Posts Tagged ‘pink floyd’

Concert Preview: Welcome (Back) to The Machine

Monday, January 6th, 2014

New York-based Pink Floyd tribute band The Machine have long made Asheville NC’s Orange Peel the first or an early stop on their annual winter tour itinerary. The group routinely attracts a packed crowd to the venue for its sound and vision spectacular, a live recreation of the music of one of rock’s best-loved and most influential bands. Once again, this week (Thursday, January 9), the four-piece band will time-travel through the catalog of Pink Floyd, unearthing rarely heard gems (you might hear “Childhood’s End” from 1972′s Obscured by Clouds) right alongside everyone-knows-the-words tunes like “Wish You Were Here.”

And that mix is a key component of The Machine’s appeal. The band strives to put together a set list that satisfies the people who come to hear the well-known hits, and they also manage to please hardcore fans – including this writer – who want to hear relative obscurities such as “Cymbaline.” And in some ways, that could be a real challenge: after all, The Machine is working with a body of music that hasn’t been added to since 1993. Agreeing that they couldn’t get away with playing any given little-known Floyd song every night (say, “Green is the Colour” from the 1969 More soundtrack), drummer and founding member Tahrah Cohen admits, “you can play ‘Comfortably Numb’ and ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ every time. Because those songs transcend time; they’re so relevant in every way to so many people’s lives.”

Continuing on that thought, Cohen explains that for the musicians in The Machine, the goal is to “get your own ego out of the way. When you play great music, you’re just the conduit for that music. When you’re onstage and you play ‘Comfortably Numb’ for the 2000th time, and the entire crowd is going absolutely crazy, you feel alive, too. Get your ego out of the way, and let the music do the rest. It’s not that hard.”

The Machine has experienced some lineup changes since its inception in 1988. While keyboardist Scott Chasolen has been with the group since 2007, and guitarist (originally bassist) Ryan Ball has been in the band for fifteen years, only Cohen remains from the original lineup. But she views those changes as a strength, not a weakness. “Everyone who comes and goes brings something new to the group,” she says. “And it’s very inspiring. Certain people, their forte might be improvising. Some people might be better at groove-oriented playing. Some people are powerful singers.” She goes on to note that in addition to his considerable skills on bass, relative newcomer Adam Minkoff (who joined in 2012) “happens to sound unbelievably like David Gilmour.”

Cohen also makes the point that what the various members bring to the group is less a Pink Floyd influence than an overall musical influence, something that helps keep things fresh. And a visual approach that, er, echoes Pink Floyd helps a great deal as well. As stage personalities, Pink Floyd were never very concerned with how they looked; it was about the music and the visuals – lighting effects, projections, films, and (on the 1980/81 dates, the in-concert construction of The Wall).

The Machine takes a similar approach. The band has its own smaller version of the round “Mr. Screen,” and they use a number of motion picture visuals associated with Pink Floyd. Cohen says that Ryan Ball did “a lot of the video editing” that the band uses onstage, and notes that The Machine “keeps adding lighting effects and films to change things around” from tour to tour. And expressing a sentiment that the Pink Floyd members likely would share, Cohen notes that “it’s nice not having the pressure of being [onstage] individuals. It’s nice to be overshadowed by the music and the aesthetics.”

This week’s show isn’t the only 2014 date for The Machine in Asheville: in May the band will return for an outdoor show where they will be joined by the Asheville Symphony Orchestra, performing an orchestral/rock arrangement of Pink Floyd’s landmark 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. “We have been so lucky in that we have performed with the country’s top orchestras for the past five to seven years. We’ve played with The Atlanta Symphony; Detroit’s symphony, which is renowned; Philadelphia…we’ve played with some heavy hitters,” Cohen says.

“May times when you see a band accompany an orchestra,” Cohen observes, “the orchestral arrangements are a little bit fluffy, a little bit silly. You can see Metallica with an orchestra and say, ‘Okay, that’s very cool,’ but [in our case] Maxim Moston did the arrangements for [The Machine's live reading of] The Dark Side of the Moon. And they’re brilliant; the show is fantastic.”

And while she laughs off my playful suggestion that the group should tackle “Atom Heart Mother Suite” while they’ve got the classical players on hand, she does allow that the May 24 show will include some bonuses, among those “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” and “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.”

But Floyd fans shouldn’t play games and wait for May: this Thursday’s show at The Orange Peel presents a ready opportunity to see and hear The Machine.

(Doors 8pm / Show 9pm / Tickets $16 Advance / $18 Day of Show)

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.

A Look Back at Pink Floyd’s “Point Me at the Sky”

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Released 45 years ago yesterday (and recorded in a single day a mere six weeks earlier), Pink Floyd‘s “Point Me at the Sky” is characterized (by Wikipedia) as “the least readily available of all officially released Pink Floyd recordings. Though it was an a-side, its flip – “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” is infinitely more well-known.

Featuring a gentle-then-shouted lead vocal from guitarist David Gilmour, “Point Me at the Sky” is very much transitional Floyd. Sonically it is very much of the heavy psychedelic style popular in ’68, and though its lyrics deal with space travel, it doesn’t sound much at all like what would later be known as “Space Rock” (Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon being the exemplar of that genre).

Gilmour was still rather new to the band at this point; he had joined the previous December, ostensibly as a fifth member alongside then-leader Syd Barrett. Though the group did a small handful of live dates as a five-piece, by March 1968 Barrett was soon gone, and the group dynamic shifted greatly. The group’s second LP (and first without Syd), A Saucerful of Secrets was released in June ’68. But it’s long suite-like pieces – a rough template for the style the group would later pursue – were certainly not radio fodder. In those days – in the UK, at least – singles were often wholly separate from albums, and aimed at a different audience. “Point Me at the Sky,” then, could in some ways be considered a commercial effort for the fledgling Barrett-less Floyd. That said, it completely failed to chart. It would be the last non-LP single Pink Floyd ever released.

Though the song was composed with bassist Roger Waters, it’s Gilmour’s decidedly more tuneful vocal that fronts the track. Starting off gentle, elegiac, almost like a nursery rhyme, it initially charts a musical path not unlike the more childlike-wonder style Barrett used on Piper at the Gates of Dawn. But suddenly it blasts into a heavy, stomping section – unlike anything the Floyd had committed to tape previously, save perhaps the riffier sections of “Interstellar Overdrive” – before a massed chorus of voices proclaims the title lyrics.

The song has never appeared officially on a vinyl LP, and to date its only CD presence is as part of the bonus CD titled The Early Singles, included as part of the now-deleted 1992 Shine On box set. My own first exposure to this obscurity was via its inclusion on a bootleg/pirate LP I acquired many decades ago, the punningly-titled compilation Dark Side of the Moo.

But through the miracle of YouTube, I present to you Pink Floyd’s promo clip for  “Point Me at the Sky” in all its glory. (Better audio copies exist, but this clip has the advantage of showing our boys mugging for video.)

You may also enjoy the career-spanning Pink Floyd essay I wrote many years ago for Trouser Press.

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.

DVD Review: Going Underground

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Sir Paul McCartney had no role in the making of Going Underground: Paul McCartney, the Beatles and the UK Counter Culture. But to the extent he even knows about it, he must surely approve. As he might say, he’s probably “well chuffed” about it. Extending to feature film length the argument that official Macca biographer Barry Miles (that’s just plain Miles to you and me) made in his 1997 tome Many Years From Now, in the mid 1960s, McCartney – not John Lennon – was the avant-garde Beatle.

The team of docu-filmmakers that brought us Strange Fruit and a host of other thoughtful and well-made music documentaries has been at this game for several years, and they get measurably better at it eahch time. Going Underground may be the best yet, and none of their previous offerings is bad. In Going Underground, the filmmakers employ their standard procedure: talking-head clips of relevant personnel discussing the subject, good BBC-English style narration that avoids hyperbole, and as many audio clips as can be reasonably used.

The talking heads on this one are of special interest, chiefly because (a) several of them were actual participants in the London underground scene in the 1960s and (b) some of them have passed away since they did their interviews for this project, making Going Underground their final public comment on the subject.

Miles was proprietor of Better Books, co-founder of the Indica Gallery, and editor of International Times (for legal reasons referred to as IT). As such he was a linchpin of the underground scene, and – key to this film’s point of view – McCartney’s access point to that scene. So his contribution is crucial to an understanding of the art/poetry/music scene that thrived in mid 1960s London. But John Hopkins (aka “Hoppy”) and producer Joe Boyd were as important. And they’re here, too, weighing in at illuminating length about the scene.

Also on hand are Robert Wyatt and (now-deceased) Mick Farren, both of whom lend weight and humor to the discussion. Lesser-known but nearly as important figures of the underground scene are represented, as well: AMM, a musical collective who are often mentioned when the subject comes up, are nonetheless rarely explored in any detail. But in Going Underground, the avant-garde’s group’s music is excerpted, and drummer Eddie Prevost offers his recollections. For that alone, the film is worthwhile viewing. The knowledgeable contributions of music journalist Chris Ingham (who also composed and played the DVD’s backing score) and underground chronicler Jonathon Greene also add greatly to the discussion.

But there’s much more. Portraying McCarney not as some dilettante observer, but instead as a keen participant, Going Underground uses the Beatles bassist as a vehicle to chart the scene’s rise and fall. Key events are chronicled: the IT bust, the opening of UFO (pronounced in the British idiomatic way: “you-foe”) and the legendary 14 Hour Technicolor Dream. Events that led to the scene’s explosion are examined as well, in particular a poetry reading at Royal Albert Hall (featuring Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg) that woke the sleeping giant that was the London artsy subculture.

At two hours and change, Going Underground has the space to delve into the episodes and trends that were the hallmarks of the London-based movement. By focusing on musical acts such as AMM, Pink Floyd and The Soft Machine, but not ignoring the non-musical side of things, the film presents a fascinating portrait of this influential time-and-place. Highly recommended.

 Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.

Album Review: Various Artists – The Dutch Woodstock (CD+DVD)

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

I’m a hardcore Pink Floyd fanatic. Yeah, one of those lot who insists that the stuff they did before The Dark Side of the Moon is filled with untold riches. The sort who (allegedly) has over 200 lossless audio documents of Floyd concerts, some dating back to the Syd Barrett era (though you can’t hear Syd’s vocals on the low-fidelity bootleg tapes).

And among Floyd aficionados of my stripe, there has long existed an item on that short-list of Holy Grail artifacts: the group’s performance at a 1970 Dutch festival. The group’s entire performance in audio does exist as a bootleg unimaginatively titled Kralingen Pop Festival 28.6.70. But the audio fidelity is pretty dodgy, even for a tape of the era.

But clips from a concert film documenting the festival formed the basis of a little-seen West German theatrical film called Stamping Ground; that 1971 film included Pink Floyd performing two popular set-pieces, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” and “A Saucerful of Secrets,” both originally from their second LP. Stamping Ground has never gotten a video release, and so the Floyd clips have circulated only amongst hardcore traders.

Until now, that is. The 2013 set breathlessly titled The Dutch Woodstock brings together a DVD that contains all of Stamping Ground plus other footage presumably cut from the finished film. The package also includes two audio CDs that offer up even more music; the contents of the DVD and CDs don’t match; there are a number of performances unique to one or the other.

The audio is still a bit iffy, but it’s heads above the bootleg versions. In all likelihood the CD concert audio was taken from the audio strips of the 16mm or 35mm film shot at the festival. And while the packagers of this 2013 set may have gone a bit overboard by hyping Kralingen Pop as a “Dutch Woodstock,” the lineup is quite impressive.

A mere ten months after the legendary festival on Max Yasgur‘s farm, the festival aesthetic was in full flower (despite the December ’69 nightmare of Altamont), and across Europe, all manner of festivals were put together. Riding high on the success of their triumphant Woodstock set, Santana are spotlighted at Kralingen; the CD and DVD both feature three high-energy tunes: “Gumbo,” “Savor” and “Jingo.” And a few other top-billed marquee names were in attendance. Besides Pink Floyd, both The Byrds and Jefferson Airplane turned in well-received sets.

But it’s some of the lesser-known acts that make The Dutch Woodstock especially appealing. Soft Machine‘s “Esther’s Nose Job” (from Third) gave the concertgoers some progressive jazz, Dr. John served up his New Orleans-styled goodness with “Mardi Gras Day,” and a very Airplane-sounding It’s a Beautiful Day rocked out with “Wasted Union Blues.” Other artists included Canned Heat, Country Joe McDonald, a just-pre-glam T. Rex, Family, The Flock, and a solo acoustic Al Stewart. The most obscure acts here include the wildly eclectic East of Eden, Dutch group Cuby & the Blizzards, and the all-but-unknown (but interesting) Quintessence.

In all, The Dutch Woodstock shows how the influence of the real Woodstock concert manifested itself; for a few shining years, one could catch acts of a dizzying variety all within a three-day festival. Those days would go away as the era of corporate rock arose, but thankfully, modern festivals such as Bonnaroo present a modern-day facsimile (if not quite equivalent) to the festivals of yore. For an eclectic audiovisual various-artists live set documenting the music scene in 1970, you’d be well advised to pick up The Dutch Woodstock.

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.

Concert Review: The Machine, 10 Jan 2013 Asheville NC

Friday, January 18th, 2013

My firsthand experience with tribute bands is quite limited; in general, the concept doesn’t do a lot for me. While there are quite a few acts touring (quite successfully, I should note) the works of more famous bands, many of them base their stage act on the visual style and cues of the band being tributed. In Asheville alone, we have a number of tribute bands who regularly make an annual (or more-often) swing through for a show. There’s a Michael Jackson one (Who’s Bad), a Misfits one, and for quite some time we had our own locally-grown Led Zeppelin tribute band, Custard Pie. For me, though, many of the tribute bands – and I’m speaking in general here, not of the aforementioned acts – seem to cross over into play-acting. Of course some of that is necessary if you’re paying onstage tribute to Jim Morrison of The Doors, or KISS, or any other acts possessed of a distinctive visual aesthetic.

And that is one – but only one, mind you – reason why I absolutely love The Machine. They perform the works of Pink Floyd, my second-favorite band of all time (second only to The Beatles). And one of the distinctive features about the Floyd was that they didn’t have much in the way of distinctive visual features. Yes, they had Mr. Screen, the large, round projection tapestry, and loads of lights and whatnot, but often as not, the band members themselves weren’t an integral part of the visuals. It was about the music.

As it is with The Machine. I first saw them four or five years ago, during which time I got a chance to go backstage and talk with the band pre-show. I had missed them on subsequent Asheville dates, but jumped at the chance to catch their January 2013 show.

As it happened, the band had very recently undergone a significant lineup shift. Guitarist Joe Pascarell had left the band, as had drummer Todd Cohen. So for 2013, bassist Ryan Ball moved seamlessly into the guitar role, joined by newcomers Adam Minkoff on bass and lead vocals, plus drummer Tahrah Cohen (who, I’m told, was a founding member of The Machine decades ago). [Note: See a reader's correction in the comments below. -- bk] Only keyboardist Scott Chasolen remains intact from the previous lineup.

What’s amazing is – though the Orange Peel date was the first public performance featuring the revised lineup – if anything, The Machine put on a better show this time around. (And I found their last show an unqualified success.)

Much of this is due, I think, to bassist Minkoff. His vocal range and texture are such that he can convincingly cover both Roger Waters‘ vocal parts (not that hard; Rog’s a great songwriter but no award-winning singer) as well as those of David Gilmour. So with the expert vocal harmonies of all three other band members (including drummer Cohen), The Machine are well-equipped in the vocal department.

Cohen does a fine job on drums, recreating Nick Mason‘s distinctive style; Mason has never been on the short list of technically great drummers, and his bag of tricks is relatively small, but his particular style is such an integral part of the Pink Floyd sound that criticisms of his chops are moot. Cohen did a thrilling job on her roto-tom intro to “Time,” adhering to the spirit of Mason’s work without aping it.

Ball plays Gilmour’s guitar leads as if he’s been doing it for years, despite just having moved over from bass guitar. While his Stratocaster had a tad less reverb applied to it than is Gilmour’s custom, that may have been a function of the room’s acoustics more than anything else. Like Cohen, he struck a perfect balance between playing Like The Record and giving the songs his own personal spin.

Chasolen is as central to The Machine’s sound as Rick Wright was; if one isn’t paying close attention, it’s easy to overlook just how integral what he does is to the overall presentation. That he’s seated (same as Wright always was) makes his presence that much more subtle. But he’s key.

The Machine know their audiences, and (as discussed with me a few years ago) they strive to give audiences what they want; this means playing a certain number of the really well known numbers, but also throwing in a few lesser-known tunes for the hardcore Floydians (like me). On this night, The Machine gave us four songs from The Dark Side of the Moon, four from Wish You Were Here, five from The Wall, one from A Momentary Lapse of Reason and two from The Division Bell.

But they also dug deeper and performed “Sheep” from Animals (an album Pink Floyd didn’t touch live post 1977), two from Meddle (a shortened-to-fifteen minutes “Echoes” and the virtually unknown “Fearless”), as well as A Saucerful of Secrets‘ “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” (the night’s only pre-1970 tune; no Syd Barrett-era material at all). But for me the biggest pleasure of many delights was The Machine’s reading of “Childhood’s End” from Obscured by Clouds, an underrated tune from an underrated album.

The band kept mostly to the original album arrangements (though as I’ve read elsewhere, if you want to hear how the Floyd sounded live, go see The Machine), yet they did stretch out for a longish and tasty keyboard solo at the tail-end of “Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two.”

Seeing as Rick Wright has passed on, and (though Gilmour and Waters have largely buried the hatchet) Pink Floyd will never again play live, The Machine is a worthy and entertaining flame-keeper. And twenty-five years on, they seem only to be improving at their chosen game.

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.