David Gilmour | Royal Albert Hall | 23 September 2015
Growing old isn’t easy. Even if you’re a global music icon. Do you dye your hair, get the brand back together, and play 40-year-old hits to sold-out stadiums around the world? Or record Christmas carols and Sinatra cover versions, stuff your shows with growled new songs, and reimagine beyond recognition the one bonafide classic you do play?
Sensibly, for his first solo London show in almost a decade, David Gilmour chooses neither extreme. Sure, he plays seven tracks from an album released less than a week ago. But they fit almost seamlessly into a carefully curated setlist that lovingly embraces the songs that helped sell 250 million albums. And although the legacy of the band he’s retired looms large — from the vintage clips projected on the familiar circular screen to the retro laser spectacle of ‘Comfortably Numb’ — this is by no means a Pink Floyd revival.
An intimate, tasteful performance by a singer-guitarist rather than a soulless arena spectacle, Gilmour’s first night at the Royal Albert Hall starts, fittingly, with a soulful ‘5 A.M.’, the tender instrumental opener of his latest studio offering. But it’s the title track, ‘Rattle That Lock’, that really gets the night going with its effortless swing and call-to-action lyrics, before ‘Faces Of Stone’ waltzes across the stage even more tenderly than it does on record. A heartfelt ‘Wish You Were Here’ elicits the night’s first mass singalong, warming up the attentive crowd for ‘A Boat Lies Waiting’, a piano-led ballad that ebbs and flows to the backing vocals of special guests David Crosby and Graham Nash.
An equally plaintive ‘The Blue’, one of the highlights of Gilmour’s last solo outing, ‘On An Island’, follows before the instantly recognisable cash-registers of ‘Money’ elicit the first outbreak of hysteria in the auditorium. On stage, the musicians respond with broad smiles and joyous performances, newcomer João Mello showing off his sax skills on the signature solo while the rhythm section of Guy Pratt and Steve DiStanislao really let loose on the extended jam breakdown.
‘Us and Them’ continues the nostalgic trip to ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’, segueing perfectly into the fiercely emotional ‘In Any Tongue’, the best of the new songs, with a heart-searing guitar solo, and already a cornerstone of the live set. It’s perfectly paired with a revelatory ‘High Hopes’ which, accompanied by a Storm Thorgerson film, may have elicited a few tears in closing off the evening’s first set.
A hard-driving gallop through the trippy ‘Astronomy Domine’, dusted off to rapturous response on Pink Floyd’s final tour, travels way back to the beginning and fires up the audience to the point that the four opening notes of ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ elicit a tidal wave of whooping applause. Much of the epic song itself, though, is performed to reverential silence, as the band deftly navigate its complexities, never really putting a foot wrong. Just as impressive is the transformation of ‘Fat Old Sun’ from the whimsical folk ballad of 1970’s ‘Atom Heart Mother’ to soaring anthem. And the magic continues as Crosby and Nash return to lend their intricate harmonies to the perfectly unhurried title track of 2006’s ‘On An Island’, rounded off by a fittingly languid Gilmour solo.
Arriving next, ‘The Girl In The Yellow Dress’ does add a light touch — in part thanks to the stylish, animated backdrop — but the breezy Franco-jazz shuffle feels slightly out of place tonight. Like someone who’s turned up at a white-tie affair in, well, a yellow dress. The blues rock groove of ‘Today’ restores the natural order, showcasing backing vocalists Bryan Chambers and Louise Clare Marshall while warming up Pratt, DiStanislao, multi-instrumentalist Jon Carin, and keyboard player Kevin McAlea for what’s to follow. A maelstrom of bass, drums, and incendiary guitar playing, ‘Sorrow’ shifts between ethereal and menacing, setting the scene for the most aggressive five minutes in Gilmour’s ouvre: ‘Run Like Hell’. On go the strobelights (and the band’s sunglasses) as the frontman trades savage guitar licks with Phil Manzanera and ragged lyrics with Pratt; the martial rhythm gets people out of their seats to clap and stomp along, or even march down the aisles.
The frenzy dies down a little — until alarm clocks announce the first song of the encore. ‘Time/Breathe (reprise)’ will forever miss Rick Wright’s contributions, but still sounds sublime, the elegiac mood perfectly recreated, the lyrics as relevant today as four decades ago. Yet ‘Comfortably Numb’ is even more powerful. Crosby and Nash take on Roger Waters’ lines, Gilmour’s vocals brim with passion, and his unmistakable Strat solos are lit up by more lasers than a ‘70s sci-fi movie. As the final notes fade away, the Royal Albert Hall erupts, the musicians embrace and take a bow, and the beaming man in the spotlights utters a sincere “Thank you very much, indeed”, knowing that he’s given his fans what they want. On his own terms.
Mick, Bob, take note.