Nobody could ever accuse Pink Floyd of understatement. Their vision, for all its populist posturing of late, is grandiose and lofty, and their music, too often dismissed as sterile, is meticulous and artful - the state-of-the-art rock. But in concert, Floyd’s art translates as Show. The brilliant portrayals of lunacy and alienation that illuminated Wish You Were Here and Animals, the staple of their concert program, has been diffused by a theatrical style that aims for impact.
It is that very fondness for exaggeration, though, that sustains Pink Floyd’s behemoth appeal. As excessive as they can occasionally be (their show includes no less than seven huge helium balloons, three fireworks fusillades and one mammoth circular projection screen), they are not mindless practitioners of overkill. Instead, they are cunning caterers to hedonism, both the aural and visual variety, and their concerts are sensory banquets. But just as a banquet can be a license for gluttony, so may Pink Floyd’s wide-eyed audience find the current how a bit too much to savor. True to the spirit of hedonism, the sense are inflamed as much as satisfied.
On their last tour, Pink Floyd lugged along a shell of an a airplane as a prop. At Anahiem Stadium, they had a real plane buzz overhead with the salutation WELCOME PINK FLOYD ablaze in computerized lights on the underside. Underneath such a display and the towering hoists and cranes that flanked the outfield stage, the Floyd were mere specks, incidental dwarfs in the making of their own music. Likely that was their intent. Pink Floyd has always been a faceless group. Their fans would be hard pressed to name a single member, and even more at a loss to pick them out at a singles bar. If they ever do play either the dark side or the light side of the moon, rest assured they will bedeck those static craters with helium-filled pigs and acid-hued light shows - any device to heighten their own anonymity.
Their music, when not scattered by an erratic mix, was typically full of splendor, seeming to come from the sky rather than from their arsenal of sound equipment. David Gilmour modified his double-line style of lead guitar with flanges and tape delays, imparting a gripping, appropriate tone of dissonance to the opening Animals segment. Underneath, Rick Wright’s lacy synthesizer fills, and tense organ textures mixed deftly with Roger Waters’ repetitive bass lines and Nick Mason’s tuneful rhythmic flurries. Together, the quartet wove a taut net of powerful sound, disproving the oft-stated notion that electronic music is emotionless. Their passion flowed with a natural force and - dare I say? - ease, impressively full and balanced.
But ultimately a Pink Floyd concert is as much an optical show as a musical one, and it is in this respect that their stance can seem coldest and most frightening. When a ghostly pig - looking fresh from the pages of Animal Farm - is floated over the cheering crowd and then sacrificed in a gratuitous burst of flame, the commentary couldn’t be more obvious or repulsive. During a rabid, Escher-like animation sequence illustrating the Wish You Were Here half of the program, they present a decapitation scene (the head then rots away to a grimy skull), a sea of blood-sprouting tentacles that turn into clawing hands, and a raw muscle twitching on a hook. One can’t help but wonder why they impose such nightmares on an audience to obviously eager to interpret Floyd’s messages as artful revelations. Where is that spirit of transcendence and humanity that has colored even the bleakest of Roger Waters’ lyrics. Where is the restraint that elevates their music? Welcome to the machine, indeed.
The predictable “Money” encore, with its panoply of fireworks and a
blockbuster of a Gilmour guitar solo, seemed a fitting conclusion to
the Floyd circus. Interestingly, while their music has become more
humanistically cynical and melodious, their concerts grow more and
more perfunctory and aloof, amounting to little more than a bombastic
insult. Unlike their records, Pink Floyd’s shows never really
display the organic confidence - or artistry - of one of the most
innovative rock ensembles of the last decade. It’s more of a
precocious affair, a forum for acrimony and disdain, as troubling as
it is magnificent. That their audiences never rise to question the
contradiction, but rather to beg for more, only underscores their
power as illusionists.