Somewhere in the latter days of the previous century, a journalist wrote that the return of Kraftwerk was more relevant than the return of Pink Floyd. Even as a lifelong Floyd-anorak I had to agree with that opinion, but I need to confess that their quirky Autobahn has been in my personal top-10 for decades. It is as essential as, for instance, Echoes.
But things can rapidly change and in the second millennium, the German kling-klang machine transformed itself in a money-grabbing caricature of its former self. Just like Pink Floyd ©1987, they trans-substantiated from a band into a brand.
Nobody would have predicted that two out of the three remaining Pink Floyd members would play an important role in the musical fish-pond of today. And yet…
Roger Waters has issued a live US + THEM that is loosely built around his latest (and excellent) studio album Is This The Life We Really Want? (Read our review at: Louder than Words.) If you take a closer look at the tracklisting you see that only three numbers of that album have been incorporated and that the rest (18 tracks) are basically a Pink Floyd greatest hits package. Nothing wrong with that. You need to give the people what they want, the Reverend included.
I know Waters has left his former band for 35 years now, but I can't get used to singers who replace the David Gilmour parts. They may look as uncombed as Gilmour in the seventies, but they still sound as a surrogate band. It also feels to me that saxophone player Ian Ritchie was having something of an off day on this release. The girl choir, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from Lucius sing heavenly but seem to have taken their outfits from a Star Trek TOS garage sale.
All in all, they’re a weird lot, but an excellent and tight band. Roger Waters walks around a lot, spastically attacking his bass guitar and happily mumbling to himself, like grandpa on a family reunion.
I find this release very moving at places, especially with the classic pieces that are more directed towards Waters, than on a David Gilmour solo concert. I love the fact that ‘Brick’ was given a long treatment with the intro piece ‘The Happiest Days Of Our Lives’ and that it was extended with part three of the song, instead of the pretty superfluous ‘Ballad of Jean Charles de Menezes’ that can be heard on his (abominable) Wall album.
It also needs to be said that Roger Waters is getting old and somehow one can hear that. The boys are not getting any younger and David Gilmour’s voice, as well, has suffered as could be witnessed on some of his Von Trapped Family video streams.
As an old and grumpy man myself I love the shots of young people enjoying and singing to the music, often with tears in their eyes. Makes me think of me, some 30-40 years ago…
Tears in my eyes are still my subjective parameter to measure the quality of a Pink Floyd related product. Wish You Were Here does it every time, so logically on US + THEM as well. On the scale of used Kleenex tissues, this is a very good product, even if Shine On You Crazy Diamond is missing.
Who says "Roger Waters" can't ignore the political messages he likes to throw around, sometimes even interfering with the music as in Money that is split into two parts by (images of) an atomic explosion. But in other places, it is as if the editors didn't dare to show the political messages too much… afraid that it might hurt the selling figures. Money, it’s still a gas.
Despite some flaws, US + THEM is as good as it gets. Roger Waters has taken back the leadership of what was once laughingly named Pink Floyd.
Live At The Roundhouse could be a live document of an entirely different band. There is only one point of convergence between Roundhouse and US + THEM and that is the presence of One Of These Days. For the rest, both products are completely contrasting.
Live At The Roundhouse from Saucerful of Secrets is very close to fantastic although it doesn’t pretend to sound like Pink Floyd at all. Nick Mason has always been the coolest member and he is the only one who has been present in all Floydian incarnations from the past fifty-five years. He was already a member when the band went under the name Abdabs or another of those silly names they had at their beginning.
While Gilmour and Waters try to be a carbon copy of their previous grandeur Mason seems to have said 'fuck it'. He assembled a gang of cool-sounding dudes, playing pub rock style covers of a band Mason once used to drum for. In a way it's blasphemous and that is what it makes so attractive.
These guys seem to have fun when they play a song, especially Guy Pratt, but he has always been some kind of a nutjob. He should assemble his many rock'n'roll anecdotes in a book and call it My Bass And Other Animals or something like that if he ever finds the time.
While the kids are having fun, grandpa Mason sits behind his drums friendly smiling and overlooking the brats on stage. It’s, in a way, very satisfying to watch. I feared a few times that Nick might fall asleep, but it was a false alert.
On two occasions I found an Easter egg that crept into the music, maybe there are more. Interstellar Overdrive has snippets of Embryo, The Narrow Way and Matilda Mother buried in the mix. The Nile Song has an obvious Sex Pistols reference smuggled in.
Two of the musicians have a link with The Orb hemisphere. Guy Pratt and keyboard player Dom Beken have been in the Transit Kings with Orb guru Alex Paterson and this clearly shows on Obscured By Clouds that gets an almost ambient house rendition.
The biggest surprise is the return, not of the son of nothing, but Atom Heart Mother, in a condensed but oh so admirable way. Pass me the Kleenex box, please.
The concert that I witnessed a long time ago in Antwerp, if I remember it well, ended with One Of These Days. I used that occasion to have a leak as I have always found it one of the Floyd’s lesser tracks.
For me, it didn't need to be on Roundhouse, nor US + THEM.
Time for the encores.
Does it need to be said that the Celestial Voices part of A Saucerful of Secrets is about the most beautiful piece of rock music ever? It beats Comfy Numb with at least half a block.
To end the gig Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets even manages to transform one of the worst songs of Pink Floyd into the next big 1968 thing, as memorable as The Monkees Porpoise Song. Point Me At The Sky is an unforgettable way to say goodbye.
Buy US +THEM for the jukebox hits, buy Live At The Roundhouse for the fun.
Oh, by the way, which one…?
Saucerful of Secrets is Dom Beken, Lee Harris, Gary Kemp, Nick Mason & Guy Pratt.
♥ Libby ♥ Iggy ♥