David Gilmour – Royal Albert Hall

It’s just over 10 years since my father took me to one of my first proper concerts; Pink Floyd at Earl’s Court. On Bank Holiday Monday I returned the favour and treated him to David Gilmour at the Royal Albert Hall.

The show kicked off with Speak To Me / Breathe / Time, great swathes of impeccable guitar playing that had everyone tingling. Once the clapping had stopped, Gilmour mentioned that the evening would be in two parts. The first part would involve a full rendition of his latest album, On An Island and the second half, well, he wouldn’t say!

The new record certainly sounds a lot better in a live setting than recorded; a little less produced, as if the music has more of a chance to breathe than on record. I was pleasantly surprised after an initial feeling of dread as it’s not his most ground breaking work to date. He was joined on stage by David Crosby and Graham Nash doing backing vocals for their respective tracks on the album, with Nash “dancing” like your pissed up uncle at a wedding, which was kind of off putting. He was also joined by Robert Wyatt who played trumpet on Then I Close My Eyes and is looking, unfortunately, a little shakey these days. As this set grew to a close, I was perhaps a little under whelmed by the experience, even though the material sounded better live, a rendition of the album isn’t what I’d expected. However, things were about to improve immeasurably.

Quite simply, the second half of the show was the amazing. A trawl through the Floyd back catalogue which included High Hopes and Wearing The Inside Out from the Division Bell album, with Richard Wright on vocals for the latter. They then, amazingly, did a full version of Echoes. I never thought I’d hear it live, I’d resigned myself to this; one of those cruel twists of fate for having been born too late! It was an impressive rendition with a light show to match, proving that Gilmour can let himself go and play music without the stylised and overproduced MOR that has become his trademark. It was fantastic, Gilmour and Wright giving each other knowing looks through the music as if they never thought they’d find themselves playing it again. This finished the set and the entire Royal Albert Hall stood and applauded, not stopping until Gilmour and band had returned to the stage.

The encore started with the now obligatory Wish You Were Here which is still a gem of a song and under-rated outside of Floyd loving circles. We were then treated to a cappella version of Find The Cost Of Freedom with Crosby, Nash and Gilmour which was quite haunting, especially in these times, with the vocals nicely complimenting each other. Then, however, things went a bit mad. Gilmour jokingly saying “And you thought it was all over” as he introduced David Bowie onto the stage to a huge roar and standing ovation. With him the night concluded with an amazing rendition of, firstly Arnold Layne and then stayed on to do the Roger Waters vocals for Comfortably Numb which was truly a unique experience; it sent shivers down my spine, Bowie’s vocals perfectly suiting it and Gilmour’s guitar work still impeccable.

After that the hall was filled with a buzz and almost electrical atmosphere; no-one could quite believe what they’d witnessed. A unique evening of surprises that proves that great songwriters and performers never lose it.

Richard Hughes

Updated: May 30, 2006

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