David Gilmour – ‘Live At Pompeii’ Box Set Review

Although not prolific, David Gilmour makes up in quality what he lacks in quantity. Last year’s stunning ‘rattle that lock’ may well be only the second solo album to which David has put his name since Pink Floyd’s 1994 opus, ‘the division bell’, but it’s a remarkable and complex work that requires time and patience in order to unlock its myriad charms. The tour that followed was a sell-out, as might be expected from an artist who has managed to retain such an aura of reverence despite a recalcitrant attitude to touring, and it was inevitable that a film would follow. What was not inevitable was that David would take his band to the legendary arena at Pompeii, the site of a triumphant performance to precisely no-one with Pink Floyd some forty-four years previous, to stage a concert so spectacular that it was released as a full-blown cinema extravaganza. Surprisingly, for an artist who has long stated that he has no desire to haul the Pink Floyd corpse from the grave, David Gilmour’s live show has all the hallmarks of the Pink Floyd experience. From the giant, oh-so-familiar circular screen, to the lasers that pierce the gloom during ‘Comfortably numb’, it’s clear that David has lost none of his flair for the theatrical, whilst his super-sized band (featuring Pink Floyd alumnus and Richard Wright son-in-law Guy Pratt on bass) also stands him apart from your average solo artist tour. It may not be ‘the wall’, but then there is a multi-lane motorway between theatrical and gloriously over-the-top and David knows upon which side he’d rather stand.

As with recent Gilmour-related releases, ‘live at Pompeii’ comes in a variety of sumptuous editions. At the bare end of the scale, fans can opt for a double CD, a DVD or a blu ray, each containing the audio or audio-visual version of the concert with few extras. These editions are unremarkable, but worthy for those seeking only the concert at a reasonable price. For those who have a taste for the analogue, there is a beautifully packaged vinyl edition, weighing in at a shelf-threatening four platters (although it’s a shame, considering the cost, that a DVD could not be thrown in) but the best version (and the one reviewed here) is a box set containing two blu rays, two CDs and a wealth of tastefully-chosen ephemera (but happily no marbles). Housed in a soft-touch box, fans will find a lovely hard-back book containing photos, a guide to the Pompeii arena, the discs (each in a card sleeve), a poster and a series of postcards. These are worthy extras, each produced with care and attention to detail, and they more than justify any additional cost. The second blu ray is equally impressive, offering not one, but two, documentaries (the tour documentary is actually split into four sections) and a whole host of additional performance footage including material shot in Poland with an orchestra.

An experience tailor-made for blu ray, ‘Live at Pompeii’ puts Roger Waters’ recent version of The Wall’ to shame. This is no pithy attempt to artificially rekindle rivalry between two parties, but rather a comparison of the chosen directorial styles. Where ‘The Wall’ features endless, over-stylised crowd shots and scenes of Roger Waters communing with a ghost; ‘Live at Pompeii’ takes a leisurely look at the musicians, cutting away to the spectacle when required, and never mistaking quick-cut editing as a substitute for genuine excitement. It’s a common error made by directors who fundamentally misjudge the desires of their audiences, and when a director approaches such a project with tact and restraint, it is a pleasure. ‘Live at Pompeii’ is, quite simply, a brilliantly directed and edited concert sequence, shot in high definition and presented in superlative quality. Add to that an audio mix (in both surround and PCM) that is crystal clear, and you have the perfect demonstration disc for your home theatre system. It easily bests previous David Gilmour releases in terms of quality, although for performance, ‘live in Gdansk’ is arguably still the one to beat. Nonetheless, with a new band on hand, a new album to tour and a few surprises up his sleeve (not least ‘run like hell’, which David has not aired for some time), ‘Live at Pompeii’ is a special outing filmed in a genuinely awe-inspiring venue and it’s impossible to imagine Floyd fans not being enthralled by this release.

As with the ‘On an Island’ tour, David stands firmly behind his new material, packing the performance with solo tracks and dipping his toes into the waters of Pink Floyd only when the mood so takes him. It takes a brave artist to relegate such a legacy, but David’s instincts rarely play him false, and his new material is more than strong enough to stand on its own merits without assistance from more familiar efforts. The show is all the better for it and it allows for David’s continuing evolution as an artist rather than cast him as a tired performer and, judging by the looks he shares with his band, David’s heart is firmly in the present.

With the sun setting on a venue that eclipses even the beauty of Red Rocks, David opens his concert with three tracks drawn directly from ‘rattle that lock’. It’s a mesmerising start, and one that makes full use of the surround speakers (particular as the massed voices that announce the title track glide into view) and it is the title track in particular which receives a rapturous response. The lilting, waltz-like ‘faces of stone’ has the audience standing agog before a brief glimpse of Floyd is allowed with a stunning rendition of ‘what do you want from me’. It’s great to hear the track performed once more and it sits perfectly alongside ‘The blue’, an album highlight from ‘on an island’. It says much of David’s vision that he successfully interpolates new and old material without the set feeling in the least bit disjointed. A surprising ‘the great gig in the sky’ thus sits comfortably alongside ‘a boat lies waiting’, and, if ‘wish you were here’ and ‘money’ seem an odd paring, the subtle changes David and his band make to the songs make it work. The first half of the set vanishes in a heartbeat, with ‘in any tongue’ giving way to a glorious ‘high hopes’ (long the highlight of latter-day Floyd) and an epic finale of ‘one of these days’ casting a knowing glance towards David’s last encounter with the venue.

The second half of the set relies rather more on familiar material, with only ‘on an island’ and ‘Today’ offered up from solo albums. Clearly, no Gilmour show will give the audience exactly what they want (unless the man played for about eight hours), but it is a shame that tracks like the jazz-infused ‘the girl in the yellow dress’ and the powerful ‘take a breath’ were left off the set-list. What we do get, however, is a condensed, Gilmour-Floyd best of, with ‘shine on you crazy diamond (pts. 1-5)’, ‘fat old sun’ and ‘coming back to life’ opening the set, to the great excitement of the audience. ‘Fat old sun’, of course, has long been a key element of David’s solo performances, but it is always good to hear a classic track from a much underrated (including by the band themselves) album. Both ‘on an island’ and ‘today’ sound glorious, the former a languid and poignant consideration of how a perfect moment can be forever captured in the memory, and it is bittersweet indeed given that the set inevitably conjures memories of the late Richard Wright. The finale, meanwhile, features a typically blistering version of ‘sorrow’, ‘run like hell’ (great to see Guy Pratt reprise his vocal role from ‘pulse’, but otherwise a fairly sedate rendition compared to its former versions), a brief run through of ‘time/breathe’ and, of course, a typically-soaring ‘comfortably numb’. In some ways, the ubiquitous ‘comfortably numb’ notwithstanding, it is a surprisingly arena-sized conclusion (albeit not an unwelcome one), but when one considers the occasion, it is hardly surprising that David was tempted to bring out his biggest guns to mark the event.

Beyond the concert you get a ton of extras. The footage from Poland, complete with orchestra and a simply gorgeous rendition of ‘Girl in the yellow dress’, is simply breath-taking, and focuses entirely on ‘Rattle that lock’. It’s a fantastic bonus and the goodies don’t stop there, for there’s also some cracking footage from the 2015 South America tour which is much more Floyd heavy (a sparkling ‘today’ not withstanding), all of which amounts to roughly another hour of music. There are also four tour documentaries, each around 15 minutes, covering Europe 2015, South America 2015, North America 2016 and Europe 2016 and the BBC Wider Horizons documentary. Of these, the tour documentaries are largely of passing interest, likely to only be watched once, given that they’re largely behind the scenes clips set to music. that said, little snippets of information do appear, and it’s nice to see a relaxed Dave setting up the stage and joking about the mighty bell used to ring in ‘High Hopes’.  The BBC documentary, however, is a much meatier affair, totalling an hour and eleven minutes in length. It’s a rare and candid glimpse into the life of an artist famed for his reticence, filled with vintage clips and revealing interviews. It’s a very generous extra and yet another reason to shell out for the deluxe edition.

Overall, this is yet another fantastic release from David Gilmour. Although I would have liked to have seen more tracks from ‘on an island’ and ‘rattle that lock’, I understand the need for David to balance the new material with the desires of an audience who would quite possibly riot in the absence of Floyd tracks. Opting to subtly rework material so that it runs beautifully together was a masterstroke, and the set flows beautifully from start to finish, with only ‘run like hell’ sounding a touch restrained compared to previous versions, although it’s still enjoyable to see him deliver the vocals in concert with Guy Pratt, and the guitar work is never less than sublime. What is indisputable, however, is that this incredibly special event serves as a potent reminder of David Gilmour’s immense contribution to music and, more importantly, of his continuing development as an artist. With hours of content, and an incredible attention to detail, this is an essential purchase for any Floyd fan. 10

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