22 August 2008, Plomerus @ 12:03 am
Knebworth Park (Sigma 20)
Knebworth Park, Stevenage, Hertfordshire, UK – July 5th, 1975
Disc 1: Introduction, Raving And Drooling, Soundcheck, You’ve Got To Be Crazy, Soundcheck, Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Part 1-5), Have A Cigar, Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Part 6-9)
Disc 2: Speak To Me, Breathe, On The Run, Time, Breathe (Reprise), The Great Gig In The Sky, Money, Us And Them, Any Colour You Like, Brain Damage, Eclipse
Disc 3: Soundcheck, Echoes
I had mixed feelings when Sigma announced the release of Knebworth Park as it’s widely known amongst Floyd aficionados that the band’s performance on the evening of July 5th, 1975 ranks as one of their worst and additionally the sound quality of all previous roios of this show was dismal at best. That being said, because this concert DOES possess quite a bit of historical value, an upgrade is certainly welcome nonetheless – even if it’s primarily only of interest to serious Floyd collectors/completists.
Floyd’s appearance at Knebworth would be their last live date until the opening night of the tour in support of Animals on January 23rd, 1977 in Dortmund, Germany a year and a half later – but this concert is not only significant in that regard; the Knebworth concert would also be the final time Roger Waters would perform “Echoes” and the complete “Dark Side Of The Moon” suite with the band. Throw in the only appearance of Roy Harper with the band on guest vocals and it’s quite obvious we have an extremely valuable piece of audio history here.
Unfortunately, the band’s set was fraught with technical difficulties, poor coordination, and lethargy from the start, plus this was definitely an “off night” for Roger vocally, so expect something of an arduous listening experience at times. The upshot is Sigma once again have done a fine job in salvaging this recording, making it MUCH easier to digest than past releases such as Highland’s Wish Roy Were In Knebworth (HL-309/310/311) or fan-produced offerings such as Trouble In Knebworth (YR 001-3) and Yesterday’s Triumph (PRS-CDR-010).
Until recently, there were two audience recordings in circulation (and apparently some brand new torrents have “hit the shelves” but we’ll have to wait for more insight on those from another contributor here, as I don’t download) – they are both distant and somewhat rough listens, distinguished by way of Recorder 1 having a cut in “Have A Cigar,” whilst on Recorder 2 it is complete among other things. All of the aforementioned releases sourced Recorder 1, and in some cases used Recorder 2 to patch in the remainder of “Have A Cigar,” but frankly it didn’t really matter that much as they all sounded absolutely dreadful; muffled, distant, hissy like many of the larger festival recordings from 1970 that Siréne released.
It appears that Sigma have used Recorder 1 again, but man…some poor (yet brilliant) engineer out there must have worked his fingers to the bone resurrecting (or perhaps re-animating is a better word) this tape! The difference in sound quality was apparent the instant I pressed play, in that it’s nowhere near as muffled, much brighter, and in fact listenable now (so, to all those out there wondering if you should throw Wish Roy Were In Knebworth away or up for auction, the answer is a resounding YES). Due to the fact that it was necessary to apply quite a bit of high end to the recording, there is a significant amount of hiss present, but you’ll start to tune it out after your ears acclimate. Subsequently, the character of the recording is a bit on the thin side with so much emphasis on upper mids and high frequencies, but I daresay it’s almost enjoyable to listen to now!
Yes, while Knebworth Park is yet another example of the excellent work we’ve come to expect from the “magicians” of Sigma, there’s no upgrading the band’s actual peformance nor a remedy for the technical problems that clearly infringed upon what should’ve been a concert for the ages. The concert was officially licensed for an audience of 40,000, but the turn-out was so immense it actually clocked in closer to 100,000! Floyd’s road crew had staggered in fatigued from the last of a fifteen date run in North America only a day or so in advance, and proceeded to set up the band’s own PA system for the entire festival roster to use – a somewhat fatal miscalculation in that their gear would be absolutely shagged by the time Floyd took the stage, plagued by one technical problem after another.
Given the obvious effort it took to prepare the stage for the band’s arrival and the nature of festivals running behind schedule, it was an uphill battle from the start. The crew had to play “catch up” as far as preliminary tuning/rigging was concerned and didn’t quite finish before the pair of WW2 Spitfires the band had commissioned for this show did a dramatic, low-altitude flyover above the audience, signaling the start of Floyd’s set. Nerves were wound tight given the enormity of the audience, the spectacle, etc…and being rushed onstage prematurely contributed to the “tentative” nature of the opener “Raving And Drooling.”
The sound quality here is the worst of the entire set; the drums and guitars are virtually inaudible, though the bass and keyboards come across with great clarity. By the time of this performance, all of the new material showcased throughout 1974-75 had really developed into the songs we’re all familiar with from the then soon-to-be-released Wish You Were Here and the later Animals album, give or take the alternate lyrics or the occasional variation in arrangment. Still no 23rd Psalm during “Raving And Drooling” yet, but the rest of the framework is all there. Waters’ voice is pretty ragged and often off-key throughout the entire Knebworth performance, and this song is no exception. Fortunately, his basswork is consistently fantastic, and that, along with Wright’s keyboard prowess save this one from being a complete loss.
We’re treated to 2:31 of tuning before “You’ve Got To Be Crazy,” which is certainly tolerable considering Floyd’s penchant for unbelievably long pauses in the 70′s. After a minor false start, Waters comments on how they’ll “be better after it gets dark!” Gilmour’s phased guitar builds up to the familar strum again and this time they manage to follow through to the end of the song, which after a significant amount of re-arranging over the course of the previous six months is VASTLY superior to the manic renditions performed in 1974. Lyrically though, it’s still essentially the original set penned for those dates the previous year, but delivered in a far more relaxed fashion, allowing Gilmour to breathe and shine as always in terms of pitch and expression. Another wise decision was that of picking up the tempo for the final verse, as it does lend a power to it that was severely lacking prior to 1975.
Missing those long tune-ups? No problem…we’re treated to a full 8:35 soundcheck next, which is probably as difficult to endure now as it was in person – although, there are a couple points during this recording where it sounds as if our enterprising recorder is toking on a spliff, so perhaps it was more tolerable at the time! But, I digress – one of the most frustrating problems of the night for Richard Wright was the fact that the Hammond organ that is so integral to the Floyd’s sound, simply would not stay in tune due to power instability and thus it was during this lengthy pause that it was decided he’d use the Farfisa instead to complete the show. This is relevant in that the Hammond (coupled with rotating Leslie speakers) is very warm and expressive, while the Farfisa is quite a bit colder, more sterile. Even after swapping boards, stable tuning remains a challenge for everyone throughout the night.
Waters finally announces “OK, this is part of an album that we’re releasing soon and part of this, what we’re going to do is uh..a song about Syd Barrett, part of it about Rock And Roll in general…it’s called Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and the audience cheers at the mention of Barrett’s name, which is touching. The sound quality of this recording started to improve on “You’ve Got To Be Crazy” and continues to balance out even more for “Shine On” – perhaps this is really the result of the crew finally getting things under some semblance of control, and fortunately both the drums and guitar are more audible than at the start of Disc 1. Dick Parry’s sax solo really comes through nicely and should be considered a minor highlight of the first set.
Speaking of highlights, Roy Harper (who also performed at the festival earlier in the day) joins the band onstage for the song he actually sings on the Wish You Were Here album, “Have A Cigar,” and this is the only time this has ever transpired! While on the album he sounds quite “Floydian,” here his delivery is very raw and aggressive (he did smash up one of Floyd’s vans earlier that day in a tantrum after his driver absconded with his stage attire!) – and there are a couple instances where he sounds almost drunken, but I believe this is most likely the result of trying to hear himself onstage. Even if his vocal performance isn’t quite as iconic as on the album, it’s truly a rare event nonetheless. The real surprise here is the fact that Sigma elected to fade out the song 5 minutes in, just before the final, “extra” refrain rather than patching in the remainder from Recorder 2, instead moving directly on to “Shine On (Parts 6-9).”
I always prefer to approach “Dark Side Of The Moon” as a complete entity, unless it’s a particularly spectacular performance brimming with highlights, and while the band does sound a lot more confident/together during their second set, there is an air of “going through the motions.” There are no obvious technical problems throughout “Dark Side Of The Moon,” but the equalization of the recording yields some interesting results – for example, the arpeggiated sequence that typically defines “On The Run” and gives it movement, is overpowered by heavy amounts of LFO and cutoff filtering (all the “swishes” and “swooshes” – the trippy sound effects).
“The Great Gig In The Sky” features a really swinging jazz passage that wouldn’t be out of place in a cocktail lounge once it really starts cooking – thanks in no small part to some fantastic piano and bass interplay. Also of note is the extended solo section of “Any Colour You Like,” which finds Gilmour trading pure, gritty blues lines with the Blackberries. The downside is Waters’ vocals on “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” – which are lacking in power, frequently off-key, and strangely sounding akin to a wounded David Bowie! Of course, the audience response is rapturous nonetheless, despite the obviously laboured vocals at the conclusion of the suite.
No Floyd set would be complete without, you guessed it, another dose of tuning/soundchecking, this time a reasonable 3 minutes in length. But careful with those headphones, Eugene! Be aware that there’s a jarring spike of microphonic feedback 4 seconds into Disc 3!
Ultimately, Floyd close the show on a strong note with the ever-reliable “Echoes” encore – the very last performance of the epic to feature Roger Waters’ muscular bass playing. This version, like all the others from 1975 features the additional layers of vocals from the Blackberries, and Dick Parry’s sax solo (which, while impressive as per usual, has always sounded out of place to me – but I suppose one cannot blame the band for wanting to “breathe new life” into their songs). Waters turns in some of the best bass improvisations he’s ever conjured about 8-9 minutes in, and the funky section finds the band sounding more energized than at any other point of the evening. I wouldn’t go so far as to claim this is the “ultimate” performance of “Echoes,” but it’s certainly the highlight of the Knebworth set and Waters’ inspired playing more than makes up for his vocal shortcomings during the other songs. Sad as it might be, I’d say “Echoes” was indeed retired in style (until it was brought back out of the closet in the late 1980s post-Waters era).
Having navigated this often-maligned collection once again successfully, I’ve come to the conclusion that while there are indeed quite a few painful moments and points where the overall flow of the set is disrupted (particularly during the first set), there are a few morsels to savor and even get excited about. The REAL issue is that Knebworth Park is indeed a vast improvement, albeit not without it’s flaws. If you’re a casual collector, stick to the L.A., New York, and Boston shows from 1975 – but if you’re a serious Floyd collector or interested in shows of historical significance, Sigma 20 is easily the most listenable version of this performance that I’ve encountered, and definitely an upgrade in my book.
* As a footnote, I wanted to mention that I always review these releases with the eq flat so as to analyze the true nature of the release, but this set, like most of the others I’ve reviewed in the past, would certainly benefit from some personalized tweaking on your own eq. In fact, dialing in some lows really rounds out this one in a good way, so keep that in mind!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 - Knebworth Park (Sigma 20),