There’s been some big name residencies at venues down in London over the years, but the problem for fans is that if a band is big enough to play a week at some relatively intimate venue then the chances are they have the sort of fanbase that will snap up most of the tickets in seconds, mostly via various pre-sales and hospitality packages before the great unwashed get a sniff at them.
And this was exactly the case when Pink Floyd’s legendary guitarist David Gilmour announced 5 nights at London’s iconic Royal Albert Hall (a venue he first played in 1969 !!!). Of course it sold out in minutes but thanks to the joys of the internet someone had posted a pre-sales link to David’s website and after a tense few minutes fumbling to find a credit card two “unreserved standing” tickets were secured to the Friday night show.
Now, when you get unreserved standing tickets for just about any other show it means you’re down on the floor, but when we arrived at the Hall instead of heading down we were directed upwards. Upwards past the Loggia Boxes, then upwards past the first tier boxes, then further upwards past the second tier boxes until we made it up to the Circle. It wasn’t entirely what we were expecting but being relatively early we secured a spot against an ornate railing with a decent view of the stage…
Good job too, if you’re not up sharpish you’ll find yourself peering round a pillar or over someone’s shoulder to get a glimpse of the stage.
The start of the gig was a typically Gilmour understatement. The lights went down and then a solitary spotlight picked out the great man on the stage, clad in jeans and a t-shirt. The laid back 5 A.M. from the new album got things underway before the rest of his all-star band kick in for Rattle That Lock which gets the packed crowd far below us dancing in their seats. The stage set consists of the iconic big, circular back drop which, as you’d expect, is the centerpiece of a stunning light show. Apart from that it’s a very minimalist show where the focus is very much on the music as opposed to flying pigs and suchlike.
Gilmour is clearly among friends, nay disciples, and after a fantastic response to opening the set with three songs from his new album things crank up even higher next…
“Here’s one you will know, this is Wish You Were Here”.
The first half of the set is dominated by David’s solo material, including a guest appearance form his son Gabriel on piano for In Any Tongue, with a scattering of Floyd classics, including Us And Them and Money driving things along. High Hopes from The Division Bell brought part one’s proceedings to a close and everyone headed off to the bar for a drink, or in the posh seats waited for the butler to bring it to them.
The first half of the show had been nothing short of sublime. Gilmour’s voice was spot on and the band just made it all look so effortless, and so much fun.
After the interval the balance switches in favour of Floyd tunes. Now even without checking out the solo tour setlists before the gig up to now I could have pretty much listed what we would be treated to, but it’s fair to say Astronomy Dominie wouldn’t have been on that list. Hearing this track here was one of those genuinely jaw dropping moments where the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
And it was going to get better, if Astronomy Dominie was unexpected, then Fat Old Sun was a complete curve ball which went down an absolute storm. Actually, everything went down an absolute storm. Every change of guitar was cheered, every walk across the stage was cheered and every guitar solo was cheered. I’ve seen some fanatical crowds before but this was at a whole other level.
The Royal Albert Hall was even transformed into a Parisian jazz cafe for The Girl In The Yellow Dress from the new album, a track pretty much unlike anything Gilmour has done before and as the animated video for the song played out on the circular screen behind the band it was easy to get totally lost in the moment.
Music that transports you to another time and place, I didn’t know anyone still did that.
The polite, reserved crowd became less polite and reserved at the end of the main set though, the band came on stage wearing sunglasses (the only props of the evening) and the energy blasting from the stage went through the roof as Run Like Hell threatened to shake the venerable foundations of the Royal Albert Hall. Finally breaking free of their seats the stalls crowd ran down the front as Gilmour and bassist Guy Pratt traded Waters’ venomous lyrics against an alternating green and red backdrop. It was a song that had an extra resonance too, after an afternoon at the Imperial War Museum’s Holocaust exhibition.
Run Like Hell is a song that packs a hell of a punch, especially when delivered like this. Good job the band those sunglasses handy too, looking down from on high it appeared that they had brought every laser in Europe with them…
Of course there were going to be encores, and Time got anyone not already standing to their feet (well everyone with a seat anyway). Breathe is given a little reprise before, inevitably, Comfortably Numb brought down the curtain on an unforgettable, magical evening.
There had been guest appearances on the first night, but although the usual rumours were spreading that tonight there was going to be a “big surprise” in the end there wasn’t, but I don’t think anyone in the Royal Albert Hall really cared.
Actually, it was probably for the best as that would have shifted the focus of attention. Pink Floyd are officially finished and this may well be David Gilmour’s last tour so tonight was all about the man, his music and his guitar.
Gig of the year ?? Oh yes.