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DAVID GILMOUR - London Royal Festival Hall - 22 June 2001.   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Wednesday, 19 May 2004
Prog Rocker goes Stadium Folk.

  ... the Royal Festival Hall is a weird venue. The site of Oasis' Unplugged farce. Blur's final gig. Radiohead's bizarre return to UK shores. And now this, David Gilmour's first solo gig since 1984 (who? the quiet one from Pink Floyd). (Which quiet one? Well, they all are...)

For someone who hasn't played a gig since 1994 it's a weird start. This balding, grey haired man just strolls up to the stage like a roadie who's taken a wrong turn. To incredible applause. He then picks up an acoustic guitar, stares at a speaker, and starts twiddling some notes to see if the guitars in tune, or if its even switched on. Except it's Shine On You Crazy Diamond, performed all acoustically, and its only 5 minutes into a superfast acoustic rendition of the opening keyboard solo, when he picks out the familiar, pivotal four note riff that most people twig what this is.

He sings the song gently, understated, almost out of key, delicately, in this sterile, almost religious atmosphere. People whoop respectfully whenever he picks out a solo, introduces a familiar tune with a recgonisable riff (difficult to do when you perform it acoustically), and the odd stupid twat heckles, shouts, and yells at the quietest moment of the quietest song. Witness a faded 70's throwback with timewarp hair and a fisherman's hat punching the air ecstatically and then falling over because he's too drunk to walk, during the old Floyd numbers. Especially during the sax solo of Shine On.. as he relives being 25 again.

For a while it's just an anonymous stadium rock hero and his guitar at work. No change in formula there. Then the 10 backing singers file in, before a bassist and guitarist, and keyboard player in the shape of Michael Kamen appear. Yes, the Michael Kamen from S&M, The Wall, The Final Cut, and loads of dodgy soundtracks . Oddly enough, nothing from Kamen's major collaboration with David - the positively demented Final Cut - appear this evening. A total of 17 people appear on stage tonight, almost all at the same time. David himself, a backing guitarist, Mr. Kamen, a bassist, a drummer, ten backing singers, a sax player, and Robert Wyatt himself.

Then the drummer rings a bell and it's two ‘old' floyd numbers. Soundalike versions, in a near religious cathedral setting, and only the odd heckle of "Something off Animals Please!!" and "When's the Next Floyd album?" are met with the casual reply of "Who Gives a Fuck?", implying that he feels lucky that he's even left the house to entertain us.

"The last time I played here was 1969..." David starts... and that was before I was born. I don't feel so old anymore... "And the power shorted... and I was thrown across the stage into the drumkit." Whew, punk rock from 32 years ago.

Some more songs, one new and one old, sound like familiar friends, each bearing the glow of slightly disillusioned millionaire contentment. The Pearl Fisher is all sung in French, a gentle stroll down a foreign beach in summer. And To Your Smile is the slushiest thing I've ever heard.

And so to Wish You Were Here, executed surreally. I imagined lighters, exploding discoballs, flying pigs, and video screens being watched through binoculars. Nope. Just a man, a guitar, and some Sheep that bleat enthusiastically when he picks up the pedal steel guitar and plays it on his lap or a black shiny guitar for the world's best guitar solo of Comfortably Numb. The audience yell and scream like idiots whenever an old Floyd number comes up - obscuring the notes they've all played to hear. Sheep. Dogs. Pigs (three different ones).

And so to the acoustic Comfortably Numb, sung by Robert Wyatt from his wheelchair on the venue floor. People stand up to see the performing freak, but it's still a touching gesture. Another ‘new song' - a cover of a Robert Thompson song "The Dimming Of The Day" surrounded by 10 backing singers seems to float in and out, before the drummer starts cranking up a spinning wheel, the roar of wind comes rushing in, David sits down and digs out the pedal steel, and Shine On You Crazy Diamond Part Two is executed wonderfully.

Finally, it's a reprise of A Great Day For Freedom, before another, gentle, acoustic lullaby - just Dave and his multitude of singers, serenading through some song about sailing away into the sea and the night taken from Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. And as it ends, we get up politely, and leave. It's almost like being at church. Surreal, and almost superfluous, to see a living legend in the flesh. I can't tell if it was good or bad - but it was history.

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