Monday, January 20, 2014

No. 136 – Shine On You Crazy Diamond

Performer: Pink Floyd
Songwriters: Rick Wright, Roger Waters, David Gilmour
Original Release: Wish You Were Here
Year: 1975
Definitive Version: Tongue, Tied & Twisted, 1988.

Up until the moment the lights went out when I saw Pink Floyd in 1987, Genesis ruled the roost as far as concert spectacle. Part of the appeal of seeing Pink Floyd, aside from the fact that they were a legendary band and I had someone getting me tickets, was their light show. Being a fan of both The Who and progressive rock made it so when I went to a concert, I wanted to see SOMETHING extraordinary on stage. Of my first dozen or so concerts, only Genesis made that happen.

Mike and I were stage right for Pink Floyd, about halfway up the upper bowl midway back. Just as it had been with Joe Walsh earlier that summer, you still could hear the planes coming in to land at O’Hare roaring overhead. I don’t know whether the Horizon remains in the flight plan, but I’d have to think it might have occurred to someone after 9/11 that maybe flying an airplane so close over an arena that on a given night holds 15,000 people might not be the best idea.

While the roadies were putting the final touches on the stage just before the show, the p.a. announcer helpfully reminded everyone that the Horizon was a nonsmoking venue. Everyone around us just laughed. Yeah, good luck with that at a Pink Floyd show, and almost instantaneously a mushroom cloud of pot smoke rose over the floor.

Then the lights went down and the music started. As the icy synths of this song—the title of which I didn’t know at the time—began, two Varilights on moving cables floated across the stage until they hovered over Rick Wright and Bob Ezrin on keyboards. Meanwhile, a red laser formed shapes on the huge circular screen behind the stage.

LASERS!! Finally! After having been tantalized by The Kids Are Alright preview (used spectacularly, of course, during Won’t Get Fooled Again), I thought lasers were the coolest things ever. I was bummed that Genesis didn’t use them, but Pink Floyd had a higher standard to meet, apparently.

Oh yeah, they used lasers, spectacularly, the whole show. Few were the songs that didn’t include them. Pink Floyd also was the first show I saw that used a projection screen and videos, and each one was interesting. Then they brought out the physical objects—an angel during Learning to Fly in the first half and the infamous crashing airplane and massive pig in the second.

When the pig emerged from behind the projection screen to fly around the arena for a while during One of These Days—the first song of the second half—I’d never heard such a tumult. I didn’t know why, but I knew that the pig was a huge symbol for Pink Floyd and that they brought it back for the stoners in the audience was pretty cool … and hilarious.

Then there was the music. As I mentioned, before I saw Pink Floyd, I didn’t like them. Three hours later, I was a total convert.

When I talked to Scott for the first time after I saw Pink Floyd, he asked with some trepidation how the show was. My four-word review, I think, was “Oh, man. Forget Genesis.” All Scott said was, “I was afraid of that.”

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t as though I loved Genesis any less, but Scott was Team Genesis, and the idea that someone else anywhere might have a better light show was abhorent. Simply put, he didn’t want to hear it.

Well, less than a year later, he saw for himself. In that very same barn, we saw the same show, except that they added Great Gig in the Sky. I didn’t have to ask at the end what Scott thought: I already knew. But he confirmed that the switch flipped at almost the exact moment as it did for me—at the beginning of Shine on You Crazy Diamond. As he put it, as the lasers shot into the projection screen, he thought, “Genesis is in trouble …”

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