no education," how could you not be smitten.

I'm also aware of just how huge and great the band was, with masterful albums like Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, and my best friend long ago made me appreciate the Syd Barrett era in the late '60s.

But if asked over the years to name the biggest, best and/or my favorite rock acts of the '70s, "Pink Floyd" probably wouldn't sputter out as quickly as it should in Pavlovian fashion.

It's possible that I'd mention Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Queen, The Ramones, The Clash, Bob Seger, Steely Dan, The Who, The Stones, Van Halen, Rush, Cheap Trick, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Billy Joel, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads and others before thinking to mention Pink Floyd.

I somewhat ascribe this--though it certainly isn't true in all the above cases--to many having kept themselves top of mind through numerous concerts I've seen, even in just the past decade.

But while I saw Pink Floyd with David Gilmour at the helm in 1988 after Roger Waters' departure from the band, and caught Waters' mammoth The Wall tour in 2010 and 2012, I've never seen the full, classic Pink Floyd lineup in concert (Gilmour, Waters, Nick Mason and the late Rick Wright; the also deceased Barrett left the band in 1968).

And I almost assuredly never will, even with a substitute for Wright.

Though the notorious acrimony--and legal battles--between Waters and Gilmour seems to have eased in recent years, with a Pink Floyd reunion at Live 8 in 2005 (while Wright was still alive), the two performing at a charity event in 2010 and Gilmour singing "Comfortably Numb" at a Wall show in 2011, the ship seems to have sailed on any further reunions under the famed Pink Floyd moniker.

While I long held Gilmour producing watered-down, Waters-less Pink Floyd albums against him, I don't think Roger is such a saint yet I ponied up for his mega-successful Wall extravaganzas.

So it only seemed right to see Pink Floyd's masterful guitarist and most euphonious singer on a solo tour while I still could.

And as I found, Monday night at the United Center--the first of 3 shows in Chicago this week--the corollary to Pink Floyd being a bit back of mind due to lesser live exposure, is that more so than cherished songs I've seen/heard performed quite repeatedly ("Baba O'Riley," "Born to Run," "Satisfaction," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "Hey Jude," etc.), Floyd classics like "Wish You Were Here," "Money," "Us and Them" and more, sounded completely fresh...and absolutely majestic.

Even spiritual.

At 70, Gilmour put on a brilliant performance, demonstrating that he was--and remains--an extraordinary musician and excellent vocalist.

And with several fine cuts from his new solo album, Rattle That Lock--co-produced by Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, who is part of Gilmour's touring band--accompanying material from sans-Waters PF albums The Division Bell and A Momentary Lapse of Reason, and 9 unarguable Pink Floyd classics, the nearly 3-hour concert was exceptionally well-planned and presented.

Unfolding slowly, like many of Floyd's best songs, the show began a bit after 8 P.M. with "5 A.M.," an instrumental that opens Rattle That Lock, followed by the title track and "Faces of Stone."

Then came, blissfully, "Wish You Were Here," with Manzanera beautifully dueting with Gilmour on acoustic guitar, with bassist Guy Pratt providing accompaniment on Waters' vocal parts (various sidemen helped out throughout the night on songs where Gilmour doesn't exclusively sing the lead; there were also 3 backing singers alongside the excellent band).

A total of 11 songs preceded the set break, with the "Money"/"Us and Them" combo perfectly replicating the Dark Side of the Moon versions, yet still offering live panache. And any time Brazilian saxophonist João Mello played a solo, it brought not only awe and mirthful recall, but yet another reminder of the ingenuity of Pink Floyd's sonic expanse.

New songs "A Boat Lies Waiting" and particularly "In Any Tongue" also came off quite well, as did "High Hopes" from The Division Bell.

After a 15-minute break, the light show was amped up considerably as Gilmour ran through "Astronomy Domine," the first song on Pink Floyd's first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

Then, appropriately, came the sublime Barrett tribute, "Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V)," with Gilmour clearly shining on both guitar and vocals.

"Fat Old Sun," from 1970's Atom Heart Mother was next, and further proving that Gilmour isn't stuck in the past was Rattle That Lock's "The Girl in the Yellow Dress," a jazzy number with Pratt playing stand-up bass that felt akin to forays Sting and Elvis Costello have taken into smoky lounge stylings.

Near-blinding visuals made "Run Like Hell" even more mind-blowing, the clocks of "Time" opened the encores in striking fashion and after a segue into the "Breathe" reprise, "Comfortably Numb" was magnificent, with Gilmour--sumptuous in his lead-playing all night--supremely delivering one of the best guitar solos in rock history. (See the full setlist here.)

I won't say this was as good as a Pink Floyd concert--though "Have a Cigar" is the only classic I acutely missed, and it was sung on Wish You Were Here by Roy Harper, not anyone in the band--but in some ways it was probably better.

Rather than running through an old album verbatim--i.e. The Wall--or embarking on a mercenary reunion tour replete with age-old feuds, Gilmour seemed truly comfortable playing songs from across the past 50 years, including many of recent vintage that held up quite well.

In that way, this show reminded me of the supernatural Robert Plant concert I saw at the Riv in 2014 (and one almost as good on the lakefront last year), where the inclusion of considerable new material combined with a relaxed, amiable vibe to make the Led Zeppelin selections feel that much more transcendently thunderous.

The very best concerts are the ones that enhance your appreciation of what the artist has done before, and what they are doing now.

In making Pink Floyd feel stupefyingly new and mesmerizing again, while not being content to merely rest on his considerable laurels, David Gilmour did just that. 

Wish you were here.

Just last week I was able to buy a pair of $105 face value tickets for just $34 on StubHub; by showtime Monday, prices were as low as $12. 

Prices aren't nearly that low for Wednesday's show at the much smaller Auditorium (as the UC welcomes Iron Maiden; I won't be there) and Friday back at the United Center, but if you're a Pink Floyd fan, I highly recommend trying to get there. 

Gilmour is only hitting four North American cities on this tour--L.A., Toronto, Chicago and New York--and has hinted that he may not be long for the road. And sadly, music this good, simply isn't being created anymore.

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