New Musical Express, November 1974
Floyd Juggernaut:The Road to ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’?
By Nick Kent
On 14nov74, approximately seven thousand people washed their hair and traveled down to the Empire Pool, Wembley, to witness the Pink Floyd live. Almost everyone, that is, except David Gilmour – his hair looked filthy there on stage, seemingly anchored down by a surfeit of scalp grease and tapering off below the shoulders with a spectacular festooning of split ends. Rather like Bill’s locks, in fact. Bill was sitting next to me throughout the concert y’see. Said he came from Hayward’s Heath, Sussex – and well, he did have something of the patent Gilmour style about him: stringy unwashed hair parted in the middle and furrowed behind the ears, an earnest compliment of peach- fuzz masquerading as facial hair, plimsolls – the lot, in fact, even though his face lacked Gilmour’s bully-boy well-formed features, substituting a kind of bleary-eyed doggedness which wrinkled up every time he took a blast off one of a constant series of ‘cool jays’.
‘Good stuff, this,’ Bill muttered. ‘We get it from this spade guy, down in Brighton. Straight off the boat it comes.’
Bill said he didn’t go much on any other kinds of stimulant. He also didn’t like much music. Said it almost boastfully. Only a few albums. And the Floyd of course. ‘I’ve got a good stereo, mind. Big speakers.’ So what does he do with it?
‘I’ll tell you. I mean I like to get really, y’know really stoned – spaced, y’know, and I put on me Floyd…ah, Meddle or Dark Side of the Moon – that track “Great Gig in the Sky”, and I’m laying there between the speakers really spaced, getting off on the stereo crossovers.’ Stereo crossovers?
‘Yeah, y’know, when the sound goes from channel to channel. Phasing and that. Those are the bits I like best.’
Bill’s girlfriend ‘Jiff’ thinks that the Pink Floyd are the best group in the whole world. ‘They’re taking music to this whole new level. It’s really…’Cosmic?
‘Yes, that’s just what I was going to say.’
‘One thing I’ve always taken into consideration, and which sums up, for me anyway, the fundamental personality crisis inherent in the old Floyd is that Syd was an artist and the other three were all student architects. I think that says an awful lot, particularly when you study the kind of music the Floyd have gone on to play since that time.’
That quote came courtesy of Peter Jenner, who confided the same to me some months ago. I’d almost forgotten it until about halfway through the Floyd’s Wembley set, straight after the three new numbers had been performed.
At 7.55 p.m. I’d entered the Empire Pool toting healthy expectations for a thoroughly enjoyable evening of entertainment at the very least, already. At 10.45 p.m. I left the same hall possibly more infuriated over what I’d just witnessed than I can ever remember being over any other similar event. Angry and rather depressed. It was hell. But let’s begin at the beginning.
At 8.20 p.m. or thereabouts the four members of Floyd saunter on stage. It is not a spectacular entrance. In fact they wander on rather like four navvies who’ve just finished their tea break and are about to return slowly to the task of tarring a section of main road. After approximately five minutes of slightly labored tuning up, the band start their first number of the set – a new composition entitled ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’. It is very slow, rather low on melodic inventiveness, each note hanging in that archetypically ominous stunted fashion that tends to typify the Floyd at their most uninspired. The song itself is duly revealed to be of very slight mettle: the chords used are dull, as is the pace.
The song distinctly lacks ‘form’. And then there are the lyrics.
‘Come on you raver, you seer of visions / Come on you painter, you piper, you prophet, and shine,’ sings Roger Waters at one point, his voice mottled by a slightly squeamish, self-consciousness of timbre, not to mention the fact that he also appears at this point to be somewhat flat. The lyrics are not very good you see. Pretty much like sixth form poetry – prissy, self-conscious and pretentious.
‘You were caught in the crossfire of childhood and stardom / Blown on the steel breeze / Come on, you target for far-away laughter / Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr and shine.’
The song is for and about Syd Barrett. He could have deserved better. The thoroughly unimpressive beginning is duly followed by the second of the three new numbers to be showcased in this section. ‘Raving and Drooling’ is motivated by a rhythm somewhat akin to that of a human heartbeat with further references gathered from numerous Floyd stylized devices.
Wright drags some suitably Moog-oriented ‘primal-screams’ from one of a mighty arsenal of keyboard instruments, Waters manipulates a stolid, simplistic bass-pattern, Mason plays one of the two or three standard rhythms he habitually employs – usually incorporating much emphasis on the tom-toms and cymbals – while Gilmour blithely chunks out a ‘One of These Days’ rhythm stab on his guitar.
The song is again of incredibly minor import, Waters doing his whole ‘Careful With That Axe, Eugene’ tormented horse-faced routine – ‘Raving and drooling I feel on his neck with a scream / He had a whole lotta terminal shock in his eyes / That’s what you get for pretending the rest are not real,’ etc., etc.
Pretty undistinguished stuff except for the fact that yours truly noted that the first line was wrenched out in much the same way that Barrett sang ‘Wolfpack’ on his second solo album. Otherwise more identikit Floyd bereft of any real originality or inspired conceptualized cognizance. So then there was ‘Gotta Be Crazy’, [sic] the magnum opus of this dubious triumvirate for which Waters had regurgitated the old Dark Side of the Moon study of society-and-its-destructive-pressures gruel to even more facile conclusions.
One could of course begin by pointing out that the song features a fairly decent melody – a fetching minor chord progression strummed out by Gilmour who also sings Waters’ lyrics – ‘You gotta be crazy, you gotta be mean / You gotta keep your kids and your car clean / You gotta keep climbing, you gotta keep fit / You got to keep smiling, you gotta eat shit!’
Boy, what an indictment on the whole bourgeois high-pressured schism of our time! But then again, who better than the Floyd to commandeer such a grievous lambasting of the aforementioned lifestyle when after all I can’t think of another rock group who live a more desperately bourgeois existence in the privacy of their own homes.
And whaddyamean, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones… Water’s hasn’t even begun yet! I mean, here he is concluding this mighty epic with a potent line of bland psychological causes for his hapless victim’s doomed condition – ‘Who was born in a house full of pain / Who was sent out to play on his own’ – when only a few verses prior to this he avidly gloats over the poor bastard’s decline and fall – ‘And when you lose control, you’ll reap the harvest you have sown…So have a good drown and you’ll go down alone.’ There’s obviously something here that doesn’t, how you say, correlate. Not to mention a very perverse sense of morality at work. So there are the lyrics – which I personally find quite offensive – and I still haven’t mentioned the song’s musical construction beyond that pleasing opening strum section which I forgot to mention sounded like the kind of chord structure the old Wyatt-Hopper- Ratledge Soft Machine used to do way back when.
Unfortunately, the Floyd, as always, let the song sprawl out to last twice as long as it should, summoning the aid of some of the most labored bouts of aural padding imaginable. I mean, the very least one would expect from a song like this would be a tight, incisive structure, but then again incisiveness has never been something the post-Syd Floyd have prided themselves on, and so one has to wade through labored sections of indolent musical driftwood before lo, the plot is resumed and one is sent careering back to our Roger’s bloated denunciation:
‘Gotta be sure, you gotta be quick / Gotta divide the tame from the sick / Gotta some of us docile and fit / You gotta keep everyone buying this shit.’
‘Buying this shit’???
Explain Mr. Waters, if you please. The song ends, as I stated earlier on, with a mildly potent ‘J’accuse’ blast of postured psychological cause-and-effect ranting, leaving the audience with a twenty-minute interval in order to gather themselves for a further assault.
The second half is, of course, taken up by the whole Dark Side of the Moon presentation. Visuals for the new numbers had been muted to a minimum: two sets of spotlights tastefully flanking the stage throughout, while three mirror-balls were put into operation during ‘Raving and Drooling’. But Dark Side was to be graced by the projection of a special film made as a visual compliment to the music. Again the Floyd light into the first section of the effort. More assured…but God, they look so uninspired.
Wright’s solo Moog doodling signals the first reel of the film being unleashed on the audience – random shots of a plane taking off, viewed from the cockpit, a garish cartoon segment of touchdown on an alien planet ending with a section of total incendiary destruction.
S’all right mind you. Very obvious and that, but it keeps you engaged if not enthralled. It’s only when you’re informed by an intimate of the Floyd’s entourage that the likes of Lindsay Anderson and Nicholas Roeg – i.e., the best film directors in the country – were at the outset interested in helping out on the film until they actually came up against the Floyd and immediately made their excuses in order to opt out that it all starts to fall into perspective again.
It’s also around this time that you start realizing how incredibly limited the band seem to be as musicians. As a rhythm section, Mason and Waters are perhaps the dullest I’ve ever witness fill a large auditorium, the former going through his tedious tricks most of the time, and falling apart at those unscripted junctures when the band are forced to involve themselves at attempts at spontaneity (these junctures of course are very few and far between, due to the situation of the whole show being molded around the constrictive dictates of the visual presentation which depends ultimately on stop-gap timing).
Waters is not a very imaginative bass player, and doesn’t improve things by incorporating a tone akin to the dull atonal thud one gets when hitting the strings of a piano with a rubber hammer. Wright is merely an adequate keyboard player, and always seems uncomfortable when forced to take action (at one point he attempted some gospel-tinged pianistics to compliment the fine performance of Vanetta Fields and Carlena Williams’ ‘Great Gig in the Sky’ segment and muffed it badly).
The weakness creates numerous watersheds in the music which just scream for some inspired interjection, whether in the form of a Ratledge- styled piece of inspired doodling or even one of those quasi- Herbie Hancock soft-jazz flurries which every young dolt in an up-and-coming progressive unit seems perfectly adept at pulling off these days. Wright really hasn’t improved that much since the old Floyd days; only the arsenal of keyboards has been added to.
Finally there’s Gilmour – who, although an adequate guitarist, projects little personality in his playing, well doused in his solos are in the blues guitar school traditions.
Here again a lack of inspiration fails to perceive vast holes in the music which could so easily be cemented in by some tasteful rhythm work or a short, tight solo such as he is capable of.
So anyway the Floyd battle on with their films (more obvious footage of currency for ‘Money’ plus some shots of ‘political leaders’ for ‘Brain Damage’ – is this a political statement, boys?) and their tapes and their perfect PA system, and the audience are loving it.
Those still awake, that is. Our Mr Erskine was being flanked by somnambulant corpses on his side of the fence while I noticed a few bedraggled-looking souls dozing off in my corner. Even our old mate Bill – remember him? – was rendered inert for some ten minutes until the applause for ‘Money’ brought him around.
Finally the Moon set is completed and the band walk off to ecstatic applause. They eventually return for an encore – no ‘thank-yous’ or anything…I mean that would be just too much to ask, now wouldn’t it – and the band do ‘Echoes’.
Visuals are now relegated to luminous green orbs of circular light projected on the big screen (they never seem to really be spinning properly), while towards the end the band’s ankles are engulfed in – wait for it – ‘dry ice’.
The above constituted what could easily be the most boring concert I’ve ever been forced to sit through for review purposes. Mind you, the Floyd’s themselves were reportedly none too enamored by the event either: apparently there was a nasty fight between the band after the set which culminated in a sound man being sacked and some guy from Island Studios being brought in at short notice to replace him. Having been informed of this, we decided to curb our venom long enough to give the band a second chance and go back on the Friday night. This time the sound had indeed improved beyond all recognition and the first half went pretty smoothly until there arose some ‘contretemps’ betwixt Roger Waters at this most morose and someone who dared yelled “Get on with it!’ during yet more labored tuning up in order to preface ‘Gotta be Crazy’. [sic]
‘We’re going as fast as we can,’ muttered Waters derisively, sounding amazed that this young upstart actually dare criticize them. If that weren’t bad enough, someone yelped out, of all things, ‘1967,’ straight afterwards.
This was too much for Waters. ‘It’s not 1967, it’s 1974,’ he snapped back. Anyway, Friday’s show still pinpointed how poor the band are at jamming or really sustaining either drama or dramatics, flailing around to little avail in their attempts to pad out what are at the best of times minor works. And the band’s musicianship was, as before, questionably mediocre.
OK, boys, now this is really going to hurt.
What the two Floyd shows I witnessed on Thursday and Friday amounted to in the final analysis was not merely a kind of utterly morose laziness which is ultimately even more obnoxious than callow superstar ‘flash’, but a pallid excuse for creative music which comes dangerously close to the Orwellian mean for a facile, soulless music that would doubtless rule the airwaves and moreover be touted as fine art in the latter’s version of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
David Bowie, on his “Diamond Dogs”, unwittingly (as far as I can see, anyway) hit upon something which totally invalidates the rest of his similarly facile theorizing on a computerized cruel future planet when he plays, of all things, ‘Rebel Rebel.’
‘Rebel Rebel’, you see, is the ultimate identikit diluted series of computerized rock gestures – the mechanical Stones riff, the brainless lyrics – real Nineteen Eighty Four rock. The Pink Floyd are even closer to that, though. Over the last few years the band have in fact come to establish themselves as the total antithesis of what they started out representing: the whole Brave New World school of rock musicianship which broke loose back in ’66-’67 and brought about real masterpieces like Eight Miles High, Revolver and Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
The Floyd in fact seem so incredibly tired and seemingly bereft of true creative ideas one wonders if they really care about their music anymore. I mean, one can easily envisage a Floyd concert in the future consisting of the band simply wandering on stage, setting all their tapes into action, putting their instruments on remote control and then walking off behind the amps in order to talk about football or play billiards. I’d almost prefer to see them do that. At least it would be honest.
Still, the Floyd can content themselves on one score. They are definitely the quintessential English band. No other combine quite sums up the rampant sense of doomed mediocrity inherent in this country’s current outlook right now. ‘Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.’ Just delete ‘quiet desperation’ (Thoreau, for one, will be pleased) and choose your own depreciative little phrase as an amendment and we’ve got it all pigeonholed very nicely, thank you, squire. And there’s absolutely nothing ‘cosmic’ about any of it, really, now is there?