Pink Floyd was formed in 1965 by Syd Barrett (guitar, lead vocals), Nick Mason (drums), Roger Waters (bass guitar, vocals), and Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals). A few months after the release of their debut album, psychedelic-rock classic The Piper at the Gates of Dawn in August of 1967, David Gilmour (guitar, vocals) was added to augment and then replace the erratic Barrett, who left the band in March 1968. They would go on to have massive success in the 1970s, creating two of the best-selling albums of all time with Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall.
By the end of the decade, their partnership became quite turbulent. Wright was fired during the making of The Wall then rehired as a touring musician. Waters quit in 1985 and went to court in a failed attempt to stop the others from further using the name Pink Floyd. Under David Gilmour’s leadership, two more studio albums were released and then they went on hiatus after their 1994 tour. In 2005, all four members of Pink Floyd reunited for the first time in 24 years for a one-off performances at Live 8. In 2012, four years after Wright’s death, Gilmour and Mason released The Endless River from Division Bell sessions.
Since the mid-’70s, it’s been rare for the band members, together or solo, to play pre-DSotM music in concert. Fans would be lucky to get one, maybe two during a show. Thankfully, Nick Mason rectified this in 2018 by forming Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, a quintet that plays early Pink Floyd live. The final two nights of their United Kingdom 2019 tour, May 3 and 4, were recorded, and Live at the Roundhouse is set for release on April 17 as an album, Blu-ray, and DVD. The concert video played in cinemas Tueday night and fans of early Floyd should be very pleased. I know I am.
Mason is joined by a talented group of musicians: Lee Harris (guitar), who helped Mason form the band was taken to see The Wall in concert by his parents at the age of 7, which had “a massive effect” on him; Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp (guitar, vocals), Guy Pratt (bass, vocals), who had played with David Gilmour on his 1984 solo tour, then Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason tour and on Division Bell and Endless River; and Dom Beken (keys).
The setlist includes songs from every pre-DSotM album sans Ummagumma and according to the press release, only four have ever been included on official live releases by Pink Floyd or its members, making this quite a treat.
They open with the instrumental “Interstellar Overdrive”. It sounds familiar yet is not an exact recreation, making the music seem fresh and alive, like “Obscured by Clouds / When You’re In” where the keys have a spacier sound to them. I enjoyed the way the genteel “If” bookends “Atom Heart Mother”. The suite, which has the brass and choir replicated by Beken’s keys, signaled Pink Floyd evolving their sound in 1970 from psychedelic to progressive rock. Pratt’s sings the hard rocking “The Nile Song”, throwing in a line from the Sex Pistols “Holidays in the Sun”. Kemp tears it up on his solo. Throughout the concert, Mason keeps sure and steady beats no matter the tempo, and frequently is seen beaming with a smile. He has a quick hello to the crowd before moving to the gong where he begins “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” then settles back on the drums with timpani mallets.
On occasion, the concert is broken up by segments of Mason and the band members sitting separately for interviews talking about subjects like Pink Floyd and its influence, Barrett, how the Saucerful band came to be, the Roadhouse venue, the stage effects, and playing live. Pratt mentions Barrett, Waters, and Mason having changed the musical landscape, but left out a couple of fellas, which is surprising since he worked with the other two. He is divorced from Wright’s daughter, but I still found it odd he, and the filmmakers, didn’t mention them all. These segments usually accompanied by cool archival footage.
As if covering the psychedelic era of Floyd wasn’t hardcore enough, they go deep into the catalog for the long-bootlegged “Vegetable Man”, the lyrics of which make it clear it’s a Barrett song. It was almost their third single and almost appeared on A Saucerful of Secrets, but wasn’t officially released until 2016 on The Early Years 1965-1972box set. They do the same for the last song of the night, the non-album single “Point Me at the Sky”. I found the song, portions of the arrangement sounding like a lullaby, anticlimactic compared to their other, better-known songs, and ending with a song that concludes with “goodbye” is not as cute as it seems.
Live at the Roundhouse is a worthy addition to the Pink Floyd catalog. Mason has done his former bandmates and fans a great service by allowing these songs to come alive again thanks to his skills and those of his current bandmates.