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Concert Review: David Gilmour, Live at Pompeii, Italy

Everything you need to know about the Pink Floyd singer-guitarist’s return to the oldest amphitheater in the world

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Deepak Rao Jul 12, 2016
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The audience was greeted with amazing visuals and sound on the first night at Pompeii. This was the first show in 2000 years at the oldest amphitheatre in the world.

I don’t really consider myself holy or religious, but over the last couple of days I have truly understood what it means to be a pilgrim.

When I found out that David Gilmour was playing two shows at Pompeii and was lucky enough to score tickets for both nights, I was extremely nervous. With a 24-hour journey from Bengaluru the day before the first show, there were so many things that could have gone wrong. But thankfully, they didn’t.

Music legends Pink Floyd filmed Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii in October 1971. The documentary released the next year and quickly became a cult classic. You just don’t see bands nowadays recording for days in an empty amphitheatre just because they want to ”“ commercial importance played second fiddle back then.

It is a well-known fact that Pompeii was enshrined in history due to an eruption in 79 AD by Mt. Vesuvius (my mother had read about it in Kannada in her textbooks) but arriving at such a historic site for the first time and understanding the story behind it was fascinating.

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The legendary Marc Brickman, who was in charge of lighting, put up a most beautiful show.

I learned that it was not lava that killed the people of Pompeii but rather an eruption of ash that, by an act of fate, sealed the city in time. Human bodies that decomposed left cavities in the ash that were later rather cleverly pumped full of plaster to get a cast that detailed their final moments with amazing detail. About 70 percent of Pompeii has been excavated and it is fascinating to learn how archaeologists and historians have pieced together the cautionary tale that has been told for 2,000 years.

But now on to the shows. And Gilmour.

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Most people naturally associate him with the solo of “Comfortably Numb”. And don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love that song, but what I find equally interesting is how lucky we are to witness the evolution of the maestro since that solo in 1979. Which leads us to this tour following the release of his fourth and latest studio album Rattle That Lock at age 70.

Opening night ”“ July 7th

In the town of Pompeii, two things were key to spot who was going to the show – a goofy grin and a blue wristband with the David Gilmour logo. Everywhere you went you could hear his music, with cafés happily inviting people to hang out after the show ”“ they would be waiting for us!

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Most eateries displayed signs inviting guests after the show.

With all that travelling, I was pretty tired but joined the queue around 6:30pm ”“ the queue was taking surprisingly long for just 2,000 people but I guess it had been a while (2 millennia) since they had to go through these logistics. I took a risk with my Jambox and played some songs in the queue which helped pass the time and helped make me some new friends as the unofficial queue DJ.

With the customary stop at the merchandise store and a trip under the walls of the amphitheatre, we were finally inside. Going through those historic walls was probably the closest I’ll ever be to a gladiator.

At exactly 9pm ”“ and 10 years to the day since the legendary [Pink Floyd founder] Syd Barrett passed, Gilmour took the stage and started with “5am”. The show really kicked off when the lighting and the distinctive circle screen (think “Pulse”) kicked in. With the legend Marc Brickman(!) in charge of lighting, the amphitheatre was beautiful. I spent as much time looking at the surroundings as I did the stage.

Over the next three hours, a spectacular set was performed (widely reported, so I will skip the specifics).

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There are no prizes for guessing that “Comfortably Numb” was final encore, and I went back to my hotel, extremely tired, but in awe of what I had just witnessed.

Surely that couldn’t be topped.

Second and final night ”“ July 8th

Refreshed, I joined the queue at 3:30pm which earned me the chance to see David up front after a near 6-hour wait (and with a yellow wristband this time). It was worth the effort as I think I witnessed his best-ever performance (the show will be released on film; do buy it as the proceeds help the city of Pompeii).

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A few friends that I made waiting in the queue – Gianluca (center) produces olive oil and Giuseppe (left) studies jazz bass.

Right from “5am”, the band and David seemed much more relaxed, having got the anticipation of the previous night out of the way. Almost every guitar solo/song was an extended version which made the show very different from the previous night although the setlist was identical.

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The trip to Pompeii was no less than a pilgrimage.

It was no secret that the elephant in the room was the anticipated performance of “Echoes” which Gilmour was forced to respond to (bluntly). “I’d love to play it, but it is a conversation between two people. And Rick’s dead. This is about the present.” As opposed to disappointment, we cheered; the previous night had seen an ode to his former bandmate Richard Wright with “A Great Gig In The Sky” followed by “A Boat Lies Waiting”.

The show ended with an incredible rendition of “Comfortably Numb”. For the final 10 minutes, Gilmour, who was made an honorary citizen of the city of Pompeii the day before the first show, reminded us that classics are classics for good reason.

The last time I saw Gilmour was in the Royal Albert Hall in London by sheer luck. I was a broke student handing out goodie bags at the venue for the previous graduating class, when I realised he was playing and somehow managed to catch the show in the same box as actor Ewan McGregor, while [cult pop icon] David Bowie performed vocals on “Comfortably Numb”. I thought that was the luckiest I would ever get.

And almost exactly a decade later, here I am in Pompeii.

Welcome home David, and thank you.

 

 All Photos: Deepak Rao

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