Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason leads an all-star band through his former band’s early-era songs at a concert filmed at London’s Roundhouse in May 2019.
Given the sad but enduring enmity between David Gilmour and Roger Waters, and the death of keyboardist Rick Wright in 2008, Pink Floyd fans have long accepted we’ll never experience the legendary British band in concert again. Indeed, even though I saw the group perform live once, in 1980, the core quartet, completed by drummer Nick Mason, was augmented by eight additional musicians, and they played “The Wall” and only “The Wall.”
The truth is, we’ve had nothing but Pink Floyd tribute bands for more than four decades.
That spectacle impressed, but there was a lot more Pink Floyd I wanted to feel at concert volume rattling my bones. Naysayers may balk that a group of five middle-aged session players led by the 76-year-old Mason from behind his sprawling double-bass drums and gong is a mere simulacrum of the real thing, but the truth is, we’ve had nothing but Pink Floyd tribute bands for more than four decades. Gilmour is a brilliant guitarist, and Waters was the band’s conceptual mastermind, but given their tendency to rewrite or shun parts of their history, Mason has more justification for covering his old band’s catalog.
A distinctive drummer whose creativity was always underrated, he was the peacekeeping timekeeper who held things together, at least for a wonderful stretch. He also served as the band’s historian and archivist; published in 2004, his book “Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd,” is a treasure.
The show the drummer took on the road in mid-2018 as Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets was a gift to anyone whose love of the band goes deeper than “The Dark Side of the Moon,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Animals” and “The Wall.” Nothing from those classic-rock staples or any album that followed made the setlist. Instead, for two hours a night, Nick and his talented buddies gleefully romped through the early psychedelic pop tunes written by original leader Syd Barrett, as well as soared on the entrancing art-rock of what some call “the Amazing Pudding” period, the years between Syd’s tragic burnout in 1968 and the beginning of the band’s unexpected superstardom in 1973.
Few would have thought we’d witness one of the original band members playing deep-cut gems such as “Bike,” “Point Me at the Sky,” “If,” “Vegetable Man” and “Childhood’s End.” Intimately documenting a show at London’s storied Roundhouse in May 2019, the film is a well-curated introduction to lesser-known Floyd for younger listeners (the set also includes slightly more familiar songs such as “One of These Days” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”), as well as a smart historical overview for devotees, with plenty of nods to longtime fans: The movie starts with a suspenseful slow-motion crawl through the mountains of gear on stage, mimicking the fabulously trippy 1972 concert film “Live at Pompeii.”
That movie remains my first pick for Floyd on celluloid, but this one takes second place, and like the earlier film, it includes just enough behind-the-scenes interview snippets to offer insight into the participants’ mindset. “Especially with this material, which people literally only know from records, you can’t really imagine it being a real thing…that’s why I love it, making this stuff living and breathing,” says bassist Guy Pratt, a veteran sideman for the Pink Floyd family.
An unreadable Sphinx at the back of the stage in most vintage concert footage, glimpsed only occasionally amid the “wow, man” liquid-light show, Mason finally gets some time in the bright clear spots here, often grinning proudly and displaying something rarely seen from Pink Floyd: He’s having jolly good fun, and that’s contagious.
Born the year the Beatles arrived in America, Jim DeRogatis began voicing his opinions about rock ’n’ roll shortly thereafter. He is an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago, and together with Greg Kot, he co-hosts “Sound Opinions,” the weekly pop-music talk show heard on 150 Public Radio stations and via podcast. DeRogatis spent 15 years as the pop-music critic at The Chicago Sun-Times and has written 10 books about music, including “Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly”, “Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs” and “Turn on Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock.”