3 December 2008, Plomerus @ 11:12 pm
An Hour With Pink Floyd (Sigma 26)
KQED TV Studios, San Francisco, California, USA – April 30th, 1970
Disc 1 (DVD): Introduction 1, Introduction 2, Atom Heart Mother, Cymbaline, Grantchester Meadows, Green Is The Colour, Careful With That Axe Eugene, Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, Outroduction
Disc 2 (CD): Introduction, Atom Heart Mother, Cymbaline, Grantchester Meadows, Green Is The Colour, Careful With That Axe Eugene, Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun
At last! Sigma finally present to us the long overdue upgrade of Pink Floyd’s performance at San Francisco’s KQED public television studios, a release that has been highly anticipated here at CMR for several months. Sigma wisely elected to release both the video and audio together in a DVD/CD package – a practice I encourage them to continue implementing whenever applicable; not only because it harkens back to the comprehensive releases from the Siréne era, but also due to the fact that some collectors focus on audio only, while others prefer video, and this method satisfies everyone.
For many years it was thought that Pink Floyd performed twice on April 29th 1970, first at the KQED studios sans audience (apart from the camera crew) then later in the evening at the Fillmore West (documented by Sigma’s Westworld (Sigma 4) and Fillmore (HL642/643) on the Highland label), however key documents have been unearthed in the past year indicating the KQED performance took place the following morning; the actual contract between KQED and the band, signed by manager Steve O’Rourke is dated April 30th, 1970, thus most Floyd databases have been altered to reflect this. That being said, Sigma have retained the April 29th date on the insert of An Hour With Pink Floyd but given the subdued nature of the performance, an early morning session is more likely, and as aforementioned, the contract has the April 30th date so that is how I’ve elected to timestamp the release here.
There have been numerous releases of the video footage in the past, both factory pressed and fan-produced, perhaps most notably on the Apocalypse Sound release Into The Vault (AS 58) and Another Psych Fest! (PF 6770) both of which combined the KQED set with various other clips ranging from 1967-1988. The WoW label produced KQED TV Live 1970 (WOW-012) early on as well, and again, there are several fan-produced titles that contain the KQED footage alone. Sigma have taken their version from the U-Matic TV Station master, yielding the absolute finest version available.
“Introduction 1″ is a 1982 advertisement for the TV Station requesting feedback from the viewers as to whether or not they’d like to own a copy of “An Hour With Pink Floyd” on video cassette or disc (of course, the answer is a resounding YES!).
The 22 second “Introduction 2″ consists of the opening credits, simply revealing the artist is Pink Floyd, the members’ names and roles, accompanied by a snare drum roll. A minor note is that David Gilmour’s name was misspelled “Gilmore, ” an error that I imagine occurred rather frequently in those early years of Floyd, given their penchant for anonymity.
The first time I watched the KQED performance, I recall sitting there slightly inebriated, spending the first 6 1/2 minutes of “Atom Heart Mother” looking around somewhat paranoid – thinking “should anyone walk in while this is on, they’ll surely think I’ve effin lost it!” – considering the visuals for the entire intro consist of rolling landscapes shot from a camera mounted on an airplane; literally several minutes of desert footage give way to farm land (for several minutes more) before a silhouette of Gilmour finally begins to materialize at the 7:20 mark. I’m not sure if KQED thought this was “psychedelic” or what, but it’s definitely bizarre to say the least!
Thankfully, the majority of the footage (apart from occasional flashbacks to the aforementioned landscapes and nature scenes during “Grantchester Meadows”) is of the band performing in the dimly-lit KQED studio. Coming from 1970, the picture quality is obviously vintage, but as crisp and clear as one would expect from a controlled environment like a TV studio, resulting in the absolute best footage of this era of Floyd apart from the feature film Live At Pompeii, shot 18 months later.
“Atom Heart Mother” is the standard small band version kept to a brief 16 1/2 minutes, but performed flawlessly. Some have insinuated the vocals were weak in this performance, but I can’t find any fault personally, and they come across as haunting as ever. Each band member is given his share of camera time, allowing the viewer many close-ups (enough to cop a few licks should one desire) as well as several wider shots of this intimate performance.
Having performed all of this material live extensively, it’s an effortless, almost meditative journey through “Atom Heart Mother,” with every band member contributing equally and gelling together with near psychic synergy. Unfortunately, those landscapes overshadow much of the great bluesy guitar solo, and as a musician I’d much rather see Gilmour nuturing those expressive bends, but at least the audio is fabulous.
The transition into “Cymbaline” is somewhat abrupt, but makes more sense on video than on the CD counterpart here – I suppose one can’t expect perfectly timed edits from a public television station, and really it’s only a minute detail, but a couple extra seconds of silence would’ve made it smoother (silence is as integral to the flow of music as is sound after all).
One of my favorite aspects of the KQED set is the fact that the audio isn’t pushed “in your face” like most modern releases, and there’s a natural reverb to the empty studio that, coupled with the band’s Binson Echorec units creates a wonderful sense of depth. In addition to the close-ups of the musicians, there’s another camera circling the band – a technique we’d see later reprised in Live At Pompeii, which to my delight enabled me to see that every bandmember had his own Binson Echorec (the famed Italian delay unit, that was integral to all of the early Floyd recordings)!
“Cymbaline” is again condensed due to the time contraints of the program, and is notable for having the shortest “walking section” ever, clocking in at a mere 30 seconds, but it is a fine performance nonetheless.
“Grantchester Meadows” opens to the sound of bird songs with footage of trees and streams, enhancing the pastoral vibe of this song perfectly. This is one of the best performances of the piece, and it’s really something to see Gilmour and Waters sitting side-by-side with acoustic guitars performing this sentimental ode to their early days in Cambridge. This is certainly one instance where the extra-musical footage truly elevates a song to another level, and for myself, this remains the definitive version.
Many of the tours from this era featured “Green Is The Colour” segued into “Careful With That Axe Eugene,” offering a perfect study in the art of contrasts – juxtaposing the folky sublime of the former against the psychotic trauma of the latter, and this approach is exactly what has been captured here at KQED.
While Gilmour struggled a bit vocally during “Green Is The Colour” the previous evening at the Fillmore, here he is far more relaxed and having a stable mix surely helped him nail the melodies more easily. The segue into “Careful With That Axe Eugene” captured here is absolutely perfect – probably the smoothest from any performance, in that it doesn’t feel as if one more chord or beat is missing. Perhaps it’s Nick Mason’s crescendo that seals it, but no matter what the reason, it comes off without a hitch.
“Careful With That Axe Eugene” like “Atom Heart Mother” or “Cymbaline” is kept to a shorter length of 9 minutes due to the nature of the TV program, and has the subdued character similar to some of the 1971 performances of the piece. There are several great close-ups of Roger Waters demonstrating his “induction scream” technique, and the climactic scream is a lengthy one, but overall this is a fairly standard rendition that is nowhere near as intense nor experimental as it is at it’s best.
A 12 1/2 minute version of “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” rounds out the setlist, and although not the longest rendition, it’s certainly given a bit more “breathing room” compared to the rest of the material presented here. Opening with Roger Waters working the gong, it gradually unfolds into the usual spacey meditation, benefitting from the generous amounts of delay the vocals (which characterizes this entire set).
Though not quite as raw or overdriven as the average concert performance from this era, the “raga” section comes as close to a “freak out” as we get from the KQED set – hell, Roger Waters even snaps the gong mallet in half hammering it with great conviction! With this, the band make a quick seque into the “cosmic” section and it’s great to see Richard Wright tweaking knobs and generating otherworldly sounds during this passage. The song comes to a mellow conclusion with some oceanic sounds that are unique to this performance (and ultimately the waves provide the soundtrack to the closing credits as well, complete with a nice image of the setting sun over the ocean).
The “Outroduction” included here is just another KQED plug from the 1982 rebroadcast, briefly detailing the program was a performance from 12 years earlier, and offers no additional band footage.
Disc 2 of Sigma 26, contains the Radio Broadcast version of the KQED program, in essence little more than the audio soundtrack taken straight from the video, HOWEVER this is without question the absolute best version ever available on factory pressed silver.
Previous releases included Triangle’s Colourful Meadows (PYCD-040), The Genuine Pig’s Darkness Over Frisco (TGP-CD-129), America (CDP 746297-2), and a host of fan-produced CDRs/FLAC files. Most of the older versions were taken from a vinyl source and thus were plagued with crackle, hissy, and ultimately lo-fidelity. An Hour With Pink Floyd marks a huge jump in terms of clarity, there is no LP crackle at all, and is of the same quality as Disc 1 of this set.
I should mention that there is still some degree of hiss left on both discs, which is par for the course when speaking of releases from this era, but ultimately it fades into the background the further you’re drawn into the recording. The clarity and detail of both sets is astounding, easily sitting alongside the handful of soundboards from 1970 or the BBC Sessions.
My one recommendation is that you dial in a bit of low end on your EQ and tweak around a bit to truly appreciate the magnitude of this awesome set, whether you’re checking out the CD or the DVD. When all is said and done, although the performance is somewhat low-key, introspective, not to mention condensed to fit into an hour, this is a priceless document of the Floyd heading towards the apex of their most progressive and experimental era.
While the DVD is perhaps only marginally superior to the best of the previously available versions, the audio is vastly improved on both discs (but especially the soundtrack CD), thus Sigma have once again delivered another definitive release. Uncharacteristically housed in a DVD case, this is one release that every Floyd fan casual or otherwise should own since it is one of the precious few complete videos from this era, and the quality is as good as it gets!If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]Pink Floyd - An Hour With Pink Floyd (Sigma 26),