Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Machine

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see The Machine with my family. The Machine is a Pink Floyd tribute band. That is to say, at their shows, they play nothing but Pink Floyd music. All of the musicians are clearly extreme Floyd fans. I mean, why else would you spend 20 years of your life playing somebody else's music? Now, some people don't like tribute bands. I had a hard time getting people to see The Australian Pink Floyd Show when they came to New York (playing literally a few blocks from where we were staying). Who cares that these aren't the original musicians? Would you also refuse to go to a performance of Beethoven's 5th because it wasn't being conducted by the man himself? Of course not! The music is just as good, and the musicians are going to make it special and awesome anyway. But I digress...

It was interesting to see the variety in people in the theater. Obviously, many of the patrons were my parents' age, but there were also some college kids and folks whose heads were completely gray. What was perhaps more interesting to me is that the 50 year olds were more animated and crazy than the college kids. They had some smoke machines up on stage, but I don't think that was the source of all the smoke in the hall. It's fun to watch adults relive their youth.

The set was Dark Side of the Moon (with the Wizard of Oz projected onto their own version of Mr. Screen), followed by an intermission, followed by The Wall. Not a bad setlist at all. As they launched into the beginning songs from Dark Side, I was carefully listening for any variation from the album tracks that I know so well. I couldn't help it. These guys were playing well-known and well-loved music, so it's only natural to compare their performance to the original. By The Great Gig in the Sky, though, I was totally sold. The woman that belted out those notes was simply amazing. She absolutely hit every note. It was surreal. The keyboardist was younger than the rest and totally crazy, with a maniacal grin that was somehow larger than his actual face. The drummer hid behind the drums for most of the show, but did a very good job. The bassist seemed detached, standing apart from the others. I suspect that was completely intentional. The saxophone player was decent, but wasn't very memorable (after all, he only played on a few songs). Rounding out the group is the lead guitarist / lead singer. His ability to mimic both David Gilmour and Roger Waters was spooky. The man knew his guitar well, and made it sound just like the original.

By the time they were playing The Wall, people in the crowd were singing along. Performing Dark Side first was a good idea. People were more mellow when the entered the theater than when they left, and Dark Side is best appreciated without whoops and cheers. The Wall, on the other hand, is great with audience participation. In the end, they ended up getting 4 standing ovations (after Dark Side, after (I think) Comfortably Numb, after The Wall, and after their encore of Run Like Hell). They deserved each and every one of them. They probably played for 2.5 hours all told.

I never got a chance to see Pink Floyd live. As one of the people sitting next to us pointed it, this is the closest you can get at this point. While I agree with him, it is wrong to think of these guys as a facsimile of that famous band. These are all very talented musicians who love this music so much that they have dedicated a big chunk of their lives to it. As a fan, I'm grateful to them for doing that.


Anonymous said...

I'm one of the lucky ones who have followed Floyd since university days in the 70's. Seen them live many times and latterly David Gilmour with Nick and Rick, and Roger with Nick. The death of Rick was obviously so sad, but more than that, for us optimistic souls, it was the end of the hope of another reunion.
I saw the Australian Floyd in London this year. Much cheaper than the real thing, so could afford a box at the Albert Hall London, and have wine food provided in it for what I'd pay for one ticket to David or Roger's concerts.
As for the tribute band. They were ok. Like you, I think it's the music that's important, and how I never tire of listening to Floyd forty years down the line. Replaced all the old LP's with CDs and discovered Planet Rock who play Floyd and other classics. Growing old disgracefully. My only consolation is that they will always be older than me.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your kind words about The Machine.

The guys really do love doing what they do: giving Pink Floyd fans a dose of this wonderful music that will never be produced by the original band again.

Thanks for helping to spread the word.

Bruce Houghton
manager of The Machine