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Pink Floyd – Long Sentence (Sigma 16)

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Long Sentence (Sigma 16)

Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY – April 22nd, 1970

Disc 1:  Grantchester Meadows, Astronomy Domine, Cymbaline, Atom Heart Mother, The Embryo

Disc 2:  Green Is The Colour, Careful With That Axe Eugene, Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, A Saucerful Of Secrets, Interstellar Overdrive

Port Chester was the eighth show of Pink Floyd’s 1970 Spring US tour following two dates at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia and was their final show in the New York metropolitan area (they also played SUNY Stony Brook and the Fillmore East). This was also the longest US tour to date and it is fascinating to hear material from the recent Zabriskie Point and More soundtracks evolving into lengthy jams alongside familiar songs from Ummagumma as well as the transition into the Atom Heart Mother period. Despite the inclusion of some Barrett-era pieces, this is the sound of The Floyd spreading their wings and finding their own identity.

Pink Floyd’s Port Chester show first appeared several years ago through the Port Chester Resurrection Project, a tribute to Ken Lee, an employee at the Capitol Theater who recorded almost every show there between 1970 and 1971.  Initially the tape was unfortunately circulated incomplete, cutting out in “A Saucerful Of Secrets” and missing “Interstellar Overdrive” entirely. Siréne (Sigma’s predecessor) jumped the gun by releasing this on Port Chester 1970 (Siréne-003), one of their earliest releases. 

Soon after, the complete tape surfaced rendering the Siréne obsolete, but until now only the Pro-CDR Absolutely Green (Blue Cafe 64A/B)  has been available commercially. Long Sentence caps off a string of 1970 shows from Sigma and frankly, it’s long overdue considering how long it’s been since the Siréne title was released. Now for the first time, the complete Port Chester tape is pressed on silver in a definitive edition. 

The sound quality is good for the era; being an audience recording from the upper seats there is roundness and aspect of distance, however there is only a mild amount of hiss present and very little crowd noise (primarily between songs during tune-ups). The louder passages do have a significant amount of distortion and the bass frequencies dominate this recording more than anything else, but fortunately Gilmour’s guitar cuts through pretty well overall, and Floyd being a very dynamic band to begin with offer a plethora of softer parts allowing the softer vocals, organ and sometimes delicate cymbal work to shine through.

The tape begins with an interesting blend of murmured conversation and the ambiance of the hall juxtaposed against the pre-recorded bird sounds setting the mood for the soft, sentimental strains of “Grantchester Meadows.” This song actually benefits from the slight distance in that the hall’s natural reverb gives it a bit more depth and atmosphere. “Grantchester Meadows” softer dynamic allows it to come across clear and warm on this recording, free from the bass-heavy bombast of other songs.

Having experimented with “The Man And The Journey” suites throughout the previous year, Floyd were really starting to master the art of segue, and one of the best examples is the transition from “Grantchester Meadows” into “Astronomy Domine” – musically it works so well it’s almost as if they were written with this in mind, and the contrast aesthetically is perhaps even greater than “Green Is The Colour/Careful With That Axe Eugene” in that, we’re taken from a very earthy, organic vibe into deep outer space. Literally a week later at the Fillmore West, Floyd performed this transition perfectly but the Port Chester show comes close!

Unfortunately, as “Astronomy Domine” kicks in the bass frequencies do tend to overwhelm the drums, keyboards, and vocals – thankfully Gilmour’s guitar still cuts and the keys are audible in the breakdowns preventing the song from sounding a complete mess. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that this recording is unlistenable the  way Amsterdam Rock Circus or Soersfestival were – it’s just that the distortion on the master is pretty dominating at times – again we’re fortunate the set is varied enough in mood and volume to endure the rougher spots.

Following “Astronomy Domine,” Roger Waters encourages the attendees upstairs to join the rest of the crowd and the band downstairs: “Because the speakers that we’re playing tapes and things through set throughout the hall –  we didn’t have enough to put up speakers  upstairs as well as downstairs.  So if there is anybody up there right now my advice is for them to come downstairs.” There is the sound of a crowd shuffling, some tuning, and Waters saying “There’s no panic, we’ll wait for you to all get settled…there’s plenty of time.” After everyone settles in he continues: “This next thing is a song we recorded for a French film called More.  It’s called Cymbaline”

Gilmour mistakes verses on “Cymbaline” but manages to avoid cracking up as he’s often prone to do. Being a relatively new number, the audience would’ve been none the wiser anyway. We’re treated to a very trippy and atmospheric transition into the “footsteps section” with lots of great delays and swirling effects. The crowd applauds loudly in the middle of this, perhaps not realizing the song is barely half over. I’ve often wondered what the audience must have been thinking during this passage, especially considering this was during the time when Floyd abandoned their infamous light-shows! This is actually one of the longest versions of “Cymbaline” they’ve ever played.

Next, we have the (preferable) small band version of “Atom Heart Mother” – still untitled at this time as Roger Waters says “This doesn’t have a title yet, so if you think of anything clever, let us know!” It’s nice to hear how personable he was with the audience during this early phase of their career.

“Atom Heart Mother” is a bit rough around the edges despite the band having performed it for about 3 months already. Gilmour stretches out a little bit during the slide guitar portion at the beginning, as well as during his vocal parts. Wright’s organ is much more audible during these quiet vocal passages, which is certainly welcome and contributes to the meditative/haunting quality of this section. There’s a bit of tape wobble beginning around 18:38 and continuing through the first couple minutes of “The Embryo.” Apparently, there are also some electrical problems onstage during this part of the set as well, but it’s unclear as to what is exactly going on. 

“The Embryo” is a fairly lengthy version and Wright’s organ is more audible during this song than the majority of the recording. There’s  a really cool groove underneath the “seagull section” which continues on for several minutes before breaking down to a free-form passage, almost as if the band went a bit TOO far out! Gilmour continues experimenting with some very cool delay effects and wah wah carrying the band to a fantastic crescendo leading back into the final verse. Great stuff.

The bass is far less intrusive than on the Siréne release during “Green Is The Colour,” and the guitar and vocals sound fabulous with only mild low-frequency rumbles until the build up…then the sound becomes really distorted from 4:15 on, the guitar and vocals barely cutting through, which is a shame….considering its one of the most tuneful and instantly memorable melodies of the evening.

Fortunately, the softer passages of “Careful With That Axe Eugene” are a bit more forgiving, allowing more organ and cymbal work through, and being that Water’s vocalizations always tended to have more “bite” than Gilmour’s there’s no problems there. In fact, even though “the” scream isn’t as bloodcurdling as other nights, Waters is more vocal throughout than usual on this song, and he produces some truly sinister, guttural sounds that you’re more likely to find on the average death metal record! The highlight of this song for me on this recording would be Wright’s unique chord changes 6 minutes in – such subtleties are the very reason for collecting these shows in my opinion! Of course, there’s more bass-heavy sonic obliteration during the jammed passage following the main scream, but it does calm down again about 10 minutes in.

Another funny moment from this evening is Water’s next introduction: “This is a song about….actually I’m not quite sure what this song IS about, but I know what it’s called, and it’s called Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” – rather humourous considering he wrote it! The vocals benefit from the slight distance sounding even more haunting. Along with “Grantchester Meadows” this is the best sounding piece of the set as far as a minimal amount of intrusive distortion.

Thankfully “A Saucerful Of Secrets” is complete for once as it always seems to be cut or omitted from the majority of roios…the downside being the sound does get a bit more muffled after about 2 minutes. The excess distortion on the louder parts of this recording works out OK for “Syncopated Pandemonium” section but is a bit too much for “Celestial Voices” which is a shame, but again at least this version is complete and uncut. As per usual, “Saucerful” receives the greatest crowd response and it must have really been something magical to experience that night as it is a great rendition if you listen attentively.

The encore “Interstellar Overdrive” features some great organ work from Wright during the intro, and though the bass is overwhelming again, it almost contributes in a positive way for this song. One of the highlights of this whole show takes place in the middle of this song with Gilmour’s riffing recalling Deep Purple’s “Mandrake Root” and perhaps Zeppelin among other things. Very cool and unique to this version, making it absolutely worth buying this disc even if you already have Siréne-003.

Despite the distortion throughout the loud parts of the recording, the large quantity of softer passages balance it out, and one can never complain about another complete early 70’s Floyd set! For the Floyd enthusiast this is a fantastic document of the Spring tour. For the casual collector there are about seven other shows from 1970 that I recommend above this one, with better overall sound quality or featuring more unique performances, but this release is definitive nonetheless, keeping in line with Sigma’s reputation of setting of the bar really high.

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Pink Floyd - Long Sentence (Sigma 16), 2.4 out of 5 based on 4 ratings

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