Grote Zaal (Sigma 38)
Grote Zaal, De Doelen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands – November 7th, 1970
Disc 1: Introduction, Astronomy Domine, Fat Old Sun, 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, Blues
Pink Floyd toured almost constantly throughout 1970 – wracking up two trips to North America, three passes through Western Europe (including Scandinavia), and extensive gigging at home in the UK. The concert in Rotterdam, The Netherlands on November 7th was the 2nd date of their third European tour of the year (if one considers the string of summer festivals a separate tour).
This performance was previously represented on silver by Highland’s Remergence (HL204/205) as well as a handful of fan-produced titles including De Doelen, 1st Gen, and most recently Grote Zaal de Doelen. The Highland release was more complete than the former CDR offerings as it included the introductions, tunings, and adjustments between songs, however it suffered from some audio degradation having either been sourced from a higher generation tape or a master that was recycled for this concert.
Sigma’s Grote Zaal like the Highland title is very much complete with the introductions and tunings accounted for (though I detected a couple minute cuts in the middle a couple breaks between songs), but most importantly it is musically complete. Sonically, though darker in nature with some instrumentation occasionally coming across as distanced, all of the instruments and vocals are clear and unlike many of the audience tapes from this era doesn’t suffer from overpowering bass distortion (although some of the loudest passages are right on the edge). Unlike the Highland release, I did not notice any of the aforementioned tape degradation or other audio problems insuring this is indeed yet another upgrade. Perhaps the biggest difference is the fact Remergence has quite a bit more in the way of hiss being both brighter and thinner overall – this leads me to believe that Sigma elected to roll back the highs to eliminate the majority of the hiss and possibly dialed in a bit more low end to round it out.
Upon closer comparison, it appears the Highland title also runs ever so slightly fast considering there is ultimately a minute of discrepancy between Remergence and Grote Zaal; the total time for HL204/205 is as follows: Disc 1 – 74 minutes, Disc 2 – 65 minutes, whereas Sigma 38 is: Disc 1 – 77 minutes, Disc 2 – 63 minutes. Thus, while some of the discrepancy can be attributed to different track ID locations, Grote Zaal still runs approximately 1 minute longer.
The band’s performance throughout is inspired and a great example of their most progressive/experimental era with lengthy jams during “Fat Old Sun,” “Atom Heart Mother,” “Careful With That Axe, Eugene,” “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun,” and ” A Saucerful Of Secrets” (which is thankfully complete). For myself however, the highlight of this particular concert is “The Embryo” which beginning around the 6:30 mark features some of the wildest “seagull wahs” Gilmour has ever conjured, enhanced by spiralling delays. Definitely required listening for fans of this era.
Unfortunately, like many of the Floyd sets from this era, the band spends an inordinate amount of time tuning – and while this is often due to the nature of early analog instruments, the amount of time devoted to the process adds up to a length equivalent to that of an additional song. This is of course forgiven considering the enthusiasm of the performances.
The audience throughout is clearly appreciative as well, with absolutely roaring applause at the conclusion of “A Saucerful Of Secrets” – and this doesn’t go unnoticed by the band, who reward the enthusiastic Rotterdam crowd with the “standard Pink Blues” encore.
When all is said and done, Grote Zaal represents the best this particular concert has ever sounded, but still sits firmly in the “good to very good” range in terms of sound quality, though the performance is indeed fantastic. With that in mind, I’d endeavor to suggest that there are several other releases from the 1970 tours that should be procured ahead of this one, but this would qualify as a runner-up after the essentials have been purchased. For Floyd fanatics, Sigma 38 is one more nail in the Highland coffin and further evidence that my theories about Sigma’s intentions are correct (i.e. to replace all previously released recordings with superior versions – in some cases subtle improvements such as this, and others significant steps forward).
Grote Zaal is worth owning for “The Embryo” alone in my opinion (plus a complete version of “A Saucerful Of Secrets” is never a bad thing) , and another example of why Sigma reigns supreme over all purveyors of Floyd recordings – with fantastic (albeit recycled) art design, subtle mastering, overall attention to detail.