Saturday, August 5, 2006

Review: Pink Floyd's "Pulse"

Last Friday, I stopped by J&R here in NYC to pick up a copy of Pulse, the latest dvd from Pink Floyd. I couldn't find it in the Floyd section of the music bin, so I asked for help. The salesman looked, shook his head in disbelief, and walked away muttering, "Third time this month." He called out to someone, announcing that they were out of stock again on Pink Floyd Pulse. Then he turned back to me, saying, "I just don't understand it...this is the third order we've gone through this past month—check back on Wednesday and we'll have more."

Well, having finally gotten Pulse and watched it once, I can't say I share that salesman's astonishment. This is a dvd that deserves to jump off shelves. If you are or ever have been a lover of Pink Floyd's transformative art; if you have ever admired the visuo-sonic splendor of this British band that changed everything in modern music; then you'll most likely want to have this set in your library.

The package (I paid $18 at J&R) contains two dvds and about four hours of content. The featured show is a 1994 concert from Earls Court, London, that has appeared before in VHS and is here remastered, given some additional content, and geeked-out to maximize the Floyd experience.

The concert opens with the band's classic overture piece, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, which was originally written as a kind of an appeal, a call back to sanity toward their founder, Syd Barrett, who died last month. For my money, whether you're an auto mechanic, a computer programmer, a painter, writer, or poet—if you have any creative spark within you (and we all by Nature do), this song can be your inspiration.

Much of the concert material comes from the band's two albums that are most likely to outlast them by a long stretch: Wish You Were Here and the epoch-making Dark Side of the Moon. DSOM is in fact played in its entirety during the second half of the concert. The extraordinary artist Storm Thorgerson, who created all of the band's album art, contributes video and animation, in collaboration with the Floyd's producer and light man, Marc Brickman. The film is shown on the "pupil" of the eye-shaped stage, on a circular drop screen bordered, as is the proscenium, by strobes, lasers, and box spots. If, like me, you've had the misfortune of never seeing a Floyd concert in person, then this is likely to be your closest experience of their often breathtaking symphony of music, poetry, film, light, and special effects*.

What's missing on this disk is Roger Waters, and that is admittedly a fairly significant shortage. If you can't have Pink Floyd without Waters, then perhaps you'll want to pass on this one. But after a few minutes know...wishing he was there; it is relatively easy to settle into the experience of "dry Floyd" (without Waters). Gilmour provides inspired performances and solos throughout, and Richard Wright's keyboard work is, under any circumstances, soaringly moving and imaginative.

The performances of the material from DSOM alone are worth the price of this dvd. Although the lack of Waters' steely edge is noticeable here and there, it's a very satisfying performance overall, even in Great Gig in the Sky (though it must be added, there will never, ever be another Clare Torry). When they came to the end of Eclipse, I stood up and applauded loudly in my living room—with no one to hear it except my befuddled cat. It is an irresistible impulse: after all, this band received a gift, a visitation such as is rarely encountered, in art or anywhere else, for that matter. Some 40 years after they formed this band and began the process of transforming modern music, watching them perform still stirs the soul. If you listen to Time, Great Gig in the Sky, or Shine On, and aren't moved to the core of your being, then maybe it's time to check your "Pulse."


*footnote for wingnuts only: No, Osama did not get the idea for the deed from going to a Floyd concert and seeing the airplane explode into the proscenium at the climax of "On the Run". But we agree, it is kind of eerie to see nowadays.

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