By Adam Ellsworth
I’m able to pull the stick out of my ass long enough to enjoy a tribute performance when it is worthy, and the Australian Pink Floyd Show is more than that.
The Australian Pink Floyd Show, Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion, Boston, MA
In an interview for the Pink Floyd biography Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd, Gerald Scarfe, the illustrator who designed the cover and graphics for Floyd’s 1979 album The Wall, told author Mark Blake, “Roger [Waters, Floyd bassist] once told me his dream was to have a surrogate Pink Floyd so he could go to the Bahamas and they could play Earls Court.”
With the possible exception of the surrogate group that played alongside the real Floyd during the early-’80s tour of The Wall, there has never been an official replacement band for Pink Floyd. This hasn’t stopped many, many tribute acts from picking up the mantle and performing the original songs for paying audiences across the globe.
The better Floyd tribute acts have legitimate followings and can fill several thousand seat venues while undertaking actual, legitimate, world tours. The Australian Pink Floyd Show, who performed at Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion in Boston last Thursday night, would undoubtedly qualify as one of the better Floyd tribute acts.
Aussie Floyd have the chops, the vocals, and yes, even the inflatables, to put on a proper Pink Floyd tribute show. I admit I wasn’t an instant convert, though that probably says more about my general (initial) reaction to tribute acts than it says about the Australian Pink Floyd Show in particular. My experience with these type of shows is limited, but whenever I do see a tribute band, at some point during the first few numbers I think to myself, “This is kinda sad, isn’t it?”
A healthy skepticism about grown adults playing other people’s music to a gathering of other grown adults (for money no less!) — as if there isn’t plenty of new music for everyone to be listening to — is a good thing, and I hope I don’t lose it. But I’m also happy that I’m able to pull the stick out of my ass long enough to enjoy a performance when it is worthy, and the Australian Pink Floyd Show is more than that.
Fantastic as the musicianship of Aussie Floyd is, it was actually the visuals that won me over. When the real Floyd toured Dark Side of the Moon, they introduced “Mr. Screen,” a circular projection screen that would serve as an integral part of all Floyd tours going forward. The band’s Australian cousins have their own Mr. Screen mounted center stage, and it was put to brilliant use throughout last Thursday night’s performance.
The images projected last week weren’t just recycled from past real-Floyd tours, they were original, smart, and at their best brought the songs into the 21st century. The images for “Welcome to the Machine,” performed halfway through the first set, were the best examples of this. Originally released in 1975, the song was primarily a criticism of the music industry. Paired with the Aussie Floyd images of the insides of a computer doubling as a Monopoly board, where all the properties begin with an “i” or a “G,” the song became a broader criticism of our entire modern way of life and our blind willingness to hand over our identities to a small handful of companies in exchange for their “free” services.
In case the “Welcome to the Machine” treatment was a little too heavy, the first set ended with “Brain Damage/Eclipse,” while images of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, a blubbering Brett Kavanaugh, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, and other “lunatics” were projected on Mr. Screen. The instant classic video of Johnson leveling a child while playing rugby got a special rise out of the audience. The whole thing really would be hilarious if it weren’t so terrifying.
At their best, the images used by the Australian Pink Floyd Show were not a distraction from the music, but an enhancement. In this way, they were very much operating in the spirit of the very visually oriented original Floyd. If the real Floyd were touring today, it might sound not too dissimilar to how it sounded all those years ago. But it would surely look different, and it would probably look something like what Aussie Floyd is providing.
Once won over by the visuals and how they complimented the music, it was much easier to appreciate the pure musicianship on display throughout both sets Thursday night. An absolutely ripping “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” was a highlight of the second set, as was the group’s epic take on “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” which didn’t need images to shine, but the projected messages of “Pig Brother is Watching You” and faux-Tweets like “It was just pig talk, nobody has more respect for sheep than me,” certainly enhanced the experience.
The second set closed with the one-two punch of the classic “One of These Days,” which came complete with a giant inflatable pink kangaroo, and “Run Like Hell,” which had the not-quite-capacity (but more than respectable) crowd on their feet and clapping along. I don’t recall any images on Mr. Screen during the performance, and they wouldn’t have been necessary anyway. A few thousand people revved up and participating at a rock show is the only visual that’s required.
The night closed as it had to, with an encore of “Comfortably Numb.” There were most likely Wall-inspired visuals on Mr. Screen during the performance, but I don’t remember them. The pure power of that song was the thing that shone through; no amount of flashy visuals would have been able to cover for the Australian Pink Floyd Show if they couldn’t have pulled it off musically. That they could speaks to their true worthiness as a tribute act, which says something valuable about the worthiness of tribute acts in general. When it’s done right, it’s like folk music in a way. It doesn’t matter who’s playing the songs, or who wrote the songs, or how old the songs are. It only matters that an audience experiences the songs together.
Adam Ellsworth is a writer, journalist, and amateur professional rock and roll historian. His writing on rock music has appeared on the websites YNE Magazine, KevChino.com, Online Music Reviews, and Metronome Review. His non-rock writing has appeared in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, on Wakefield Patch, and elsewhere. Adam has an MS in journalism from Boston University and a BA in literature from American University. He grew up in Western Massachusetts, and currently lives with his wife in a suburb of Boston. You can follow Adam on Twitter @adamlz24.