And If the Band You’re In Starts Playing Diff’rent Tunes…

Pink Floyd, 1968. Syd in the background, barely part of the band.

Ahhh, the Pink Floyd. There are few bands that have a more universal connection to almost all rock fans born between 1950 and now. Regardless of your individual listening or cultural habits – whether you never stray from the classic rock radio “canon” or you are obnoxiously and self-consciously indie – you have probably had a Pink Floyd moment at one point or another in your life. Because of this, I decided to write a huge piece on Consequence of Sound, breaking down my ten favorite PF albums “in the abstract” with fun observations and comparisons, trying to avoid questions of taste and preference. Funny enough, the one major value judgment I did make – that The Wall is the last good Floyd album (an assertion I stick with 100%) – became the primary thing that commenters mentioned! Just goes to show that people have a wide variety of opinions and love even the lesser efforts of a band this good.

My favorite aspect of the blitzkrieg of media this week on Pink Floyd is Jimmy Fallon’s effort. Fallon is a huge, dorky Pink Floyd fan, and so he got five bands to come to his show and cover a song by Pink Floyd rather than play their own music. This is no small feat. Pearl Jam just release Pearl Jam 20, a big deal for them, and rather than go on late night television and play one of the new releases on this set, they came on and played “Mother.” And they killed it, too. In fact, all five performances transcended mere covering. Each artist took a song best fitted to their sound and played it like true fans. Fallon did the same thing last year for the Rolling Stones’ big re-release of Exile on Main St., getting big hitters like Green Day, Taj Mahal, and Phish to play versions of songs from Exile. While Jimmy has proven that he has no ability to stop being a silly fanboy while interviewing these legends (his interview with Floyd drummer Nick Mason this past week was just so awkward), he has done the world quite a service by arranging for these performances.

Monday, The Shins, “Breathe”

The classic opening from Dark Side of the Moon was, for the most part, pretty faithful to the original; a standard cover, except that lead singer James Mercer’s voice is many notches better than David Gilmour’s. Aside from a brief guitar solo (from their guitarist who, intentionally or not, looks like a female version of Syd Barrett, circa 1967), this was a relatively subdued and laid back beginning to Pink Floyd week. Also the video is reflected backwards, none of those guitarists are left-handed, but it was the only video I could find!

Tuesday, Foo Fighters with Roger Waters, “In The Flesh”

[vimeo 29807683 w=545 h=307]

The Wall has some of the best straight ahead rock songs in Pink Floyd’s catalog: “Young Love,” “Run Like Hell,” “Comfortably Numb,” and of course, “In The Flesh,” the bad ass, bombastic opening to the album. And no one can match Roger Waters’ reedy, nervous, and quite frankly, bad voice. So it was pretty cool that Waters himself rocked out the vocals to this tune with the Foo Fighters backing him up. The heavily distorted, hard rocking song fit the band’s sound perfectly, although drummer Taylor Hawkins didn’t play nearly enough fills to match Mason’s original. It would’ve been cool to hear Dave Grohl growl out the strained, pinched vocals, but hey, it’s Roger Waters, and there’s no single sound more recognizable to The Wall than his voice.

Wednesday, MGMT, “Lucifer Sam”

Points to MGMT for choosing the deepest cut on here. Not only were they the only performance that didn’t draw from Pink Floyd’s “big three” albums (DSOTM, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall), but they went all the way back to 1967’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn and grabbed a real Syd Barrett tune. “Lucifer Sam” is pure late 60s British mod psychedelia – the main descending guitar part seems like something that was co-opted for the Austin Powers movies, except it’s not a joke. MGMT, the indie/pop/psychedelic darlings, is the band who probably owes the biggest musical and aesthetic debt to Pink Floyd. They killed it with “Lucifer Sam,” with guitarist Andrew VanWyngarten even forcing a little British accent to really capture the madcap Barrett sound of the original. This was the fastest of all the cover songs, and possibly my favorite.

Thursday, Dierks Bentley, “Wish You Were Here”

To be honest, I’ve never heard of Bentley, who is a big time country star. But of all the people who could’ve done “Wish You Were Here,” his countrified version was the best possible outcome. I’ve never thought of this song as something that could get the country treatment, but his southern twang works for the vocals, the slide guitar and fiddle are perfect, and this rock ballad simply eased into being a country ballad. I loved the fiddle playing the intro with double stops, simply, a refreshing version of an overplayed (but masterful) song.

Friday, Pearl Jam, “Mother”

[vimeo 29892710 w=545 h=307]

I think this is my favorite of the whole bunch, mostly because lead singer Eddie Vedder looks and sounds like he really cares about making this as good as he possibly can. As opposed to the Shins’ reserved presentation, Pearl Jam’s is as heartfelt and “into it” as possible. I love how Eddie’s voice doesn’t have its normally recognizable sound when it’s this low in his range. Hearing him sing this low is soul-baring, it’s tender and chilling, just like the song. When he does break into the higher register, you can hear a touch of strain when he sings “healthy and clean” on the second bridge. It’s a moment of onstage transparency that really make this performance. Not to mention the spot on guitar solo.

Pink Floyd’s catalog offers me everything I could possibly want for any circumstance, any mood, any type of activity, any scenery. Throughout my adolescent and adult life, I have many specific memories where Pink Floyd provided the ideal soundtrack…

I remember learning “Wish You Were Here” on guitar when I was 14, because a friend told me that it would impress girls, and that it was the easiest song to play and sing. It was the first song I ever learned that I could sing and play at the same time. And it did impress the girls

I remember watching The Wizard of Oz with Dark Side with high schools friends at one of their houses when their parents were away. Our minds were blown.

I remember hearing The Wall for the first time when I was 11 and a camp counselor played it. I loved “Nobody Home,” partially because they said “13 channels of shit on my TV to choose from.” I thought “who only has 13 channels?” and I loved that they swore.

I remember sitting with friends in college and watching the Windows Media Player visualizations to “Echoes.” Our minds were, once again, blown.

I remember when I first heard “Atom Heart Mother,” just as I was beginning to listen to more and more classical music, and thinking about what kind of piece this was, whether it was rock or classical or some other kind of hybrid. Even though the band member’s think this song is excessive, I thought it was spectacular.

I remember when I first started listening to Animals, which came much later in life, and “Dogs” was the perfect accompaniment to my bus ride in Seattle. On gray, cool, wet mornings, I would get on the express bus to the University of Washington campus, and hit play. The length of “Pigs on the Wing” and “Dogs” was exactly the morning commute, and we’d be pulling up to my stop as I heard “dragged down by the stone.” As we crossed the Aurora Bridge, Mt. Rainier would emerge from behind the downtown skyline, and Gilmour’s double guitar solo would kick in. Breathtaking.

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~ by Jake on October 2, 2011.

2 Responses to “And If the Band You’re In Starts Playing Diff’rent Tunes…”

  1. Great post…I love that you gave a shout-out to WMP’s visualizations!!! They’re like the early 21st century version of a lava lamp

    • Haha, yeah that’s exactly right! We used to sit in our darkened dorm room with our particular favorite plugin, Geiss, turn on “Echoes” and lose ourselves for 23 minutes. It was just like a lava lamp, except a lava lamp didn’t respond to the individual rhythms and pings like Geiss did.

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