In 1994, Pink Floyd toured to promote their latest release, The Division Bell, which began in the US in March and wrapped up in October with 15 nights at London’s Earl’s Court. Somewhere in the middle of the tour, the band began featuring Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety for the 2nd set of the show, and this DVD boasts having the 1st filmed performance of this timeless classic (Roger Waters is featuring “DSOTM” in its entirety on his current tour, with Floyd drummer Nick Mason making appearances at a few gigs).
The Earl’s Court shows were filmed on video (PAL) and directed by veteran concert director David Mallet for a live pay-per-view broadcast, which was subsequently released on VHS and Laserdisc. Floyd fans have been highly anticipating this release for many years, dealing with disappointing delays and watching bootleg DVD copies (mostly from overseas and passing themselves off as official releases) as a quick fix. On July 11th, Pink Floyd – P.U.L.S.E was finally officially released as a special 2 DVD edition. But was it worth the wait?
For this tour Pink Floyd (David Gilmour – Guitar and Vocals, Richard Wright – Keyboards and Vocals, Nick Mason – Drums) are accompanied by Guy Pratt (Bass), Tim Renwick (Guitars), Jon Carin (Keyboards), Gary Wallis (Percussion), longtime Floydian saxman Dick Parry (Saxophones), and Sam Brown, Claudia Fontaine and Durga McBroom (backing vocals). Their multi-layered studio recordings required the band to use supplemental musicians since 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon, and this group, with the exception of a hyper-active Gary Wallis, is a compliment to the core line-up.
The 1st disc features the 1st set of the show, combining Floydian classics (spanning from 1971’s Meddle LP through 1981’s The Wall) with their latest 2 releases (1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason and 1994’s The Division Bell), a mediocre pair in the Floyd catalogue that sorely missed leader, conceptualist and lyricist, Roger Waters (who resigned from the group in 1985). The 2nd disc features Dark Side of the Moon performed in its entirety, along with the show’s 3 encore songs.
David Mallet did a splendid job of directing the live broadcast, and this DVD has taken advantage of a re-edit, fine tuning (and replacing) many of the original shots from the initial airing (which was obviously edited on the fly). The band seem dwarfed by the massive stage designed by Mark Fisher and Jonathan Park (who 1st worked with Pink Floyd on the 1977 Animals Tour), created to cater to the massive stadium-sized crowds. The impressive light show was designed and directed by Marc Brickman, painting gorgeous backdrops for the band with each song using dozens of Vari-Lites and high-powered lasers (air space was needed to be cleared for these at several shows). Highlights of the 1st disc are “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” a moving tribute to Floyd founder Syd Barrett (who recently passed away) that is accompanied by a hypnotic film by Storm Thorgerson (who designed most of the band’s iconic imagery since their 1967 debut). Other stand-outs include “Sorrow” and “High Hopes” (arguably the best tracks from the Water-less Floyd period), and an explosively rocking rendition of “One Of These Days,” which features two small inflatable pigs hanging out of the speaker towers (no clearance for take off I guess).
On the 2nd disc, “Dark Side of the Moon” is performed faithfully to the original album, and only gets sidetracked during a pointless, long jamming session in the middle of “Money.” Memorable moments include the 3 backup singers each take a section of “The Great Gig in the Sky” and the guitar/keyboard jam known as “Any Colour You Like.” The encores cap off the show with a heartfelt rendition of “Wish You Were Here” (David’s falsetto scat singing that mirrors his guitar work is exceptional), and epic versions of “Comfortably Numb” (with the giant flowering mirror ball strategically rigged to the ceiling for the Earl’s Court performances) and the kitchen sink light show of “Run Like Hell” (could anyone in the audience still see after this song?).
While the entire show was visually and sonically stunning, the 1st half seems to get a bit weighted down by some of the lesser tracks from the band’s final studio albums. It’s a shame that they chose to ignore songs from their earlier catalogue with the exception of Syd Barrett’s “Astronomy Domine,” which does not appear on this release (more on this later).
One of the 1st things I noticed about this DVD is that the entire show had been re-edited (as mentioned earlier), instantly setting it apart from the broadcast and previous releases. All of the split-screen shots between Gilmour and Mr. Screen (the unofficial name of the circular screen that served as the band’s backdrop for films since 1974) are now gone, and David is now featured much more prominently throughout (so is Richard Wright for that matter). The band is in fine form, but at times come off as being a bit too polished, over-rehearsed, and a slightly mechanical, which can happen sometimes towards the end of a tour. Overall, Mallet did an excellent job in capturing Pink Floyd’s huge show as it’s well represented on the small screen (if you consider a 50” Plasma small).
Since this concert was shot on standard video in 1994, the producers of this DVD had a limited source to work with. While the colors are vibrant, much better than on previous releases, the white areas still tend to be too hot and are washed out, eliminating any detail. The image, especially in close-ups, is very sharp and details like the hairs on Gilmour’s arms come into focus. On the other hand, I’m surprised about the amount of edge enhancement that is visible on medium and long shots. The same can be said for areas with subtle gradations of color, as blocky pixilation in some of the wide shots is subtle but still noticeable. The projected screen images seem to be dirtier and grainier than I remember them being in previous releases, in fact the overall picture tends to be a bit grainy in darker areas. I’ve viewed this DVD on both midline and high-end progressive scan DVD players, and on traditional tube and 50” Plasma screens, and while the image is certainly better when taking the higher end route, these digital artifacts are still noticeable.
One of the things that really dates this show is the original 4:3 aspect ratio that it’s presented in. The visuals almost scream out for a widescreen presentation, but the filmmakers decided to keep this release loyal to its original format, stating that letterboxing the image would simply be removing information from the screen. I’m torn between respecting this decision (watching it with black bars on the left and right) and choosing my TV option that allows me to zoom in on the image until it fills the screen (I watched it this way and I really do like the composition).
Spreading this concert onto 2 discs should have given its creators enough space to get the video to look as good as can be, but I’m afraid it falls a bit short of expectations, probably due to the nature of the original format. The video was mastered at das boot recording, James Guthrie’s studio, which does a much better job with the audio presentation.
The audio, on the other hand, is superb and I wouldn’t expect anything less from Guthrie, who created a new 5.1 mix for this release. There are 3 audio options; Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1/448 kps, and Dolby Digital 5.1/640 kps. The latter is a great option for those systems that can decode this signal. Guthrie, who has won major awards and received critical acclaim for his 5.1 SACD mix of “Dark Side of the Moon,” has been a longtime Floyd engineer and avoids “gimmicky” 5.1 effects. What he achieves here is a lush layering of soundscapes, with incredibly clean detail of each instrument’s sonic range. The crystal clear high end is equally matched by a powerful booming bass that comes off thunderous at times (“One Of These Days” and “Run Like Hell” simply kick ass). The rear channels are mostly used for ambience or to recreate surround effects that were used during the live shows (which were all in surround). As far as audio goes, it doesn’t get much better than this.
The bonus material on this DVD is fabulous, and a bone or 2 are finally thrown to the always ravenous Pink Floyd fanbase (it’s nice to see Gilmour & Co. finally thinking about us!). The 1st disc includes the individual films that were projected during the show (accompanied by their musical counterparts). Included in this section are the films for “Learning to Fly,” “High Hopes,” and the poignant “Shine On” (all directed by Storm Thorgerson). Also included are the original music videos of “Learning to Fly” (but not in its original MTV Award-winning edit), and “Take it Back,” a section of Tour Stuff (maps, itineraries, stage plans), and the TV ad for the original release of P.U.L.S.E. That would be enough to satisfy most fans but there’s more.
The biggest surprise comes from a section called “Bootlegging The Bootleggers” which features songs that were played during the tour but not performed at this final show. Taking the lead from the Led Zeppelin DVD where amateur 8mm footage was edited over a live version of “Immigrant Song,” David Gilmour cobbled together footage from several camcorders to recreate “What Do You Want From Me?,” “On The Turning Away,” “Poles Apart,” and “Marooned.” Suspiciously absent is the standard show opener, “Astronomy Domine,” played whenever “Dark Side” was not performed during the 2nd set. With all of the extra work and detail that was put into the bonus footage, it’s questionable why this song was not included. A minor, yet legitimate, quibble about the most welcome addition to any Pink Floyd release so far.
Disc 2 contains a fun, if not downright silly at times, backstage documentary called “Say Goodbye To Life As We Know It,” mostly shot by and based around the backstage crew (you gotta love the “Quest For Pints” bit… and let this play out naturally for a surprise epilogue!). The second disc also includes all of the screen films from the “Dark Side of the Moon” set, along with alternate versions like the original clock animation that Ian Eames did for “Time.” The one peculiar and a bit embarrassing curiosity is the alternate film that was used for “Money” which features an unusual exchange rate program. Other extras include a photo gallery from the tour, album cover art (Meddle through Division Bell) and Billy Corgan (giving a boring, meandering speech) and performing “Wish You Were Here” with David and Rick at Pink Floyd’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The digipak design and artwork are up to Thorgerson’s usual standards of excellence, and the menus are clean, easy to read and navigate through. A minimal booklet, with additional concert photos and all production credits, is also included.
Most Floyd fans will love this release and some may think I’m being a bit overcritical of the video quality (I’ve been arguing about this with folks for the past 2 weeks). But the audio, extras, and overall presentation are top notch and compliment this historic performance. As stated earlier, it’s nice to see so much thought going into production and extras, giving fans something improved and with extra material instead of simply repackaging a back catalogue for the umpteenth time. Now how about digging out that footage from the “Animals” tour? : )