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David Gilmour – The Royal Albert Hall

Old Floyd man still has it.

London Royal Albert Hall 23/09/15

Many moons ago a work colleague of mine took pride in the fact that, not only had his father been to see a Syd Barrett-fronted Pink Floyd, but that he’d managed to get a significant section of the audience to do the conga to ‘Interstellar Overdrive’.  The thought of this happening is a funny one whichever way you look at it but especially that cataclysmic music of the outer space and inner mind was able to move an audience in a provincial town of North-Western England (where the sights and sounds of London were as alien to them as could be) to their feet and not to the exit door.  However, it’s unlikely that anyone will leave early tonight either; this is the first return of David Gilmour to this venue (and to touring itself) since 2006 and anticipation levels are pretty high amongst the punters attending to say the least.

Starting with an opening pairing of ‘5AM’ and the title track to new album Rattle That Lock, Gilmour’s distinctive laconic approach to his guitar playing is instantly evident – why play a dozen notes when you can make one note sing? His sound is instantly recognisable to even the most casual Floyd listener but by third song ‘Faces Of Stone’, there’s a slight concern that he’s going the way of other similarly ageing guitar veterans and sliding down into snoozefest territory until the “big ones” are pulled out of the bag.

No fear of that tonight though as he immediately follows it by playing a wonderful version of  Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ with ex-Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera ably assisting on acoustic too; their interplay agleam with the glory and pain of the song’s subject matter. He then introduces “a couple of pals” in the form of David Crosby and Graham Nash to sing their beatific backing vocals on ‘A Boat Lies Waiting’  – interestingly boats, sailing and the sea seem to be a common motif in Gilmour’s latter day songs, as illustrated by recent Floyd swansong release ‘The Endless River’.

‘The Blue’ allows Gilmour the use of an octave pedal, enabling him to extend the range of notes beyond the confines of the frets on his guitar yet still maintain the lyrical quality that he’s renowned for.  It’s the very definition of a soaring guitar solo and he makes it look so easy too!  Things shift up a gear with a groovesome ‘Money’ and ‘Us And Them’ back to back; the latter giving a definite tug on the heart strings and tear ducts of those who have grown up listening to ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’.

The first set is concluded with ‘High Hopes’ and, as much as it elicits similar emotions as the best of Pink Floyd it seems that, despite Gilmour’s razor-sharp guitar lines and voice doing justice to the songs, we’re to be denied the verve and innovation of early Floyd numbers. That is until the second set opens with the familiar strains of Syd Barrett penned ‘Astronomy Domine’.  Suddenly, the synapses are snapped into life and the light show is truly a wonder to behold. From the ‘Mr Screen’ backdrop come images evoking lava lamp stylings before the venue is awash with eyeball-shredding colours that dazzle and daze. Nothing short of a stroboscopic-like delight!

‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ is a fitting follow-up, featuring the tease of an intro to full effect, whilst ‘Fat Old Sun is as wonderfully soporific as ever.  However, the following series of solo songs threatens to bring back the fear of Floyd-lite territory. (’The Girl In The Yellow Dress’ in particular being a little too French café jazz-lite) until ‘Sorrow’ and it’s thunderous guitar introduction blows any such concerns away and suddenly it seems that Gilmour has rediscovered the muse, grappling and squeezing his guitar until it bends to his will.

He follows with ‘Run Like Hell’ and, again, the lights accompanying it are incandescent – the entire band wearing shades to cope – and then it happens. One solitary figure is driven to rise from his seat and stomp down the aisle of the entirely seated floor, arms aloft and willing others to join him which they promptly do until the entire audience is compelled to stand up and do the same, creating an impromptu communal headrush of joy and celebration.  

A double whammy encore of ‘Time/Breathe (Reprise)’ and a scintillating ‘Comfortably Numb’ bring the gig to a close with Gilmour’s exiting grin seeming to say – yes, he’s still got it and that he still likes giving it to ‘em too!

Marc Le Breton


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