Labyrinths Of Coral Caves (Sigma 18)
Pavillion de Montreux, Montreux, Switzerland – September 18th, 1971
Disc 1: Echoes, Careful With That Axe Eugene, Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun
Disc 2: Cymbaline, Atom Heart Mother, A Saucerful Of Secrets
Pink Floyd’s appearance at the Festival de Musique Classique in Montreux, Switzerland on the evening of September 18th, 1971 kicked off their third (and shortest) European tour for the year, which consisted of back-to-back concerts in Montreux, a show in Stockholm, Sweden on the 22nd, and one more in Copenhagen, Denmark the 23rd.The setlists for all of these shows were comprised of nothing but the lengthy epics, as “Green Is The Colour,” the one brief respite from the extended excursions performed during the shows earlier that year had been dropped, making for a somewhat challenging listening experience for the uninitiated but a real treat for Floyd fanatics!
The wonderfully titled Labyrinths Of Coral Caves offers up the complete uncut performance at the correct speed including all tune-ups, announcements, and audience reactions. Previous silver pressings of this concert include a pair of releases Black Wizard (RSC 070) and White Witch (RSC 071) from Oil Well (that separated the performance into two halves), Live In Montreux 1971 (TSP-CD-071-2) on The Swingin’ Pig Records, and Plays Montreux (HL 476/477) from Highland. Although the sound quality on all of these titles is very good, most of these have a tendency to run about 5% slow, and given most are quite old/out-of-print, along with Sigma’s reputation for being the premier Floyd label, this is an excellent opportunity to add this gig to your collection in what is essentially its definitive form.
This recording tends to emphasize the high and upper-mid frequencies, so while it sounds a bit thin at times, there’s none of the low-end distortion that sometimes clutters recordings from this era and all of the instruments are audible – the only drawback is that during some of the louder passages, Gilmour’s rhythm guitar is lost in the background (particularly on disc 1), but we DO get an interesting perspective with the bass guitar and keyboards being rather prominent (in a good way) throughout. The Swiss audience is extremely quiet during the performances, which is a huge plus – clearly everyone is listening attentively and very respectful, even during the often laborious tune-ups.
The band delivers a good performance that makes for a rather “cosmic” listening experience exemplified by “Careful With That Axe Eugene,” and “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” (which unfortunately has 2 seconds of startling feedback at the 10:37 mark and is a bit of a “mood killer”) – both of which are filled with aural drama and trippy atmospheres. Occasionally, the band sounds a bit fatigued or tentative (particularly during the opener “Echoes”), but overall it’s an enjoyable listen.
One of the highlights is a fantastic rendition of “Cymbaline” that spearheads an upturn on the enthusiasm front with great vocal work from Gilmour and the “footsteps” section is very clear. Though the balance between instruments improved after “Echoes,” things really come together in that regard during “Cymbaline.”
I know many folks tend to prefer the small band version of “Atom Heart Mother,” but the choir really does sound driven/intense on this recording, and about 20 minutes in there’s a great avant-garde passage with “pings” recalling “Echoes” just before the recapitulation. This really stands out for me and would easily be at home on any sci-fi or horror movie soundtrack! The audience obviously really enjoyed this performance given their cacophonous applause at it’s conclusion – clearly the strongest reaction of the entire show.
Some reviewers in the past have complained that this version of “A Saucerful Of Secrets” is “grating” or otherwise tedious, but given the infrequency of a good complete performance of this brilliant work, Sigma’s subtle mastering job, and the band cutting loose a bit more on this one, I respectively disagree. Being a fan of deep space rock, I think this interpretation contains one of the more enjoyable “Syncopated Pandemonium” sections, but then again, what one listener finds fascinating/experimental, another pans as noise…
When all is said and done, despite being a somewhat subdued performance overall, it is clear, complete and Sigma have done a fine job as usual. If you’re a casual collector looking for a good quality 1971 performance that is free of cuts/drop-outs/warbles/low-end distortion, get it! If you’re a Floyd enthusiast, you should already have it in one form or another, however, it just doesn’t get better than Sigma – sometimes the improvements are profound and other times slight (this being of the latter variety considering the quality of past releases being very good already, speed issues aside), but make no mistake, this is another fine release from THE top Floyd-oriented label bar none!