There’s a case to be made that David Gilmour is rock’s greatest living guitar player. While he’s settled nicely into the role of dignified, majestic Admiral of melodic space rock, he conjures towering sounds with a fury that would intimidate any guitarist a fraction of his age. “The voice and guitar of Pink Floyd” as he’s often billed may have a little more gravel in it, but he’s still in full command of his powers,and content to let his music speak for itself. His 2016 tour, in support of his 2015 solo album Rattle That Lock, brings fans David Gilmour Live at Pompeii which arrives in theaters for one night only on September 13 before its Blu-ray and home media release on September 29.
Gilmour’s two recent solo tours were deliberate departures from the stadiums and arenas that characterized the latter days of Pink Floyd. Instead, Gilmour chooses “beautiful places that will add to the majesty” of the music. The Rattle That Lock tour featured stops at the Hollywood Bowl and Radio City Music Hall, but the most offbeat and historic of them all was his return to Pompeii, the site of legendary cult film and dorm room/bong hit staple, Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii. That 1972 movie saw the band, in the final days before the release of Dark Side of the Moon changed their fortunes forever, playing some of their most atmospheric and experimental compositions to the empty Amphitheatre of Pompeii.
For Gilmour’s two 2016 shows at the same location (the concert film is a combination of both nights), the production values are higher, the tunes more recognizable, and as Gilmour puts it in the film’s intro, it boasts “the first audience there since the gladiators.” Nevertheless, David Gilmour Live at Pompeii is acutely aware of how it must deal with history, and in its best moments it’s a reverent and surprisingly moving concert film.
David Gilmour Live at Pompeii contains only one song from that 1971 performance, and that’s Floyd concert staple “One of These Days.” To be fair, of the 1971 Live at Pompeii setlist, which included extended atonal freakouts like “A Saucerful of Secrets” and “Careful With That Axe, Eugene,” only “One of these Days” and beloved Pink Floyd classic “Echoes” would seem at home with the “modern” Gilmour or Floyd catalogue. “Echoes” was retired from the band’s setlist in the mid 1970s, briefly revived in the early days of their 1987 post-Waters reunion (and quickly dropped), and then was wholly absent from live performance until Gilmour’s 2006 On an Island tour. That song, arguably the blueprint for the recognizable “Pink Floyd sound” of classic rock radio, was notable for the gorgeous, watery harmonies of Gilmour and Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright, who died in 2008. With Wright’s passing, Gilmour retired “Echoes” yet again, this time for good.
Gilmour instead pays tribute to Wright in other ways, with the the tour’s only performance of Wright’s instrumental meditation on mortality, “The Great Gig in the Sky” from inescapable Floyd opus, Dark Side of the Moon leading into the haunting, understated piano-driven “A Boat Lies Waiting” from Rattle That Lock. Those are followed by “Wish You Were Here,” traditionally a song about Floyd founder Syd Barrett, but in this context, it’s clearly meant with Wright in mind, as well. “Great Gig in the Sky” in particular benefits from a slightly altered arrangement, with much of it delivered in three-part harmony from the band’s three impressive backup singers, while “A Boat Lies Waiting” which is a lovely track on record, is more powerful live with virtually the entire band harmonizing throughout.
Live at Pompeii only stumbles during its flashiest moments, where the eerie wonder of the venue and the solemn quality of the early setlist gets obscured by attempts to deliver the requisite light show spectacular. Despite what you normally associate with Pink Floyd and David Gilmour shows, at this particular location, less is more. The strobe lights and fireworks that come with greatest hits obligation “Run Like Hell” seem out of place after the quiet beauty and more subdued lighting of “A Boat Lies Waiting” or Rattle That Lock standout “In Any Tongue” (one of Gilmour’s very best post-Floyd efforts). That’s hardly anything to worry about, though, as this is a powerful show that will equally satisfy casual Floyd fans and Gilmour obsessives.
If you missed the Rattle That Lock tour, or simply don’t want to wait another decade before Mr. Gilmour tours again, a night experiencing this at maximum volume will be time well-spent.
David Gilmour Live at Pompeii is now available You can order the Blu-ray via Amazon.