21 October 2008, Plomerus @ 7:48 pm
Memories Of The East (Sigma 24)
Disc 1, Hakone Aphrodite, Hakone, Japan – August 6th, 1971, Direct Master Version: Buffy Sainte-Marie – The Circle Game, Soundcheck/Announcement, Atom Heart Mother, Soundcheck, Green Is The Colour, Careful With That Axe, Eugene, Soundcheck, Echoes
Disc 2, Nakajima Sports Center, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan - March 13th, 1972, Master Reel Version: Speak To Me, Breathe (In The Air), On The Run,Time, Breathe (Reprise), The Mortality Sequence, Money, Us And Them, Any Colour You Like, Brain Damage, Eclipse, One Of These Days, Tuning, Careful With That Axe Eugene
When Sigma announced the release of Memories Of The East, I was initially drawn to the fact that it included the great Sapporo show from March 13th, 1972, as I had figured that the label was bound to offer their own version of it at some point, but then I started contemplating the August 6th, 1971 Hakone portion of this release which raised a number of questions: Why pair up these two concerts in particular? Why release the Hakone show incomplete again? Is the “direct master” of the Hakone concert simply a silver re-pressing of the Aphrodite Master bonus CDR?
While I can’t answer all of these questions, I believe I’ve sussed out the rationale behind this particular pairing at the very least; in the early 70′s, Pink Floyd made only two trips to Japan, and the first performance ever was in fact at the open-air Hakone Aphrodite festival, while the concert in Sapporo seven months later would be their last show in Japan until March 1988! So these are the first and last shows in Japan to feature the Gilmour/Mason/Waters/Wright line-up respectively, and obviously these brief tours left a lasting impression considering the sheer number of releases originating from there to this day (both official and otherwise). All that said, let’s take a closer look at both concerts presented here…
Pink Floyd departed for Japan via Hong Kong on July 31st, 1971, ultimately performing twice at the Hakone Aphrodite festival on August 6th and 7th, as well as one night in Osaka on the 9th – this was the extent of their first visit to Japan. The media coverage surrounding Floyd’s arrival was immense, including press conferences (that made the band somewhat uncomfortable, given their private nature) and television broadcasts from the festival (although the full content remains unclear).
Despite having performed sets both days of the Hakone Aphrodite festival, recordings have only surfaced for the first, in the form of three separate sources. The first two were represented on Siréne’s Aphrodite (Siréne-160), while the third was utilized for Shout To The Top’s Echoes Of Japanese Meddle (STTP 153). Unfortunately, in all cases, the sources are incomplete in one capacity or another, and we’ve yet to see a comprehensive release that pulls them all together.
The real questions are whether or not this is an improvement over the Siréne release and how it compares to the aforementioned bonus CDR. Upon comparison, the track lengths differ from the Siréne slightly (particularly for the first four tracks, where Siréne assigned different track ID’s to each soundcheck and announcement) and Aphrodite tends to have a darker character sonically.
After A/B-ing Memories Of The East against the Aphrodite Master CDR, comparing track lengths, and even some of the artwork, I can confirm these two releases are identical. That means it’s the same clear but hissy, incomplete source, fraught with side conversations, mic noise, dropouts and cuts.
At Hakone, Pink Floyd shared the billing with the likes of The 1910 Fruit Gum Company, Strawberry Path, The Mops, Happenings Four, Yosuke Yamashita, Masahiko Sato Trio, and the Native American activist pop artist Buffy Sainte-Marie, whose song “The Circle Game” is still inexplicably included here. Apparently, this track is included on the master of the first tape source as it is present on the Siréne release, the bonus CDR, and once again on Memories From The East. Either Sigma REALLY enjoy this song or are militant about preserving the integrity of the source, but no matter the reasoning, its inclusion is simply bizarre.
The Pink Floyd portion of this disc begins with the first “Soundcheck,” which in this case includes the announcement “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Pink Floyd” – albeit slightly premature considering another 2 minutes of soundchecking follows.
“Atom Heart Mother” is the small band version of course, and though initially somewhat muffled on this source, it clears up approximately 2:06 in with Richard Wright’s organ motif. Fortunately, the audience remains predominantly quiet and attentive through the softer, vocal segment allowing for an unhindered listening experience. One of the positive aspects of this particular source is that it genuinely sounds live and raw, thus organic. The funky section in particular is pretty well balanced between all of the instruments, but on the downside, the band didn’t improvise as extensively during these festival performances due to time constraints.
Another minute and a half of soundcheck follows before Roger Waters announces “We’re going to do two things together now; the first is a song called Green Is The Colour from the film More and the second is an instrumental called Careful With That Axe Eugene.” During the soundcheck faint sounds of what appears to be hand percussion can be heard, and this continues on into “Green Is The Colour” deep in the background!
The sound improves significantly for “Green Is The Colour,” and though the hiss remains, overall this track boasts a fuller, rounder sound. This rather sedate, dreamy version is a highlight from this performance and as always provides quite a contrast to it’s successor in the set, “Careful With That Axe Eugene.”
“Careful With That Axe Eugene” suffers a major cut at the 1:33-1:35 mark, followed by additional tape crinkle through 1:44. Though a suitably haunting rendition, the sound here is closer to “Atom Heart Mother” than “Green Is The Colour” on this disc, and there are a few distracting conversations in the audience during the calm introduction. The main climax seems to be delayed by a few extra bars for some reason and results in this sense of impending doom until the release of Water’s first maniacal scream. As with several of the summer performances of this song in 1971, this is a fairly tame version, nowhere near the intensity of the rendition on Disc 2 from Sapporo.
A third two and a half minute soundcheck precedes “Echoes” which is unfortunately still incomplete; the first 20 minutes are included but a good portion of the triplet section is missing, along with the final verse and outro. Complete, this surely would’ve resulted in one of the longest versions of “Echoes” ever. Despite the excess audience chatter at the beginning, this is solid performance with the alternate lyrics, and it’s a shame we are deprived of the full climax and resolution.
It should also be noted that neither “Cymbaline” nor the encore “A Saucerful Of Secrets” are included on this release; “Cymbaline” was included on the Shout To The Top release, but as of the time of this writing, “A Saucerful Of Secrets” has yet to surface on silver.
When all is said and done, in terms of being a cost-effective alternative to Siréne’s Aphrodite, it certainly is – without the added cost of the replica concert program and sonically Memories Of The East is a bit brighter, but I wouldn’t consider this the definitive documentation of Floyd’s appearance at the Hakone Aphrodite festival; for the casual collector who doesn’t have this concert in any form, Sigma 24 would certainly suffice (and factory-pressed-silver is obviously preferable to the previously available CDR version), but hardcore collectors would surely prefer to have the complete concert – perhaps utilizing the unblemished “Careful With That Axe Eugene” and “Cymbaline” from the third source Shout To The Top used on Echoes Of Japanese Meddle, to create some kind of multiple source composite, or maybe even a three disc set that includes all of the existing sources. A truly comprehensive release in the old Siréne fashion would likely also include the broadcast footage from the festival, and surely someone has to have some kind of recording from the following day as well - I’m confident that at some point we’ll finally see a definitive release for the Hakone Aphrodite event.
Needless to say, just as with Your Favorite Disguise (Sigma 23), the label has coupled a somewhat ”lesser” recording (primarily due to it’s lack of completeness) with an extremely strong source, which some might view as little more than an excuse to inflate the retail price, however in this case, being that Disc 1 of this set is essentially a re-release, it’s certainly easier to rationalize, especially considering the strengths of Disc 2 and given the issues I’ve detailed above, the Hakone portion wouldn’t stand on it’s own in this incomplete state.
Pink Floyd’s second tour of Japan in March 1972 was more extensive than the first, consisting of six concerts in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Sapporo (a seventh was planned for March 11th in Yokohama, but cancelled). The performance at the Nakajima Sports Center in Sapporo on March 13th is widely considered to be the best from this tour, due in no small part to a superb early version of the “Dark Side Of The Moon” suite. As aforementioned, this not was not only the final night of the tour, but the last time Floyd would perform with Roger Waters in Japan.
Previously available via several well-known as well as more obscure releases such as Aphrodite Studio’s Cold Front (AS 91PF001), Dark Side Of The Rising Sun (various versions exist, including one from Pigs On The Wing), Teddy Bear’s The Great Gig On The Moon (TB 35), Black Cat’s Think Pink (BC-18), and most recently on silver via Highland’s Dark Side Of The Ice (HL 679), this show is well-circulated and with good reason – it’s absolutely essential to any fan, casual or obsessive!
It’s no surprise that Sigma would offer their own take on this show – in fact, it’s more surprising that it took this long for them to produce it, but perhaps this is due to the time involved in locating the master reel; Highland used a DAT clone of the master, whereas Sigma have apparently utilized the original master – at least this is what the electronic one-sheet promoting this release implied.
The result is a sonic character very similar to that of the Dark Side Of The Ice, in that there’s a bias towards the mids and lows, without being too dark. I imagine Sigma refrained from rolling on extra high-end due to the hiss present on the master, as that would only make it worse; though more or less constant, it is tolerable here and tends to fade into the background as you acclimate to the recording.
The biggest difference between the Highland and Sigma release is that Memories Of The East is much cleaner; the Highland tended to be a tad on the “scratchy” side, almost as if there were a residue of mild upper-end distortion, while the Sigma version is 100% smooth. The track times differ slightly because Sigma elected to give “Breathe (Reprise)” and the tuning before “Careful With That Axe Eugene” their own separate track ID’s.
All of the instrumentation and vocals are extremely well-balanced, thus we are treated to fairly accurate portrait of the compositions, without any one member of the band dominating the mix, and the pre-recorded layers come through clearly as well. The audience on this recording is very respectful, and any chatter is little more than a murmur in the background, predominantly between songs.
This early performance of the “Dark Side Of The Moon” suite easily ranks amongst the top 5 of pre-LP release versions, and integral in tracking the development of this massive work throughout 1972, even having evolved from the Rainbow shows in the U.K. a couple weeks prior. Some of the other shows during the 2nd Japanese tour found the band sounding a bit lethargic during the suite but that could just be chalked up to jet-lag, and despite the tempo being a bit slower during some sections, this performance is spot-on.
Highlights, as with all early versions of the suite, include the rather energetic guitar/keyboard jam “The Travel Sequence” (entitled “On The Run” here, but that’s a misnomer since it merely occupies the same position of the synth sequence) which really does convey a sense of movement in a much more rocking, organic fashion compared to the sci-fi sounds that would ultimately replace it, and the very different “The Mortality Sequence” in place of “The Great Gig In The Sky” – in this case sounding somber and stately due in no small part to Wright’s church organ motifs and Malcolm Muggeridge’s recitations over the lush keyboard layers.
“Time” is performed at a slower tempo than the LP version, plus Gilmour and Wright have swapped vocal parts during the verses, a small in flaw in this arrangement that would be rectified with far greater results on the album. The extended jam of “Any Colour You Like,” like “The Travel Sequence” allows Gilmour and Wright to cut loose in the same fashion as they did during the previous tours – such improvisation would gradually diminish in subsequent years due to having to sequence with the visuals and pre-recorded layers.
The harmony vocals are nearly perfect in “Us And Them” and “Brain Damage,” and it’s reassuring to hear the band are more than capable of handling the parts without the additional “cushioning” the Blackberries provided during the tours following the release of the album.
A cut occurs at the 1:56 mark of “Brain Damage,” omitting the 2nd verse completely and moving directly into the bridge. Like Highland, Sigma did not utilize a lesser quality, secondary source to fix this and I imagine this once again has to do with integrity/continuity, but little details like these wouldn’t be that difficult to sort out either.
The applause at the conclusion of the “Dark Side Of The Moon” suite is faded out to black before “One Of These Days” and this is, of course, preferable to an abrupt cut. This rendition of “One Of These Days” is one of the heavier versions of the song captured live, and there are some extremely spacey excursions beginning around the 4:50 mark. The explosions and narration are perfectly audible on this tape as well. Another 1:56 of tuning follows this song, before the final highlight of this evening (that is included on the master) rounds everything out.
For me, this version of “Careful With That Axe Eugene” is worth the price of admission alone – so menacing, morbid, even frightening. There is an intensity captured here that starts building from the very first whispers at the 2:00 mark, and the delayed cross-sticking on the snare further contributes to the “horror soundtrack” aspect. This creepy atmosphere is sure to have the listener on the edge of their seat! Waters screams bloody murder on this recording with such conviction, it’s almost unparalleled…sheer brilliant madness I say.
Tragically, “Echoes,” though performed, is still omitted on Sigma 24, and this is truly a disappointment given the calibre of the rest of the performance, along with the quality of the capture. Thus, this document of Floyd’s final performance in Japan for 16 years ends on a rather harrowing but excellent note with “Careful…”
Regarding the Sapporo portion of this release, it’s simply a must-have and until someone does a professional patch job on “Brain Damage” or locates a quality source for “Echoes,” this is just about as good as it gets, especially if you work your personal EQ to give the playback the full frequency spectrum (but remember, too much high-end will accentuate the hiss). Without a doubt, this is the cleanest I’ve heard this particular recording, thus it can be said that in this regard, Sigma have lived up to their usual reputation.
As a whole, Memories Of The East is a worthwhile addition to the casual fan’s expanding collection, while Disc 2 will be of primary interest to the fanatic. I’ve got mixed feelings about the Hakone portion and figure it’s only a matter of time before some label sorts out the truly definitive release, but on the same token, it’s nice to have the master on silver now too.
In the end, it can’t be said that Sigma have produced a weak release; on the contrary, both concerts are treated to the signature high-quality Sigma mastering, but I can’t help feeling somewhat disappointed due to the incompleteness of both discs. I do, however, think it was a very nice gesture on Sigma’s part to include a small memorial to Richard Wright on the inner tray card. Nevertheless, if you don’t own some version of the Sapporo show, this would be the one to get; you’ll never find a cleaner copy!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 - Memories Of The East (Sigma 24),