Saturday, January 31, 2009

Roger Waters, Live Arrangement, David Gilmour, Annoying Drummers

Too healthy to sit around, but still just a BIT too sick to booze it up, I instead spent the night watching Roger Waters' "In the Flesh" 2000 tour DVD. I love to see brilliant musicians interpret equally-brilliant songs. But this DVD sort of bugs me.

The bulk of it consists of old -- and often surprising -- Pink Floyd songs. The band tries to reproduce them as faithfully as possible -- their version of "Dogs" is absolutely shocking in its adherence to the studio version -- but Waters has never been a particularly competent live arranger, and this is VERY obvious on the DVD.

In a sense it's a study of "live versus studio." The basic problem is -- of course -- that you've got different musicians on stage than you did in the studio, and even though they have individual styles that are deeply ingrained, they're still forced to play close enough to the record in order to please the fans. Graham Broad (drummer) is most guilty of "embellishing," followed closely by guitarist voodoo-dude Doyle Bramhall II, who looks just as pretentious as his name.

The problem gets worse when Roger Waters' sings Gilmour's parts. His voice sounds surprisingly good considering, but he seems hellbent on avoiding Gilmour's cadence, removing the "human" element which made many of these songs so special. Instead of warm vocals we get Waters' intellectual, somewhat sardonic delivery, which ultimately sounds like two hours of "Welcome to the Machine."

Things REALLY break down when we come to backup singers Katie Kissoon, Susannah Melvoin, and P. P. Arnold. They're perfectly competent and they're great at what they do, but when they're shoehorned into songs they don't belong in ("Wish You Were Here") they end up doing the exact same stilted, soulless vocals that Roger Waters is doing. To make things worse they act out the lyrics using "Standard Drag Style," that is, little three-step choreographed pantomimes which convey the simplest of ideas...while singing a lyric about a telephone call, they actually hold their fingers to their ears in that time-worn "talking on the phone" charade. Sad.

But that's only when they're doing the Pink Floyd stuff. When they do the music of Roger Waters they all come into their own, and suddenly the concert is PERFECT. They CARE. But for all that they are doing a live-or-Memorex duplication of the studio songs, which appears to be the only sort of arrangement Waters is GOOD at.

Here's the title song from "Amused To Death," which demonstrates all that is good and beautiful about the solo-album portion of the concert. It's awfully long but is 100% faithful to the album, right down to the heartbreaking samples at the end.

The main reason I mentioned David Gilmour in this post is because, for all his weaknesses, he is AMAZING at live arrangements. The "Delicate Sound of Thunder" film shows his skills in their finest glory...but the only clips available on YouTube look like they were compressed with a "sludgy mud" effect, so I won't post them.

Looking through the archives, however, I discovered this live 1987 performance of "Comfortably Numb" which gives a pretty good impression of his approach. Sure it's a cheesy song, but it's also a difficult one to reproduce live...this clip shows the technique he would use on the subsequent tour: slowing it down, changing the key, enlisting a clear-singing backup vocalist (Sam Brown in this case), and not trying to do anything appallingly TRICKY.

This particular version even manages to sound slightly new wave, somehow.

Incidentally, keeping with the theme of live adaptations, I love one of the comments posted to this video:
ladies and gentleman , simon phillips on drums, what a fuckin jerk, smashed the whole end of the song, double bass here, double there, accent here, accent every second, jerk this is not how floyd sounds... maybe toto, disgusting...
It's true, Phillips needs an elbow to the ribs during the ending portion, but to his credit he doesn't manage to COMPLETELY ruin it.

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