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Gdansk - A Landmark for Many Reasons
on September 27, 2008
This latest offering from David Gilmour has Richard Wright's death just after its release, the location and the marking of the historical anniversary of the event add up to make this a landmark in both a wonderful and an uncanny way.
That aside, this is one really impressive live album, the kind you wish had been made for some of Pink Floyd's greatest tours. ( '73, '75 & '77 specifically ) The sound is sharp and clear, with a very wide range of highs and lows. But what else would you expect from a Pink Floyd alumnus? Floyd's tours were always amazing for their sheer size and spectacle, the breathtaking lights, screen projections, fireworks and effects but also largely because of a quality of sound that no one has been able to equal since. With their massive quad sound system they could turn the largest stadium into a behemoth set of headphones, often achieving a production sound that even surpassed their immactulately recorded albums.
"Live in Gdansk" seems to follow in the tradition royally.
While the set list is almost the same as heard at the Albert Hall for "Remember That Night", there are some really lovely and jaw-dropping re-workings of certain numbers and a few new treats that make "Gdansk" a MUST for the devoted. The addition of the Baltic Philharmonic Symphony on stage both fleshes out and uplifts Gilmour's newest work as well as spicing up some of the Floyd faves as well.
David Crosby and Graham Nash are NOT in attendance at this event and it takes a while to get used to their absence at certain points. But the band's vocalists, which is everyone save for Dick Parry, do a beautiful job of it regardless. Where Messrs Crosby and Nash really are missed is on "Shine on You Crazy Diamond", where the addition of their harmonies to Gilmour's new arrangement at the Royal Albert Hall took the classic song into sublimity.
Well worth watching is the "Gdansk Diary", a documentary of the event marking of the creation of "Solidarity" by Lech Walesa in the Gdansk shipyards. Gilmour plays down his role and wonders himself why he was asked to be the musician invited to mark the occasion. There is one very telling and powerful moment when he is being interviewed by the Polish media. He sits patiently while questions are first posed in the native tongue and are them translated for him. During one such question you hear a few lines of Polish being spoken while Gilmour patientlly waits for the ensuing translation. Popping almost sharply out of the unfamiliar stream of the Slavic language comes two words that change Gilmour's facial expression - "Roger Waters". Almost instantaneously he recovers, blinks once and smiles, looks toward the camera and says. "Oh, was that the time? Is it time now?". Interview over.
"Gdansk" is well worth the purchase, whether it be just the 2-disc audio only set, the 2-disc, 1 DVD set or the full on four disc, 2 CD, 2 DVD set. The band is very comfortably experienced with the material and it shows, Gilmour having retained them from their world tour. They have all the many nuances of the music down and are able to stretch out with it while maintaining its essential integrity. "On an Island" is beautifully represented here and the Floyd material contains some of the best versions ever recorded.
"Astronomy Domine" is barely contained and fiercely intense, played with total committment and belief. An old psychedelic chestnut perhaps but here it feels briskly and electrically new, almost frighteningly wild.
"Echoes", on "Gdansk", is hands down, the greatest version ever recorded. It is so intensely powerful, so articulately played and inventively treated that nothing else ever released comes close. It clocks in at a massive 25 minutes. Each of it's 3 instrumental sections are expanded to the point of amazement and excitement, but never reaching the point of indulgence. It takes mastery and experience to take a large and hugely adored classic like "Echoes" and breathe such new fire and thunder into it. It reminds one that it was songs like "Echoes" that truly made Pink Floyd great. Gilmour and Wright are ON FIRE here!
Nevermind "Money" and "Another Brick in the Wall", "Echoes" is what those of us who came on board with Floyd pre-"Dark Side" were so rapturous about. Here, on this release, it is given a volcanically powerful new life. Gilmour and Wright's antiphonal "outro" is delicate and exquisite, so tasteful and bluesy that you want it to go on and on. Now with Wright's passing it takes on a kind of sweet sadness and poignancy that reminds us of Wright's own, largely unacknowledged, high level of musicianship. Pink Floyd could not have achieved their greatness without him.
On the concert DVD we see Wright receive a wildly enthusiastic standing ovation, which, it was since said by Gilmour, surprised him nightly. The irony was that to Gilmour and the other band members it was no surprise at all. Of Wright he said in his statement after his long-time friend's death, "Where would "Dark Side of the Moon" be without "The Great Gig in the Sky" and "Us and Them"?, both songs composed by Wright. Gilmour felt that all of Floyd's greatest moments where "when Richard was in full flow". On "Gdansk", which turned out to be Wright's epitaph, he is indeed in full flow, full flight. It his heartening to think that at the end of his, sometimes very sad, life Richard Wright, unrelentingly backed and loved by Gilmour, achieved himself and his full talent again.
Truly a landmark for it's occasion but also for the strange irony of the end of the truly most musical half of Pink Floyd ( Gilmour and Wright ) as well as it's sheer monumental musicality. "Gdansk" is already a classic.