Q Magazine June 1994.
(Transcript thanks to Natalie Lyons.)
NO CAMERAS, NO RECORDERS, NO UMBRELLAS…
The eight tour buses, the 49 trucks, the 700 tons of steel, not to mention the 1,200 tea bags and 25 boxes of cornflakes… Oh, and the new album and Number 1 in the UK. Yes, everything was just so for Pink Floyds first show in six years. Except the weather. John Bauldie dodged the showers in Miami to witness the welcome return of those inflatable warthogs.
Welcome to Miami Beach, ladies and gentlemen. Everything is cheaper than it seems.
With those words, back in 1973 on his controversial Tonights The Night tour, a frazzled Neil Young would shamble to the back of the stage and reach up to a pull-string hanging from a plastic palm tree, switch on an electric lightbulb and bask briefly in its 60-watt glow.
Oh, that such a string were tuggable this morning, for here in Miami Beach though there are genuine palm trees-a-plenty, the skies are lowering and glowering and a fine rain is falling onto the white sand, on to the picturesque art deco hotels that line the main strip, on to their swimming pools and their sunbeds. This morning is so damp and miserable that if a kindly old aunt were to suddenly appear, cheerily proffering a stick of rock and suggesting a donkey ride, you could almost imagine yourself in Morecambe.
The TV weather people are as chipper as their charts are depressed. They point to great swathes of gloom-coloured loud cutting across Southern Florida, guess that theyre not likely to disappear much before tomorrow afternoon, and suggest that if any viewers are going to the Pink Floyd concert at Joe Robbie tonight, they should be prepared for the worst – weather-wise, that is, tee-hee.
Regular rainfall updates are to be of particular importance for ticket-holders today, because the Joe Robbie Stadium is a vast bowl of a place whose seats are totally without cover. Presumably, the Floyd chose Miami as the opening venue of their 54-date US tour for the clemency of its climate, but somehow you half expect serried ranks of storm clouds to gather whenever the band threaten to plug in to their 300-speaker quadraphonic sound system. The words Rain Or Shine seem to have been printed with particular prominence right in the middle of the tickets for tonights concert more in expectation than as a precaution, and below, where it warns that no cameras or tape recorders should be smuggled into the gig, it adds, ominously, to the forbidden list, umbrellas. So no matter how precipitously it pelts down between now and eight oclock this evening, it appears, the show must go on.
For the last two weeks, Dave Gilmour, Nick Mason, Rick Wright and the other eight performing members of the conglomeration that is Pink Floyd have been rehearsing under the sunnier skies of Palm Springs, California. There, theyve been locked away in a fully operational army base, militarily protected from prying eyes, playing with their lasers, setting off their smoke bombs, back-projecting their new filmy bits and making sure that the various other special effects needed to make the show an unforgettable spectacle work as and when theyre supposed to.
They’ve also been rehearsing the songs, of course, particularly those from the new album, The Division Bell, which goes on sale in the States in the week of the opening show. Like every Pink Floyd album since Meddle, probably, the records principle theme has been identified by sharp-eared critics as non-communication. As if to emphasise the appropriateness of the point, the band are resolutely refusing to engage in any kind of intercourse with the media (with the exception, of course, of Dave Gilmours ongoing collaboration with erstwhile Sunday Times journalist Polly Samson, who gets co-writers credit for the lyrics of several of the new songs). So, save for one syndicated radio special, there are to be no press conferences or promotional interviews whatsoever.
Though the Pink Floyd concert is the most exciting thing to happen in Southern Florida since Whitney Houston was last spotted out shopping with her baby, without talking heads, the TV stations are finding it difficult to tout the show appropriately. Every half hour they go over live to the stadium, where a bedraggled presenter points to a poster, assures everyone out in TV land that this is sure gonna be one helluva show, and, peeking up from ‘neath an umbrella, laughingly hopes that the rain will ease off; then theres a cut to the dirigible, a fairly unexciting – Its 197-feet long! – airship with The Division Bell and Pink Floyd painted on the side, waiting and hoping that it will be able later to cruise the cloudy skies. Finally, they play an ages-old video clip of The Wall, Roger Waters and all.
There are 200 crew on The Division Bell tour, and 49 trucks – 33 of them for steel alone, for there are 700 tons of steel used for the show, which it takes three days to set up. It takes 18 hours to erect the stage – its shaped like the Hollywood Bowl, a sort of semi-circular half-shell, 187 feet wide and 55 feet high – and seven hours to break it down again afterwards. It takes two days to break down the steel. There are eight tour buses and one private plane.
The Joe Robbie stadium is owned by Wayne Huizenga, who has made billions of dollars from his chain of Blockbuster Video stores. Hes also bought the local hockey team, the baseball team and the famous Miami Dolphins football team, whose home this stadium is. Whats more, Huizenga ons all the land for miles around Joe Robbie and plans to build the worlds biggest, most spectacular theme park here. The ambitious project is known locally as Waynes World and ill, babbles a particularly enthusiastic taxi driver, make Disney World look like a rubber duck. But you know what? the driver continues, hes just a regular guy, just like you and me. He walks around town with no bodyguards or nothin, and hell talk to anyone…
No communication problems there, then.
As the afternoon clouds thicken, the rain falls ever more forcefully. By five oclock, its teeming down in tropical torrents, flooding the roads and keeping everyone bar TV presenters and dirigible pilots cowering indoors.
Out at Joe Robbie, in the centre of the diamond, the pitchers mound and the home plate upon which the Florida Marlins play ball are protected by tarpaulins. Each of the 55,000 turquoise or tangerine plastic seats that have been sold for tonights show no holds its own little pool of water. Beneath the half-shell arc of the stage, theres a suspended canopy under which the band can shelter as they strum. Though irksome, a few falling raindrops wont be allowed to put the Floyd off their stadium-sized stride. The Shine in Rain Or Shine is by this time obviously no option at all, but the show will go on, drizzle or downpour.
The options when it starts pouring with rain, Dave Gilmour told Q some three years back, are: one, walk off and leave a wet, extremely miserable audience out there; two, cower slightly at the back of the stage – and if youre huddled at the back, then the whole band will huddle as well – and dont give your best, and the audience knows youre not, so are still sitting there wet and miserable. Three, just revel in it and show solidarity. If youre out there at the front, looking as if youre enjoying it, the audience think better of it and the rest of the band think better of it. So there really is no choice.
That’s that then. Underneath their protective canopy on their half-shell stage, the Floyd are going to revel in it, and a couple of hundred yards away, way beyond the home plate, the fans are all going to get very wet indeed. But what will they care? This is Pink Floyd – not just the biggest touring spectacle in the world, but a band whose albums still sell in the kind of quantities all but the superest of superstars can only dream of. Back in the UK, The Division Bell has already gone double-gold on pre-orders and is immediately installed at Number 1 in the album charts. Similar success is confidently expected in Stateside. Since they staked their financial future in the Momentary Lapse Of Reason album and tour six years ago, Gilmour and Mason have cleaned up, having successfully proved that Pink Floyd could not only continue to exist without Roger Waters, but that it could both subsume and transcend him, just as it had one with its first singing-songwriting front man Syd Barrett, many years previously. But though the band has proved to be bigger than both of them, Syd and Roger are indelible parts of Pink Floyd, and their spectres can be sensed in several of the songs on the new album. But thats as nothing compared with the way in which their shades will hover in the air in the stadium later tonight.
There are eight caterers on the tour; they cook dinner for 220 people on show nights such as this. They’ve baked 20 loaves of bread this afternoon, got through 400 pints of milk, 1,000 eggs, 1,200 tea bags, 1,000 cans of soft drinks, 25 boxes of cornflakes and two boxes of Romaine lettuce – this last for the Floyds favourite Caesar salad, apparently. Special supplies of Marmite, Weetabix, Branston Pickle, marmalade, English mustard and Earl Grey tea-bags are to be shipped out from England at regular intervals.
An hour before showtime, the TV news flashes over live to the stadium. Yes, its still raining, though it seems to be easing slightly, but my, isnt everyone excited! Behind the reporter, the fans are waving in the rain, carelessly wearing their brand-new $30 Division Bell t-shirts, smiling crazily as the rainwater drips from their chins. Its only then that you notice that most of them are kids, teenagers who are too young to have ever seen the Floyd before.
The Joe Robbie stadium might have been designed as part of the set for tonights show. Viewed from a distance, or indeed from a dirigible, it glows brightly in the darkness and continuing drizzle, like a Close Encounters mothership waiting for load out and take off. All around us cars with steamy windows are streaming in to the parking lots and the airship, at last ——— a tiny tug, waiting to tow the vast airship back into position should it drift out of place. Then just before showtime, the rain stops and starts in bursts. Each time it stops, theres a good deal of fumbling and stumbling for hot dogs and sodas around the stadium; each time it starts again, enthusiastic cheers ring out…
Outside the rain fell dark and slow
While I pondered on this dangerous but irresistible pastime…
I knew the moment had arrived
For killing the past and coming back to life
(Coming Back To Life, from The Division Bell)
Everything you ever heard, or read, or saw, of a Pink Floyd concert is true of the new show – more so in terms of self-referential context, and perhaps less so in terms of the spectacle itself. There are the lasers, bouncing off the edges of the stage before beaming directly overhead and refracting through the suddenly convenient clouds. The biggest and brightest of the green lights zoom out for miles beyond the confines of the stadium, probably putting the fear of God into wave-tossed drug-runners somewhere between the coast and the Caribbean; the smaller lasers trace delicate lace-like patterns which allow the intermittent drizzle to cascade prettily in millions of diamond droplets. There are also the light-shows – ages-old psychedelic-style swirls for the surprising opener, Astronomy Domine, the very first track on the very first Pink Floyd album, and, later, a series of short, specially made films, projected onto the now-trademark lighting disc which takes up its familiar behind-band position at the start of the second half of the show. Finally, there are a couple of inflatable, flashlight-eyed Pigs From Hell – warthogs the Miami Herald calls them – which pop out of little kennels on high above each side of the stage and loll about as malevolently and as threateningly as big plastic inflatable pigs an do in the middle of One Of These Days, the first halfs petrol-bombed and smoke-filled furious finale.
Then theres the glitter-ball. At the UFO club, back in the late 60s, where the Floyd first made a name for themselves, a glitter-ball used to spin splintered pieces of light all around the room as the band played their sensory overloading, mind-blowing stuff. Years later, in bigger times, in bigger shows, even bigger glitter-balls would swirl countless shards of colour around arenas, making several thousand slightly dizzy onlookers sigh simultaneously. Tonight, in an enormous football stadium, during Comfortably Numb, hat might well have legitimate claims to be the Worlds Biggest Glitter-Ball emerges in mid-field to shoot double-decker-sized points of light all over the stadium. Then – gasp! – it opens, like a great big silvery seed-pod, and, sepals aloft, it swirls some more. And then, having twirled at last, it just sort of sits there, almost embarrassed, not quite knowing what else it can do, before slinking away again, much as the plastic pigs had done earlier on.
People always expect the Floyd to come up with something different, new and better when it comes to visuals, and its very difficult to keep thinking of new things, said Rick Wright, almost six years ago. Perhaps, after having crashed planes and bedsteads into stages, having put up and smashed down breezeblock walls of Brobdignagian proportions and having, whether by accident or design, caused an inflatable porker to fly over London, its a little too much to ask further visual wonders of the Floyd. Hence, really, this show is pretty much more of the same. Except…
Except, curiously and not a little creepily, Pink Floyd seem to be in some danger of being sucked into their own myth. The songs, the set, the whole Pink Floyd thing is now not so much about non-communication – though the mysterious hieroglyphs and odd bits of Braille that adorn the D sleeve and which are occasionally projected from lighting pods that front the stage cleverly succeed in saying nothing at all – but about the Pink Floyd thing itself. Both halves of the concert open with invocations of Syd Barrett, from part ones Astronomy Domine to part twos rousing Shine On You Crazy Diamond, with its back-projected, logic-defying, hippy-dippy film which depicts a small boy wandering innocently through Cambridge meadows and subsequently encountering all kinds of Prisoner-style mayhem. And, of course, Roger Waters is present too, not just in all the Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall songs which make up the second half of the show, but in the Division Bell songs performed earlier on – in A Great Day For Freedom, in Keep Talking (during which, unexpectedly, Gilmour performs the Stephen Hawking part by employing a Frampton-style voice-tube) and especially in Lost For Words, the tune of which has been (probably deliberately) borrowed from Bruce Springsteens Independence Day, and the conclusion of which has Gilmour asking his enemies if theyre prepared to wipe the slate clean but to no avail: They tell me to please go fuck myself…
Meanwhile, the rain has stopped. The crowd tap their toes to the new stuff (the U2-soundalike Take It Back gets a particularly big cheer), sing along with the old familiar stompers, gaze at the lasers and goggle at the gargantuan glitter-ball. Everyone loves every minute of it. So do the critics. A stunning aural and visual extravaganza… a wet, wonderful night of musical fireworks – The Miami Herald; The show was mesmerising, a feast for the mind and the senses. Pink Floyd remain the undisputed kings of stadium rock – The Boston Globe; A mind, eye and ear-blowing experience – The Atlanta Journal.
You fuckers, youll never get it together, Roger Waters told Dave Gilmour at the time of the acrimonious split. Those words both stung and inspired. We went out last time with the intention of showing the world, Look, were still here, says Dave Gilmour. For the next seven months, Pink Floyd will be saying it, and showing it, all over again.