29 April 2009, Plomerus @ 10:11 pm
Creatures Of The Deep (Sigma 39)
Civic Center, Santa Monica, California, USA – October 23rd, 1970
Disc 1: Astronomy Domine, Green Is The Colour, Careful With That Axe Eugene, Fat Old Sun, Cymbaline
Disc 2: A Saucerful Of Secrets, Atom Heart Mother, Interstellar Overdrive
Disc 3: Fat Old Sun, Cymbaline, A Saucerful Of Secrets, Atom Heart Mother
Creatures Of The Deep is the long-overdue silver upgrade of Pink Floyd’s October 23rd, 1970 concert in Santa Monica, California from this particular label pedigree; the date was completely overlooked by Sigma’s predecessor Siréne, perhaps due to the fact that they last released it in the latter-days of the Ayanami ProCDR era via Santa Monica 1970 (Ayanami-247), but what a glaring omission it was!
I mean let’s just cut to the chase here (for those of you who don’t want to wait for the bottom line about Sigma 39): it’s no secret that I’ve been waiting for this release to come to fruition for some time, both because it’s a personal favorite Floyd performance, and also due to my hypothesis about Sigma’s ultimate intention to upgrade/replace all previous editions of every last recording. Sure, there have been a handful of silver releases prior to this including Sing To Me Cymbaline (two pressings exist – one on Gold Standard and a copy on Colosseum) and the superior Bovine Psychosis (HY1001-A/B) from HypedUp, but given Sigma’s penchant for breathing life into recordings and their reputation for superb mastering, surely something fantastic would result. And indeed it has!
Above and beyond all of that, the version of “A Saucerful Of Secrets” contained within, is in my opinion, the greatest of all time – thus, essential for fans of this era in some form or another; if you are a fan of early Floyd and don’t already own this concert, go straight to your favorite shop and secure a copy of Creatures Of The Deep immediately! Those of you who were skeptical about this release being any better than Bovine Psychosis needn’t fear – Discs 1 and 2 are the best I’ve ever heard of this show period, while Disc 3 actually has merits of its own that I’ll address later. Lastly, before diving into the body of this review, I’d like to thank Sigma for a fantastic treatment of a special show as well as for fulfilling our “requests!” Without further ado…
Pink Floyd’s October 23rd, 1970 concert in Santa Monica was the final date of the band’s second North American tour that year (18th overall of that leg, if the 10/4 date in Spokane actually transpired) and make no mistake – some of the band’s finest moments EVER were captured (thankfully) during this leg, and in many ways, this truly is a crowning performance to cap it off.
That being said, by no means is it the finest recording from this tour as there are minute hints of tape degradation, some hiss during the softer passages, a couple significant cuts and miscellaneous audio fluctuations throughout, however the band are clearly firing on all cylinders and truly inspired from the moment “Astronomy Domine” begins. Further, Sigma have done an excellent job with Recorder 1 (Discs 1 and 2) here as the aforementioned issues are generally not a distraction at all (cuts aside). The same cannot be said for the audience in a couple instances, but we’ll address that on a case-by-case basis.
Overall this is a rather well-balanced recording with an emphasis on the mids, bringing the vocals and guitars out to the forefront without obscuring the other instruments (though, a bit more snare and bass guitar would truly round this one out). While there are a couple points where the recording teeters on the edge of distortion, it never actually does, and when combined with the energy from the stage, this results in an incredibly enjoyable listening experience (with a couple minor caveats).
Disc 1 begins with Richard Wright’s cosmic introduction to “Astronomy Domine” and it appears we’re in for a stellar listening experience until some cat in the audience close to the mic 9 seconds in calls someone an idiot and declares “I don’t even want to talk to you” – so much for ambiance. I suppose this is ok since there’s a bit of fluctuation resulting from noise reduction and/or tape degradation – though this ultimately smooths out before the 2 minute mark, and the band sound confident rather than reluctant for this interpretation of the sometimes absurd Barrett piece (I like it anyway, but I can understand some folks’ hesitation, including the band members not too long after this tour).
Gilmour’s vocals and guitar, along with Nick Mason’s cymbals tend to dominate “Green Is The Colour,” and there are hints of tape flutter/degradation, however it is clear for the most part – even during the big crescendo 3 minutes in. Throughout the year, Floyd perfected the segue between this beautiful ballad and the menacing “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” – a nuance I’ve detailed in several reviews here…unfortunately, in this case a drunken member of “the mescaline gallery” (The Long Beach Free Press referred to the audience in this capacity!) shouts “Whatchya’ll on?” right at the pivotal moment, ruining an otherwise seamless transition.
This fool continues screaming and ranting for a bit complete with a feeble attempt at a ‘Eugene-style’ “Arrrrrrrrrrrrrgh” and almost redeems himself when Roger Waters jests “When haven’t got to that bit yet!” from the stage – a rare lighter moment in an otherwise disturbing song. This of course, does not discourage the antagonist one bit as he continues shouting out over the softer introductory passages of the song. Someone elsewhere in the crowd finally shouts “Shut up!” which garners applause from all around, but unfortunately it was all for naught. Finally, around the 5 minute mark…once the main build-up commences, the band commmands everyone’s full attention including our hero (Look, I’m not knocking the guy…obviously he’s a fan in some capacity, but seriously…can’t you see we’re taping here dude?).
Overall, the song is taken at a slightly slower pace than usual giving it a feel not unlike early Sabbath in the heavier passages, and around 3 minutes in Gilmour howls in such a haunting way, different from his usually calm vocalizations, but as always, it is Roger’s bloodcurdling scream that makes the song and it is indeed a great one in this instance. The other downside to this version of “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” is that around the 7:39 mark, the tape starts to degrade a bit and proceeds to slowly fade out completely between the 8:01-8:12 mark. Though it fades back in, it is obvious that at least a couple minutes of music are missing based upon the the different vibe and rhythm. On the plus side, at least it is restored with clarity and we’re still treated to a lengthy outro extended over a couple minutes.
After a brief moment for tuning, Roger Waters announces that “This next thing is a song of Dave’s and it’s extremely pastoral and it’s called Fat Old Sun” – and he hit the nail on the head; “Fat Old Sun” sounds absolutely gorgeous and reflective here with David Gilmour’s mellow vocal delivery. The stereo field pans toward the left channel slightly around the 4:22 mark, but there isn’t a drop-out or loss of volume. About 7 minutes into the song, things aren’t quite as pastoral as Nick Mason gradually builds up to a furious pounding of the kit before mellowing out again 8:30 in. The audience applauds the ever-shifting dynamics and are treated to a second fantastic crescendo with even more frenzied drumming courtesy of Mason before the final recapitulation at 11:03.
“Cymbaline” is for the most part a standard performance of the piece, but Gilmour breaks into a maniacal space delay freak-out at the 6:36 mark, just prior to the “footsteps” section that is brief but riveting (fortunately, he’s in a pretty experimental mood the whole evening, which we’ll discuss further momentarily). Chris Van Ness who reviewed the show for The Los Angeles Free Press “felt that the band went too far” during the sound effects interlude, but the audience, who were mostly sitting, really enjoyed it. There is a bit of warble/tape degradation here and there, hiss during the quietest moments, and once again, the recording teeters on the edge of distorting, but never really does thankfully.
Disc 2 opens with the absolute pinnacle of this set in my opinion: the most exciting rendition of “A Saucerful Of Secrets” the band has ever created – unquestionably one of the very best, if not THE very best performance of this piece. It is obvious that this is a special version from as early as 50 seconds into the song when Gilmour starts conjuring haunting feedback and attempts to tame it with the tremolo bar (surprisingly similar to Kerry King’s sinister feedback during the intro of Slayer’s “Raining Blood”).
It’s inevitable that one would curse the mild fluctuations and tape degradation during the first couple minutes, but the aural picture remains intact and again the recording smooths out in time to capture some incredible delayed Gilmour slide guitar that is both ghostly and beautiful, all building up to the “Syncopated Pandemonium” section which garners applause from the first snare roll.
This is also where things REALLY get interesting, and I have to attribute much of this excitement to the crystal clear free jazz piano work of Richard Wright – often this passage seems like it is completely random – and it is for the most part – but in this case Wright dwells on small motifs a bit longer, developing them, twisting them, creating a very different aural portrait from any other version of this song that I’ve heard.
As Nick Mason continues to propel the song further into a whirlwind, with Waters’ powerful Gong crashes accentuating everything, Gilmour works the whammy bar as if he were possessed by the spirit of Hendrix while wild drones and oscillations spiral underneath. From what I understand, an early Moog modular system was made available at this concert, and it certainly explains some of the unfamiliar sounds heard in this particular version. There are several minutes of totally tripped out oscillation before the solemn organ processional leads the band to the epic finale.
Subtle variations of Gilmour’s slide-driven melody yield extremely expressive, almost heart-rending results around the 18:50 mark before the powerful dynamic build into the vocal entry. Gilmour initially comes in strong, but around 21:15 begins fading into the background as if he were enveloped by the Civic Center’s natural reverb (but than more likely, he was just so into the song that he moved further from the mic). As always, massive applause follows the song’s conclusion.
There is a brief crossfade before Roger Waters asks the audience to welcome other musicians to the stage; of course he is referring to the Roger Wagner chorale and brass conducted by Peter Philips for the large ensemble version of “Atom Heart Mother,” which as we know was only performed in this arrangement for a limited number of concerts (and captured on tape in an even lesser quantity). The Los Angeles Free Press review made references to both Stockhausen and Orff in terms of influence and structure - I concur with those observations, particularly in the case of Orff (you know, Carmina Burana etc.).
The capture here features a fantastic balance between the choir, brass ensemble, Floyd themselves, and the fact that everyone sounds inspired for this performance really helps to “sell it” – more often than not, the close-minded/stuck-up classical musicians hired for these concerts tended to “mail in” their performances, but for this Santa Monica show it seems everyone was on the same page.
Unfortunately, there is major cut at the 17:25 mark where several measures from the “Funky Dung” section are lost, followed by about a minute of Gilmour’s slide melody before a second cut at 18:33, resulting in another musical omission. What follows is a lengthy improvised section of drones, tone clusters, feedback - all leaving the listener to wonder how the band transitioned there (see Disc 3 section below). At 21:47 there is a fade during the “Remergence” section but only a couple seconds are lost so it’s not nearly as significant as the aforementioned cuts. On the plus side, the massive finale culminating at 26:11 is intact. Even with these cuts/drop-outs, it is nearly 26 1/2 minutes in length.
The concert was supposed to end after “Atom Heart Mother,” but the crowd response was so positive and intense, the band decided to throw in a surprise encore of “Interstellar Overdrive” which hadn’t been performed at all during this leg of the tour, and rarely throughout 1970 in general (ironically the May 5th, 1970 show in Santa Monica represented by Sigma’s Heavy Hung was another occasion).
Roger Waters’ bass cuts through the mix on “Interstellar Overdrive” moreso than during any other song from this recording, which results in a powerful, full-bodied jam littered with amazing off-the-cuff licks from Gilmour (check out the arpeggios 4:26 in, along with more tremolo bar madness throughout…there’s even a brief passage that almost foreshadows Robin Trower’s “Bridge Of Sighs” !!!).
Several minutes of delay madness follow, anchored by Roger Waters’ “clock tics” (ala the later “Time”), and Gilmour has quite a bit of fun playing off of the staccato clicks until Mason and Wright take over with a driving, middle-eastern influenced drum and organ jam, sounding not unlike the feverish midsection of Purple’s Cal Jam performance of “Space Truckin” or early Ash Ra Tempel freakouts. After a couple minutes, the mood evolves into a mellow section which flirts with more space-raga drones before finally returning to the primary “Interstellar Overdrive” riff. The main motif is crushingly heavy as the ritard becomes more profound, finally yielding to a flurry of feedback. A fitting end to a seat-gripping performance, and Sigma elected to put a nice fade-out at the end, which I always prefer.
Regarding Disc 3, it is undoubtedly a different source as the needle drop is apparent and there is vinyl surface noise before “Fat Old Sun” fades in, missing the introduction. There is also a fade out during the applause that follows, and all the other tracks on Disc 3 share these traits in common.
That being said, it is indeed a second recorder as Sigma claimed in the announcement of this release, as the sonic character is significantly different from Discs 1 and 2 in that the bass guitar is far more audible, the vocals are a bit more distant, and the overall nature is darker (yet warmer, fuller) plus there is quite a bit of distortion in the louder passages…far too much to have been cleaned up for use on the other discs.
Further, just for the sake of comparison, after the “footsteps” section of “Cymbaline” on Disc 3, a woman can be heard talking over David Gilmour’s vocals, whereas this is not the case on Disc 1. Additionally, during the “Celestial Voices” section of “A Saucerful Of Secrets,” while Gilmour’s vocals do gradually become more distant as on Disc 2, they remain slightly more audible through to the end. Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, “Atom Heart Mother” is almost completely intact, unlike the version presented on Disc 2.
While it is debatable as to whether or not it would’ve been a better move for Sigma to make Disc 3 available as a separate bonus , in the end – despite rougher qualities of this source, I understand why it was included, and ultimately I am thankful it is on a silver disc personally, if for naught else the more complete “Atom Heart Mother” (though I will most certainly listen to Discs 1 and 2 more often just because of the great sound quality).
The major cuts in “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” and “Atom Heart Mother,” are the only REAL negative aspects of Discs 1 and 2, as the tape degradation/fluctuations, and even the hiss seem less prominent than on other versions of this concert – besides, as with many of these early captures, your ears tend to acclimate to the nature of the recording after a few minutes of uninterrupted listening. Really, the vast majority of the material here sounds great, without any overwhelming distortion nor muffle or distance.
With this in mind, I wholeheartedly recommend Sigma 39 on the basis of the first recorder alone, though Disc 3 definitely adds SOME value as well. The label really have done another fine job in nurturing this concert up to their own high standards, and as one who was specifically awaiting their take on this performance, not only am I not disappointed, but I’m pleasantly surprised! Thank you Sigma!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 - Creatures Of The Deep (Sigma 39),