Without meaning to, "Live In Gdansk", the luxurious live document that captures the final show of David Gilmours 2006 tour, has become an unwitting epitah for Rick Wright.
Like any live release from Gilmour (or his former band Pink Floyd), this document is a magnificent presentation. Depending on your preference, you either get a 150 minute concert, or up to 73 songs and several hours of live material. It is an exhaustive record of the show and its component parts, and captures what was to be the final time that Rick Wright performed almost all of his work : one six song TV session, and two impromptu one-song appearances later, and Rick's public career wascurtailed. Though nobody knew it at the time, this is Rick's farewell. It is poignant, and unexpected to hear and see him performing material through the ages that has become part of the human landscape : the vocal of Time that hears him lament "The time has gone, the song is over, seems there's something more to say" says more than any other tribute.
And whilst songs such as "Comfortably Numb" may sound just like they did before, if they are ever played again, they will never sound the same ever again. Not now. Music isn't about notes being played : it's also about the people playing the notes.
Whilst ostensibly presenting the successful "On An Island" album live (performed for the only time with an orchestra), the set features 50 minutes of solo material, and approximately 100 minutes of material from the Pink Floyd body of work. Unlike Roger Waters recent tour that set the Floyd material in a conceptual and political concept, Gilmours presentation is the successful translation of a rare artistic vision. With his band compromising the majority of the final Pink Floyd touring lineup (only the drum stool and second guitar have changed), it is no surprise that this document resembles to a great extent the spirit of Gilmour's former band. Despite the other obvious differences - the absence of a second percussionist covering most of the material with extraneous fills, or wailing female vocalists, mirror balls, massive video screens showing obtuse imagery - the other major difference is that Gilmour and his band unlock and evoke a feeling, an emotion. The trappings of presentation that Floyd became renowned for are dialled back to allow the enormous musical talent to concentrate on the sound. Like all great music, the music manages to convey a spirit, that transports 100,000 people to a place where they can feel both individual and connected by the music's ability to communicate common human emotions effectively.
The essence of the sound is an integral part of the success of the music : whereas many artists mistake saying something with having something to say, the Floyd contribution was rather representative of the bands personality - saying nothing where nothing needs to be said, underplaying rather than overstating, and knowing precisely when less is more effective. Gilmour and Wright had nurtured a near telepathic relationship musically, where the two complimented each other to enormous effect. Its not about playing the notes that had to be there, but the notes that couldn't not be there.
In a concert setting, the new solo material becomes an entirely different entity : Gilmour and Wright breathe an unhinted vitality into the music, extending the components from the album to their full extent, creating alongside the rest of the band an effective and alternate translation of the material that is, to some ears, better than the studio recordings. Whilst the record meditates on the emptying address book of old age, and the departure of friends over time, this idea is echoed cruelly by the absence of one of the key players in the Pink Floyd sound. The orchestral accompaniment meanwhile, matches and complements the music : the emphasis is on textures that never overdo (and thus lessen) the core emotion, but seek to add extra colours to it.
Aside from the "On An Island" album in its entirety, this sumptuous package also features, at its heart, an effective reshaping of Gilmours enormous contribution to the Pink Floyd legacy. The absence of overplayed radio staples such as "Another Brick In The Wall" and "Money", instead of relatively lesser known material such as "Fat Old Sun" "Wots ... Uh The Deal?" (on the DVD and vinyl editions, from the much overlooked `Obscured By Clouds` album), and for the first time on record, a live version of the definitive Floyd song, "Echoes", which provides possibly the sets absolute highlight, is absolutely welcome.
These are old songs, presented in a light that shows them to have become part of life like water and air. Songs like "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" are recast here ; played on wineglasses instead of the more traditional synths, and rearranged with a new vocal interplay, become both familiar and not so. "Comfortably Numb" meanwhile, has become a part of the human experience, much like the 1812 Symphony and the Ride Of The Valkryes : imprinted in human consciousness. After the Live 8 reunion, David performs the two best guitar solos of all time that transport the listener to a place where you can find - or lose - yourself in the transcendary power of music.
For too long too many people have overlooked the enormous body of work in favour of the more obvious hits, hopefully "Live In Gdansk" will go a long way to ensuring that full breadth of the enormous talent lost by Rick Wrights passing does not go unrecognised. Everything about this record is, in no uncertain terms, a fitting and powerful farewell to the chemistry between Gilmour and Wright and the rest of the band that will sadly not be heard again.
The third disc meanwhile, contains a DVD of the majority of the Gdansk show (not all of it, due to space restrictions, as well as to prevent duplication with the "Remember That Night" concert DVD), alongside a documentary. The show is a different animal from the Albert Hall show, reflecting a large scale outdoor presentation instead of the more intimate confines of a Victorian Theatre. The performance, editing and production are produced with the usual understated visual effectiveness. It is strange, and haunting, to see the band operate as cohesive entity for the final time. When Rick playfully performs the opening keyboard pings of "Echoes" it's fairly shocking to think that in two short years, cancer would've taken him away from us.
The fourth disc contains a multitude of TV appearances, a number of songs from the first show at a tiny London Theatre recorded for the BBC (which puts almost all that show between this and "Remember That Night"), as well as the last TV Session recorded at the legendary Abbey Road studios and includes a quirky, improvised acoustic version of "Echoes". Not only that, but you get the entire "On An Island" album presented in 5.1 sound, and, perhaps most poignantly, the final known recordings of Rick and David, as the band perform a series of instrumental jams recorded in David Gilmours barn.
Last but not least, the fifth disc features a compilation of performances throughout the tour, featuring five songs not performed at the Gdansk concert, as well as a selection of other performances. It's a fine bonus, albeit lacking a couple of songs ("Arnold Layne", "Dark Globe") found on the Albert Hall CD so it doesn't completely cover the entire selection from the tour.
Overall, as a package, in whatever format you take it, "Live In Gdansk" is an exhaustive, fitting, and appropriate document of not only David Gilmours artistically successful tour, and an effective and valid artistic statement in its own right, but also a tribute to the often overlooked genius that was Rick Wright. If you are in any way a fan of Pink Floyd, "Live In Gdansk" is an essential addition to a enormously important body of work.