How good is Dark Side? (originally posted 13/10/13)

By ProgBlog, Apr 10 2014 09:21PM

On Friday night (11/10/13) I went to see Think Floyd, the UK’s premier Floyd tribute band billed as “The definitive Pink Floyd Experience.” 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Pink Floyd classic The Dark Side of the Moon and the four member band, augmented by a female vocalist (with all the right moves) and a saxophonist managed to recreate the album live with more than a little aplomb.

The show, introduced with a very neat Floyd mash-up, worthy of Speak to Me itself, contained a remarkable array of highlights from the Pink Floyd songbook. These spanned from See Emily Play up to What do you Want from Me from The Division Bell, taking in some obvious tracks and also a thoughtfully planned but rather unusual medley pertinent to the venue: Green is the Colour / Careful with that Axe, Eugene which Think Floyd had found was played at the Fairfield Halls in 1970. One of the tracks selected from The Wall also seemed an odd choice at first, but was again a clever nod in recognition of their status of a tribute band: In the Flesh.

From the outset it was obvious that the band had worked hard on the sound. Richard Morse really could have been Dave Gilmour; the trademark armour-plated guitar sound was spot on and Steve Farmer’s drumming was very much like Nick Mason. Bassist Lewis Hall took on the main vocal responsibilities and though he sounded like neither Gilmour nor Waters, he was in tune throughout and performed excellently. One great feature of the real Floyd was the Gilmour/Wright vocal harmony which positively added to the sound; this was missing with the Thinks because Morse was not such a strong singer. Keyboard player Robert Gerrard put in a solid performance, often playing Gilmour’s overdubbed guitar sections though when he had to solo he used just the right authentic sounds. During their full performance of Dark Side, The Great Gig in the Sky had the hairs on my arms standing up – that was my favourite moment of the show.

The light show was impressive and, from my seat a couple of rows in front of the mixing desk, the quality of the sound was really good. Despite external appearances, the Fairfield Halls does have fantastic acoustics. By my estimation they managed to sell around 400 tickets; the upper stalls and the balcony were curtained off, creating an appropriately-sized auditorium. The execution of the show was almost faultless. The one minor glitch was at the beginning of Wish You Were Here when the acoustic guitar amplification didn’t work, but in the overall scheme of things it was totally unimportant.

I didn’t know how much I was going to enjoy the show. Going to see the real article creates a sense of anticipation, it’s more of an event. After all, the real Floyd wrote all the material. The Thinks recreated the experience but without that initial sense of excitement and, obviously, less of the theatrics. But to go and hear the music played well means a great deal. Pink Floyd won’t reform and you could do far worse than going to see the Thinks if you want to hear Pink Floyd music played live.

I have a soft spot for the Barrett-era Floyd; the psychedelic whimsy tinged with a darker edge. I also love the spacey-Floyd, the sonic pioneers moving from A Saucerful of Secrets through Atom Heart Mother and Meddle to Dark Side, where their vision coalesced in a way they could hardly have imagined. Wish You Were Here is an admirable follow-up, but it’s here in the title track that the seeds were sown for the descent from progressive visionaries to mainstream rock that in my opinion is of lesser artistic merit. The instrument of change was the strummed acoustic guitar and from a solitary track on WYWH it took more of a central role in Animals, bookending the three main tracks but also appearing in Dogs; simplistic acoustic guitar riffs formed an integral part of The Wall, The Final Cut and, inevitably, the first Roger Waters solo album The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking. Waters is on record commenting on the lack of musical input from Wright and Mason during Animals and subsequently. This is quite interesting because the Floyd were road testing Raving and Drooling, the forerunner to Dogs, during the live shows to promote WYWH which presumably included input from the keyboard player and, to a lesser extent, the drummer. The Wall seems to have been presented to the Floyd as an almost complete concept, thereby largely limiting the potential for input.

It’s the lack of input from Wright in particular that reflects a qualitative difference between Dark Side and The Wall. Chris Welch suggested that Waters was seeking a more direct sound in response to the rise of punk and new wave, and was less inclined to want to include Wright’s jazz or symphonic flourishes, even though these were a defining part of Dark Side; Dark Side was successful because it was an amazingly well balanced and executed concept. The lyrics inspired me as a young student; the sonic links, created from explorative journeys that first appeared on the title track of the second Floyd album but can be picked out in both Atom Heart Mother and Echoes, achieved perfection on Dark Side; the expansion of the musical palette by innovative VCS3 and tape effects and the insertion of the recorded answers to a set of questions posed to studio staff and other musicians aid the seamless segue between tracks and help to create the feeling of a unified concept. I’ve since realised that the clever use of external backing vocalists and melodic saxophone, which were beyond my limited experience of prog at the time, added to and aided the overall sound. The engineering and production are as near perfect as you can get and the package is completed by a simple sleeve design that has become an icon in its own right, forming a mandala in the centre of the vinyl.

My first copy of the album was bought in 1973 for £2 from a record shop on Duke Street that formed part of Barrow indoor market. The posters and stickers that came with the album graced my walls for many years; the exotic and mysterious pyramids captured my imagination as a 14 year old schoolboy and the prism motif tapped into my love of physics. I’m now listening to a twentieth anniversary edition on CD and I still play air guitar to Dave Gilmour’s solo on Time...

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