While these five recent, Pink Floyd related concerts are all different shows from different people, it’s also fair to say that they all cover some very similar ground, and they all contain Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Comfortably Numb at least once. You’d have to be a pretty hardcore fan (hello!) to want them all, so if you were only to get one or two, which is the best?
Well, that would depend on which of their many facets attracts you most to Pink Floyd.
If it’s the “whoa, cool!” factor you’re after, then get Pulse. Nothing else comes close. Remember That Night is a distant second.
If it’s a moving experience and social commentary that’s your thing, then In the Flesh is the clear choice. Pulse, Remember That Night and Live in Gdańsk each have a couple of moments.
If you’re a guitar nerd, then you’re spoilt for choice. David Gilmour in Concert is an obvious choice if only for the Spare Digits feature, but Pulse features a few finger close-ups as well. Another interesting aspect of David Gilmour in Concert is that he picks up a Gretsch Duo Jet to play the world’s greatest guitar solo rather than his trademark Strat. In fact, In Concert is completely Stratless. You’ll be happy with any of the Gilmour shows, but don’t completely discount In the Flesh. What is lacks in David Gilmour, is makes up for in Andy Fairweather Low, Doyle Bramhall II and Snowy White. White is a bona fide Pink Floyd alumnus having played on the Animals tour and the original live shows of The Wall. Bramhall may be mostly playing Gilmour’s parts, but being a left-hander who plays a guitar set up for a right-hander, he is playing them upside-down and backwards.
If you want great surround sound, then In the Flesh and Pulse are your two best bets. Both were quadraphonic concerts to begin with and the surround mixes appear to match that. The Gilmour shows tend to make less use of the surround feature, although the 4-disc version of Live in Gdańsk does include the surround sound version of On an Island, which is excellent.
While on the subject of audio, both In the Flesh and David Gilmour in Concert feature stereo streams in 24-bit LPCM (uncompressed) audio. Pulse has the option of Dolby 5.1 at a higher than usually bitrate and the improvement is noticable. None of the concerts offer DTS.
Finally, if it’s value for money you’re after, both Pulse and Remember That Night have several hours of bonus features. If you’d like the option of just listening to the music, Live in Gdańsk is a live album that comes with a DVD and In the Flesh is available as a CD/DVD pack as well.
Oh, and if you’re epileptic, be careful of Pulse, Remember That Night and Live in Gdańsk.
The other way you might want to compare these shows is by the actual performances. As mentioned, they all cover a lot of the same ground and only David Gilmour in Concert and the odd bit of Remember That Night make any serious deviation from well known arrangements. Beyond that, the four different bands across these five DVDs all do a pretty good facsimile of each other.
The one Gilmour/Waters song that leaves a gaping hole where the other ought to be is of course, Comfortably Numb. Each of the eight (count ’em) versions across these deevs tries with varying success to fill that gap. There are those who really like the all-in harmonies of the 80s/90s Pink Floyd. I am not one of them – although I have to say that listening to it again, I disliked it less than when I first heard it on Delicate Sound of Thunder. Doyle Bramhall sings the Gilmour part competently on In the Flesh, but that’s all. At the end of the song, Doyle Bramhall and Snowy White share the solo. Doyle Bramhall is there to be David Gilmour and Snowy White is there to be Snowy White. The solo concludes with them playing in harmony with each other and sounds pretty special. The problem here is that it’s generally considered uncool for a lead guitarist to copy another’s licks (nor should players of White and Bramhall’s stature be expected to), but how do you improve on perfection? They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Of Gilmour’s solo versions, the guest vocals of Robert Wyatt and Bob Geldof sound like they should be great, but they’re not. Geldof in particular just phones it in. Richard Wright’s fragile vocals on Water’s part are a pretty good but for me, the best version comes from David Bowie on Remember That Night. I put this down to the fact that, more than all the others, Bowie understands Waters’ ideas about rock shows as theatre.
In the end though, the last great version of Comfortably Numb is either Pink Floyd at Live 8, or David Gilmour joining Roger Waters on The Wall in 2011.