Live in Gdansk
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The idea for Live in Gdansk didn't seem to stem beyond the conventional marketing strategy of a concert record. Pink Floyd guitarist Gilmour was bringing an international tour in support of his album On an Island to a close with a show at Gdansk Shipyard in Poland. There, on the edge of the Baltic Sea, he teamed with a full orchestra to play On an Island in its entirety along with Floyd music obvious and obscure.
Ground zero for the 1980s Solidarity movement, Gdansk wasn't exactly the Hollywood Bowl. That fact no doubt appealed to Gilmour, who used the industrial setting, as well as the Baltic Philharmonic, for a suitably elegant reading of A Great Day for Freedom, a forgotten work from the 1994 Floyd swan song album, The Division Bell.
But here is the album's sad yet ultimately inspiring twist. Gilmour's band included Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright. As essential an architect to the Floyd sound as Gilmour's spacious guitar lines or Roger Waters' lyrics of paranoid frenzy, Wright was essentially bullied out of the band by Waters following the late '70s popularity of The Wall. Wright returned when a Waters-less Floyd toured from 1987 to 1995.
The concert that makes up Live in Gdansk was performed more than two years ago. It didn't appear as an album until last week — Sept. 23, to be exact. After being diagnosed with cancer last winter, Wright died Sept. 15. So what was intended as an epic snapshot of a solo venture by one Floyd member (Live in Gdansk is available in editions with extra DVDs, but the two-disc audio format is all you need) now comes to us as an unintentional eulogy for another. If the album doesn't serve as Wright's final recorded performance, it can certainly be viewed as a document of his last high-profile stage appearance.
Though Live in Gdansk begins with a medley from The Dark Side of the Moon before giving way to the orchestrated material from On an Island, most of the Floydian mischief is saved for the second disc. Here, there are adventures aplenty.
First up is Shine On You Crazy Diamond, intended in 1975 as a requiem for Floyd founder Syd Barrett. This version is sparser but no less reflective. Instead of wailing with a pack of female vocalists as he used to, Gilmour slows the tune almost to a stop and sings the chorus with Wright's piano colorings as his only accompaniment. Wright, along with longtime Floyd ally Dick Parry on saxophone, still dresses the rest of the piece with cosmic psychedelia. But Diamond's newly constructed core of chilling quiet winds up sounding far headier than the tune's spacey contours.
Then come the warhorses, Astronomy Domine, the only nod on Live in Gdansk to the Barrett era, and Echoes, on which Gilmour and Wright harmonize with sage intuition. The latter is a blast — a 25-minute run that shifts from tripped-out ambience to an earthy organ-charged jam that percolates under Gilmour's wildest guitar break of the album.
The surprise entry is the Atom Heart Mother relic Fat Old Sun, on which Wright cushions folkish guitar play between Gilmour and Phil Manzanera (the Roxy Music ace who co-produced Live in Gdansk) before Gilmour's full electric fury takes over.
The killer — again, unintentionally — is Wish You Were Here, another meditation for Barrett. But hearing Wright's piano support as the song gets rolling shifts the sense of loss. Wish You Were Here will always ponder Barrett's trade-off of "heroes for ghosts." But on Live in Gdansk, the song serves as a heroic remembrance of an artist who helped make the diamond that was Pink Floyd shine so crazily.