GRACE NOTES: Many years gone behind

Reviewing Pink Floyd — and a review of Interstellar Echoes at Terminal West

#1 IE
Photo credit: Esa Ahola
INTERSTELLAR ECHOES: Jim Gorman, bass guitar and lead vocals; Chris Hinson, lead guitar, lap steel, synthesizer; Mike Altis, drums and sound effects; Eric Johansen, piano, organ, synthesizers; David Shore, guitar and backing vocals; Meg Scalise Dinan, vocals; Martin Anderson, saxophone; Joey Appleseed, lasers.


I hadn’t listened to Pink Floyd in years. Would their music still mean as much to me now as it had back then, I wondered, and could a tribute band like Interstellar Echoes do it justice?

So ya…thought ya….might like….to….go to the showwww,” one might sneer at the overly-pumped-up-for-a-mere-copy-cat-tribute-band crowd in line at Terminal West. They were eagerly awaiting Interstellar Echoes, a band that exclusively covers Pink Floyd songs, to begin, and there I was there in the midst of them, slightly abashed at myself but looking forward to the show, nonetheless.

You don’t hear a lot of Pink Floyd covered these days unless it’s the anomalous crowd-pleaser “Another Brick in the Wall.” Perhaps the chorus of snarky children helps to soothe old school-based resentments or maybe we just want more pudding from the schoolmaster. Either way, it’s rare to hear much Pink Floyd beyond that, and I craved me a more nutrient-rich experience. Thus, the Interstellar Echoes show.

The crowd was about what you’d expect — mostly average-appearing young men, a few young women, tired-looking rockers of a certain age, and there was also a man with vampire fangs wearing a Marilyn Monroe t-shirt.

My fellow audience members made me wonder if things had changed from when I was young. Did earnest adolescents still wallow together in college-bound privilege listening to “Animals,” while passing the pipe and judgment on their fellow farm creatures? Did they still crank up “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” taking comfort in how they, some rock stars, and maybe a few asylum patients somewhere were the only ones really in the know?

But all sarcasm aside, what I really wondered was if the music of Pink Floyd would still scratch my existential itch the way it used to when I was one of those youth, because the other end of that pyramid was quickly coming into view, and, God knew, that itch was starting to burn.

I didn’t have very much hope for that happening, however, because, prior to the show, I’d dusted off my old Pink Floyd album collection (okay, pulled them up on Spotify) and had given every one of them a chronological re-listen.

To my older ears, the first seven albums now seemed mostly space-age somnolence punctuated every now and then by crashes, moans, and piercing screams. I imagined the sounds you’d hear if you were having a spa treatment in a war zone or if Nurse Ratched was tucking you in at the funny farm. In the end, I decided that these albums might make (somewhat) easy listening background music if I had something complicated or boring to get done.

The discography of Pink Floyd’s middle years did not please my middle years ears much either. Animals now seemed like a Broadway production of Orwell’s classic work. The novel’s theme of humanist ideals doomed by human nature seemed lost in this unhappy pet sounds of an album. Maybe the band did need some education, I harrumphed to myself – beginning with a good high school English teacher.

I still liked “Wish You Were Here” and “Dark Side of the Moon” okay, but maybe because I was listening by myself, neither had the effect they’d had when I was young.

“The Wall” triggered the parent in me. Poor Pink might have benefitted from some grief counseling, I thought sadly, and possibly psychoanalysis, preferably with someone well-versed in Freud.

But I’d had enough of Waters’ whiny desperation by The Final Cut, an album that seemed to be influenced by their last album, Billy Joel, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. I wanted Pink and the whole band, quite honestly, to snap out of it, to get on with life, to put on the proverbial stiff upper lip, old boys.

And several years later they do, although it was more of a thickened, sad-sack, fish lip. On A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the anemic-sounding “earthbound, misfit guy/condition-grounded but determined to try” seemed to characterize not only the album and its top-charting song, but also the band itself at that point. The quintessential majestic archways of a Pink Floyd album opener now just led to a series of wooden props: insipid Gilmour solos, gratuitous reverb and overdub, and ubiquitous fade-ins and outs. The album seemed little more than self-parody – an Elvis comeback special, Pink Floyd style. I remembered when I first heard that album in my late 20s and how I had quit listening to them after that. They’d had the cigar and smoked it with relish, I’d thought.

As the show began, I wondered which songs Interstellar Echoes would pull out, and it turned out to be the ones everybody knows. They executed the music well, and the effects were well-done. The sax solos added some flair, although the sound energy of the entire band seemed to stay close to the stage rather than finding its way into the dark caverns and corners of Terminal West. Although much of the audience was politely listening up front, those corners were well-occupied by people on their phones or having side conversations. The young man with the vampire fangs, I noticed, was spinning around and around and around.

I deduced that the reason why some of the audience was disengaged might have had something to do with the set list. It seemed disjointed and, as a result, a bit jarring. The sweetness of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” was cloying when directly preceded by the acerbic “Another Brick in the Wall,” and It was hard to “Breathe” after being “Welcome(d) to the Machine.” I wondered, at that point in the show, if Interstellar Echoes even got Pink Floyd.

WHICH ONE’S PINK: They’re all pink. PHOTO credit: Esa Ahola

The thing is, Pink Floyd had about three messages: The world is bad, people are sad, and if that and death keep you up at night, you might just be considered mad. But art is not yelling these truths at us and throwing a few cannon balls for good measure, like mean kids at a snowball fight or Waters on The Final Cut. Art is also not just sadly stating the obvious, like Gilmour with his Momentary Lapse of Reason that, unfortunately, wasn’t just momentary. And art was certainly not Interstellar Echoes cherry-picking popular songs from popular albums and playing them in haphazard order. That wasn’t even a good quality poster print.

Art is sharing with us, through music and metaphor, diamonds and moons, if you will, a perspective we may not have previously considered, one that grows our understanding of ourselves and others and the world. And sometimes Pink Floyd was art. In the masterful rendering of existential angst called Dark Side of the Moon, for example, the weirdos of the world tuned in, and we began to think of ourselves in a way we never had.

As a result of that album, it dawned on my fellow misfits and me that being weird was actually a good thing, because it meant that we clearly saw how this fake-ass, bullshit world worked, how it lied to us about what was important and how it sacrificed the most sensitive souls to the gods of power and money. Being weird, we now realized, meant that this state of affairs was not okay with us and that we were not going to join all those who pretended like it was. Being weird became a badge of honor after this album. For some of us, that idea was revolutionary, and it changed the course of our lives. It’s a timeless message, and things started to pick up once Interstellar Echoes played its Side B (in order, I might add).

While a tribute band may not create the art, it can sometimes make a pretty good reproduction, and that’s exactly what happened about half-way through the show when they played “The Great Gig in the Sky.” If you are familiar with the song (and I imagine you are, or you would have stopped reading this long-winded review long before now), you know how it reaches down into that part of you that wants to scream and cry and pray and make love all at the same time and how it winds down to a lullaby that reminds us that the pain we are feeling about this not so great gig on the ground called life is the very thing that makes us so beautiful. Band member Meg Scalice sang it like an angel, and the rest of the band knew just how to fill in the blanks. The entire audience became hushed and spellbound as the music washed over us like a gentle rain. Even the vampire stopped spinning and began to listen.

Whatever happened during “Great Gig must have affected the band as well, because the rest of the show was on a whole different level. “Us and Them,” a song about the labels we give each other, was by followed “Any Colour You Like,” a song in which the varied styles and rhythms let us know that there are lots of ways to be cool. And “Any Colour was when Interstellar Echoes began to create some art of their own. They went into that kind of extended, improvisational, three-dimensional, catapult-you-into-the-spiritual-realm jam – the kind that doesn’t happen unless a band cares about the music, each other, and their audience. Universal clapping happened after that jam. They did get Pink Floyd, after all, I thought happily to myself.

LASER, LASER: Space cadet glows. PHOTO credit: Esa Ahola

As the band went into “Brain Damage,” and especially when the drums signaled the chorus to “The Misfit Anthem,” as I like to call this song, everyone sang along, even the befangled gentleman, and maybe especially him.

And if the cloud bursts thunder in your ear,

You shout and no one seems to hear,

And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes,

I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.”

A spontaneous cheer erupted and spread through the crowd, because united we stood, people of all ages and genders and dental persuasions. That prism of crazy diamonds was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

Fittingly, Eclipse, the coda of “Dark Side,” ended the show. This song reminds us to go forth and live mindfully, because things matter. We matter.

“And all that you love

And all that you hate

All you distrust

All you save.”

Say what you will about tribute bands, and I’ve said a lot – mostly negative — but I realized by the end of this show that bands like Interstellar Echoes, who love great music and try to save it, who provide opportunities for misfits of all kinds to find company and to hear the truth about themselves, are worth seeing and supporting.

Like the original Pink Floyd and pretty much everyone, Interstellar Echoes wasn’t always perfect. But when they got real, when the love showed up, their music really shone, and so did the audience. As a matter of fact, there was no dark side of the room. Really. —CL—