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Gilmour Returns to the Royal Albert Hall

Gilmour_AdDavid Gilmour, famed guitar player and vocalist of Pink Floyd fame staged a short tour supporting his new solo album Rattle That Lock visiting several venues in Europe and the U.K. this fall. We caught one of several dates booked at the Royal Albert Hall on 2nd October 2015. It was a lovely evening featuring a nearly equal number of selections from Gilmour’s solo and Floyd output.

Gilmour_AcousticGilmour recently announced the demise of Pink Floyd as the release of his new solo album drew near. The final record under the Floyd banner, The Endless River, out just last year, brought together jams and song ideas that originated during development of the last proper album, 1993’s The Division Bell. The overwhelming impression I got from interviews and press around this project was that it was exhausting, and it made sense that Gilmour later announced the end of the band. Despite this epitaph, it was expected that he would include songs from the Floyd, and there were quite a number of these in the set list, including “Astronomy Domine,” “Fat Old Sun,” “Money,” “Us and Them,” “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” “Wish You Were Here” and closers “Run Like Hell,” and “Comfortably Numb” from their early catalog. In addition, “Sorrow” from A Momentary Lapse of Reason, and “High Hopes” and “Coming Back to Life” from The Division Bell, rounded out the later Floyd material.

During the encore, “Time” and “Breathe (reprise)” from Dark Side Of The Moon called to mind dear departed Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright and the lyrics he delivered so perfectly during Gilmour’s prior tour, supporting On An Island. Somehow it seems so long ago:

Every year is getting shorter; never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I’d something more to say.

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The recent recording Rattle That Lock is packed with music rooted in blues-rock, with a mix of genres sprinkled in, as it was with Gilmour’s last solo outing, On An Island. Despite a rather listless title track, there is much to admire in this work, from jazz-club riffs to haunting slow-hand blues. The best of the new songs came off nicely live. The first three tracks opened the show, followed later by four additional songs “A Boat Lies Waiting,” “In Any Tongue,” “The Girl in the Yellow Dress,” and “Today.” All things considered, a nicely drawn set list of solo and Floyd gems.

As to staging, the psychedelic lighting, stage level and follow spots, and the huge round screen, were again spectacular. A few classic Floyd videos were presented onscreen, and new films for tracks “Rattle That Lock,” and “The Girl In The Yellow Dress” the latter directed by David Madden, were fantastic. For that one, Gilmour suggested we all imagine ourselves at a French café; a fitting image for this jazzy piece and it’s animated imagery. The Royal Albert Hall was long ago the venue for a summer evening concert from Pink Floyd in 1969. During that show, a powerful smoke bomb ended the concert, resulting in a lifetime ban from the hall. Lifted only eight months later, it was a short-term bit of notoriety for the Floyd. The lighting, films, lasers and vapors were present again for Gilmour this time, sans explosions. It was a feast for the eyes and for the proggy-blues fan in all of us.

Gilmour_BandGilmour delivered his typical searing guitar solos expertly and his voice was in good form, with plenty of gravel when needed, but still able to deliver smooth soft tones. His band, mostly returning from the last tour, was professional and tight. Musicians included returning band members, guitarist Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music fame, Jon Carin on keys, guitars, and vocals, Guy Pratt on bass and vocals, and Steve DiStanislao on drums. Joining this time was Kevin McAlea on keys, and Joao De Macedo Mello who supplied expressive winds (Theo Travis played same on the European leg.) Bryan Chambers and Louise Clare Marshall covered backing vocals.

It’s hard to pin down, but something seemed a bit off in the show this time. It feels wrong to blame it on Gilmour’s stage presence, being that he has always been a bit stoic live, rooted in position about his pedals and microphone, eyes often closed. So possibly it was the ordering of the set list, the large number of down-tempo songs, the lack of guest performers, or the mood of the musicians on this particular night, but the whole lacked energy. Having David Crosby and Graham Nash present to sing harmonies on two of Gilmour’s best two solo tracks “On An Island” and “The Blue” was special and poignant on the last tour, and they were present on September 23rd, but not for our show. The last tour also saw visits from Robert Wyatt and David Bowie but no one other than Crosby/Nash appeared this time. And obviously, the absence of Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright was felt. Maybe what we witnessed was actually a bit of serenity from a man who has broken a few of his own chains, free of past encumbrances, owing nothing to anyone, and living in the moment.

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In retrospect, any chance to see this legendary musician is an event, given his continuing stature as one of rock’s greatest guitarists. The tour continues next year where we will catch one of three nights at the Hollywood Bowl – recommended to any fan, particularly as these solo shows are few and far between. Get yourself a ticket and go before the time is gone, and the song over.

Steven Wilson – A Special Night at The Royal Albert Hall

Wilson_RAH_ExteriorSteven Wilson staged two concerts at the Royal Albert Hall on the 28th and 29th of September, 2015. This is the second time I’ve seen him on this tour – the first being earlier this year in San Francisco. That fantastic show, in support of his latest Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015), was very similar to the first night of his two night stop at the RAH. Nearly all of the new work was performed, a concept album that fictionalizes the tragic true story of Joyce Carol Vincent, a young woman found dead in her London apartment, undiscovered and not missed by anyone for over two years. The subject matter anchored an evening of dramatic, inspirational and at times emotionally overwhelming musical theater.

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We caught the second night at the hall. Given many in the audience had been to the first show, Wilson prepared a new set list that included just a few from Hand. Cannot Erase., instead focusing on earlier solo tracks and many Porcupine Tree songs. After a strong opener “No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun” from 2009’s Insurgentes, Wilson intoned, tongue firmly in cheek, “Tonight is a very different show – for those of you who were not here last night, you don’t know what you missed. It was awesome. Tonight we are going to be doing stuff that we don’t know how to play very well.” The band then played a masterful version of “Shesmovedon,” a Porcupine Tree song from 2000’s Lightbulb Sun. Next, he noted that audience members who were present on the prior night would not mind if he brought out the first guest, Ninet Tayeb, to sing the devastating, beautiful lead vocal on “Routine,” from HCE, a show stopping moment that was greeted with rapturous applause. Her vocal was flawless and highly emotive, illuminating the accompanying stop motion animated video of the song’s lonely, heartbroken protagonist. Next up were two more Porcupine Tree songs, “Open Car” the spectacular riff-driven track from 2005’s Deadwing, and “Don’t Hate Me” from 1999’s Stupid Dream by which time it was clear we were being treated to a very unique concert.

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Now mid way through the show, Wilson mentioned there had been rumors that he would be bringing out some “so-called” veteran players, but that instead, “these two shows are very much a celebration of my generation of musicians.” At this, he introduced the next guest, his sometime live and studio guitarist Guthrie Govan, who took on leads for the next three songs “Home Invasion,” “Regret #9,” and “Drive Home” the only track on this evening from his fantastic album The Raven Who Refused To Sing. This song included a projection of director Jess Cope’s haunting artistic video clip featuring it’s sorrowful lead character cleverly rendered by newspaper clippings, illustrating it’s message:

Release all your guilt and breathe
Give up your pain
Hold up your head again
Drive home

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Before launching in, Wilson brought out winds player Theo Travis, who he joked, had to be secreted-away from David Gilmour. Theo played beautifully on this, and the following four tracks that ended the main set. In a surprise move, these were all from earlier Wilson solo albums. Three of these songs “Sectarian,” “No Part of Me,” and “Raider II” were from 2011’s Grace for Drowning with the forth being the title track from 2009’s Insurgentes. Two encores followed, all Porcupine Tree songs. After the first, “Dark Matter,” Wilson came back onstage with Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison for “Lazarus” and “The Sound of Muzak.” Harrison delivered his brand of deft percussion rich with fine work on symbols and, as would be expected, the crowd went wild. The guests and song selections were aimed perfectly at pleasing these dedicated fans, so many which were present for both nights, for very different shows.

Wilson and his concert production team are adept at staging his work live, setting the mood with long dissonant ambient sounds, muted lighting and surrealistic imagery projected on a stunning high definition screen. As with earlier shows in the tour, the lighting techniques were clever and colorful. Sound was crisp and clear, reproduced by the top-notch audio system, which sounded amazing in the acoustic-friendly Royal Albert Hall. Even with all the finery, the primary focus remained on the band members and guest musicians demonstrating their virtuosic skills throughout. From the touring band there were complex rhythms and solos from lead guitar player Dave Kilminster, electronic textures and brisk synth leads from keyboard player Adam Holzman, and a deep, thunderous bottom end and vocal harmonies from Nick Beggs on basses, paired with skilled drummer Craig Blundell. Though he claimed to be a bit worn from the two long performances, Steven delivered his poetic lyrics throughout in fine voice, alternating skillfully between guitar, bass, keys and samples. He displayed his wit and thoughtfulness between tracks as lead raconteur. These elements combined to make up a masterful core set, and a special night for his fans. Wilson remains at the top of the list of artists I’ve seen over these now forty years with his accomplished, expressive body of work and ability to so expressively present it all live in concert. It was all well worth the trip across the “pond!”

 

(photo of Ninet Tayeb used by kind permission of Camila Jurado Photography 2015)