Dark Side Of The West (Sigma 32)
The beginning of progressive rock can be dated to 1967 when not only The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but also the release of A Whiter Shade Of Paleby Procol Harum, Days Of Future Pastby The Moody Blues and The Piper At The Gates Of Dawnby Pink Floyd. All of these are considered revolutionary pieces which expanded the concept of rock. Some argue, Bill Bruford most loudly, that progressive rock reached its peak five years later in 1972. It is a debatable point, but it does have some merit with the release of Close To The Edge, Foxtrot, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, and Thick As A Brick all considered classics in the genre.
This group also includes Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon. None of the other albums mentioned had the impact and longevity as Dark Side. What is remarkable about Pink Floyd’s contribution is that it emerged to the public early in the year almost in sui generis. Although some ideas were recycled from previous works, even the first performance of the piece presented the suite in its final form. And not only was the work a significant step forward over Pink Floyd’s previous effort Meddle, but is one of the more perfect marriages between form and content ever written. The lyrical theme of insanity matches the music perfectly to produce an art piece as close to perfection as possible.
1972 was their busiest year for Pink Floyd with ninety-eight performances spread out over several tours of the US, UK, Japan, continental Europe and the release of their film Live In Pompei. On Dark Side Of The West Sigma collect together new tape sources for two shows by the end of the second US tour that year in California. The merit of these tape sources is debatable but it is again to their credit they pressed these onto silver in an attractive edition for the Pink Floyd collector.
Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA – September 22nd, 1972
Disc 1 (70:25): 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, One Of These Days, Careful With That Axe Eugene
Disc 2 (59:41): Echoes, A Saucerful Of Secrets, Set The Controls For The Heart Of the Sun
The Hollywood Bowl performance on September 22nd ranks among the all time legendary gigs in progressive rock. It is a shame it was never officially released, but for years collectors had the luxury of choosing between two excellent recordings in many different editions. The definitive package remains Damn Braces: Bless Relaxes (Siréne-060) that not only has the two audio recordings but very watchable amateur video of the event. This new audience tape presents the entire show is fair to good sound quality. The taper was much more distant from the stage than the others and the tape is thin and lacking in dynamics but is still listenable.
The performance itself measures up to the legend. It is simply one of the greatest concerts given by Pink Floyd in the early years. The first half is devoted to the Dark Side suite and unlike later versions, which some fans complain are sloppy and uninspired, is tight and played with the urgency of a band trying to get their point across. “The Great Gig In The Sky,” which earlier in the year was simply the “Mortality Sequence,” has the piano melody of the final recorded version and Waters plays a strange chromatic bass progression during Wright’s organ. “Money” is furiously played so much so that Gilmour stumbles over the lyrics and repeats “I’m alright Jack / keep your hands off of my stack” several times.
The second half is comprised of pre-Dark Side classics and sounds like a celebration after the seriousness of the event of the first half. Gilmour’s guitar in “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” has been described as sounding like an “angular, incisive…knife” and ranks among his greatest bits in this track. “A Saucerful Of Secrets” is played for the one of the final times ever live. This recording is good at picking up on the insanity of the piece. The encore “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” has an interesting improvisation in the middle and overall this is one of the gutiest Pink Floyd performances ever committed to tape. Having this third very good recording only adds to its already considerable legend.
Winterland Auditorium, San Francisco, CA – September 24th, 1972
Disc 3 (45:07): 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 4 (46:01): One Of These Days, Careful With That Axe Eugene, Echoes
The older tape source for the September 24th Winterland show was released many years ago on Winterland 1972 (Siréne-046) along with the September 23rd show. This tape source is also very good with a bit more dynamics and live presence than the older one. It does however suffer from slight distortion in the lower frequencies at times which isn’t distracting. There is a cut in the very beginning of “Echoes” (ironically in the same spot as on the older tape) and the encore, which In The Flesh lists as “A Saucerful Of Secrets” is not present. It begs the question whether or not it was actually played in San Francisco that night for it is surprising that both audience recordings do not have even a hint of the song.
This was Pink Floyd’s first show in San Francisco since they played the Winterland in October 1971 on the Meddle tour. Compared to the Hollywood show, which relied upon a passionate delivery for its visceral impact, San Francisco is much more subtle and profound probably because the Winterland is an indoor venue. The audience are also much more reactive to the spectacle as “Speak To Me” begins the show. The opening numbers of the Dark Side suite start off well. “The Great Gig In The Sky” sounds especially beautiful with Wright adding intricate ornaments to the piano melody. Gilmour again flubs the lyrics in “Money” singing “Money, it’s a hit” twice. Wright’s keyboard solo sounds silly, but Gilmour saves the piece with another masterstroke of genius.
The second half of the show begins with “One Of These Days” with another dynamic pyrotechnic display on Gilmour’s slide guitar. There is a moment of tuning afterwards and the audience grow a bit impatient. “Take your damn sweet time” someone shouts as they tune up for what sounds like “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun.” Instead they launch into a biting version of “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” and it takes a few moments before the audience recognize what they’re playing. The set ends with twenty-two minute version of “Echoes” in which the tape does and excellent job in picking up the guitar/organ duel in the middle sections. It’s a shame the encores are still missing from this tape. It would have been interesting to hear what “A Saucerful Of Secrets” sounded like in such a mellow environment.
Sigma again provide their masterful studio work to make these more listenable. They package Dark Side Of The West in a quad jewel case with era photographs in their usual tasteful layout and art design. The casual collector might not need this title since there are much better recordings of the Hollywood Bowl show available and the San Francisco show, while good, are no where near as good as the Los Angeles tapes. However, for the serious Pink Floyd collector interested in the final days of this seminal year will be interested in hearing these concerts from the newly surfaced tape sources.
Thanks very much for this considerably helpful review. I was seriously considering ordering it, as Sigma has been doing excellent work so far, but now I know that this particular one isn’t a “must-have” for one’s collection.