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October 6, 2006

Pink Floyd legend "shines on" with epic performance

I was brought up listening to my parents’ music, so artists like Miles Davis and Paul Simon were part of my early musical education. While those artists are still among my favorites, I’ve never forgotten the first album that was all mine. After years of borrowing albums from my parents, my Dad gave me my first CD. He chose wisely, giving me Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, an album that he loved in his youth. Now I was ready to enter a new sonic realm. I ran back to my room with the CD and listened to it straight through, amazed at how each song flowed right into the next as if they were one. Twelve years and countless listens later, I found myself in Tinley Park, patiently awaiting the performance of Roger Waters, bassist and primary creative force of Pink Floyd, on his Dark Side of the Moon tour.

Waters took the stage to a remarkable ovation from the crowd at the First Midwest Amphitheatre. The only thing rivaling the enormous rain clouds were the equally enormous and unmistakable marijuana clouds wafting through the arena. (Apparently many fans of the band have not changed some of their youthful habits in the last 30 years.) A father-and-son duo in front of me were bonding over a joint and a beer. The son thought he saw seagulls flying towards him during the concert. I calmly asked “Like that one?” and pointed straight ahead as if an army of birds was heading towards our section. The man hit the deck in an attempt to avoid enemy fire, giving me an unobstructed view of the stage.

Waters played “In the Flesh” from The Wall to kick off the evening. The first set consisted mostly of songs from The Wall, Animals, Wish You Were Here, and The Final Cut, with several solo efforts sprinkled in. In a touching tribute to Pink Floyd founder and recluse Syd Barrett, who died in July, Waters played “Shine On You Crazy Diamond I–V.” Barrett left the band before its peak in the mid-1970s. During the epic song, pictures of Barrett, Pink Floyd’s greatest creative muse, were displayed on the screen behind the stage. It was Barrett’s reclusive genius that inspired much of the band’s material, most notably the album Wish You Were Here and the song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”

The first set merely served as an appetizer, considering what was to come. Over an hour later, Waters grabbed the microphone and told the audience “We’ll take a 15-minute break and then come back to play Dark Side of the Moon.” This is what everybody had been waiting for.

Even today, the impact of Dark Side of the Moon is legendary. Its bizarre synchronicity with The Wizard of Oz remains a part of the album’s mythos. I suggest playing the album alongside the movie to everyone who reads this—it is a real trip. It also remained on the Billboard 200 for a record 741 weeks, finally falling off the charts in 1988, 15 years after its initial release.

The quadraphonic sound system employed at the Amphitheatre perfectly captured the symphonic nature of the album. It begins with a heartbeat and then slowly moves into a short instrumental entitled “Speak To Me.” The transitions from “Breathe” to “On the Run,” and then “On the Run” to “Time” are fluid, natural progressions. The colors on the screen changed from song to song, giving the music a visual representation. There were no breaks between songs, no pauses for water or funny anecdotes about making the album. The album as a pure work of art was on display, and no background information was necessary to enjoy it.

By playing the album in its entirety, Waters reinforced what I have always believed about Pink Floyd: that each album is a single, indivisible entity. It is why I always play Pink Floyd’s album from start to finish and never shuffle any of the discography the way I might for Led Zeppelin. The aural collage of guitars, basses, drums, keyboards, and stirring saxophone solos made this performance the single greatest musical event I will ever witness.

The songs became new while retaining what made them revolutionary three decades ago. Waters’s voice has aged, and even his accent has changed (the only real departure from the original work the fact that he says “tunes” as opposed to the “chunes” of his youth). After two long hours, the set ended with “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” before fading into total darkness.

The musical purist in me yearned for no encore. I mean, how could Waters top himself after that? Yet, the fan in me had another wish. So when he returned to play “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” I could not complain. “Comfortably Numb” closed the performance, which lasted nearly three hours, and could easily rival Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” in intensity and musical depth. I left fulfilled rather than drained, and I will treasure the memory of the concert like I treasure the album itself—both will always a part of me.