That time-defining LP sent the band on a more bombastic and stadium-pleasing trajectory, increasingly a low-tempo vehicle for guitarist David Gilmour’s lengthy solos, but also one that was soon dogged by studio and touring inertia. That slo-mo, noodle-heavy vibe was indeed evident two weeks ago, with the release of the Ukrainian war protest song Hey Hey Rise Up, the first song survivors Mason and Gilmour released under the name Floyd in 28 years.
Saucerful Of Secrets, on the other hand, explores the band’s origins in fierce experimentalism. The only concern during this much-delayed second British round was whether the pandemic had spread their initial intensity.
Far from. The nimble quintet soon gleefully blasted Arnold Layne, Floyd’s 1967 proto-psychedelic debut single, written by the quirky genius Syd Barrett. Saucerful and later Floyd bassist Guy Pratt noted that the song was last broadcast in this location by David Bowie around 1973’s Pin Ups. A connoisseur of 1970s pop evolution at age 62, Kemp brought glam-rock swagger and Bowie-esque phrasing from outback London to a dash of Barrett material; a double hit of Candy And A Current Bun and Vegetable Man, meanwhile, felt more like fantastic 1976 punk brutalism.
At the other extreme of Floyd’s zigzag narrative, If and Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, each transitioned from arcane folk songs to pulsating instrumental improvisations. After a brief respite, the two tribes collided on Barrett’s Astronomy Domine, whose tempo-shifting craziness seemed to mislead a few of his players. But Mason, never quite the wildest tub-thumper, persevered admirably as a young ‘un.
The crowning glory of the show, unearthed just before this tour, was Echoes, Meddle’s 23-minute progressive bonanza from 1971. His labyrinthine moves ranged from space station beeps, through Kemp’s ferocious fret-mangling, to second guitarist Lee Harris. who apparently turned his six-string into a theremin. The whole hall stood on their feet in awe.
If age, handicap and propensity allow it, it will run and run.