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House of Floyd

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In the spring of 1994, Pink Floyd embarked on what would be their final world tour, in support of The Division Bell.

I was a sophomore in high school when they played their three-show April run at the Oakland Coliseum and had only recently discovered Floyd in earnest.

Which is to say, I had only recently begun to smoke pot.

I had yet to take acid and listen to/watch “Dark Side of the Moon” synced up with “The Wizard of Oz.” (Or “Alice in Wonderland,” or “Fantasia.” “Gone with the Wind?” I think what “Dark Side” really syncs up with is the acid.)

If they had come through Oakland in June, there is a good chance I would have joined my cooler friends (and our "cool" high school security guard John, who would open the parking lot gates for us at a price, usually a dip — there is a fine line between "cool" and "creepy") at the Coliseum for at least one of the shows.

Alas, my appreciation of Floyd and their tour dates didn’t quite sync up, and I never got another chance to see them.

Saturday night at the Crest Theatre, I got something of a reprieve.

The House of Floyd, a Pink Floyd tribute band, was in town, and they offered up as close a facsimile of a classic Floyd show as you can hope to find today, with the possible (probable? certain? probably certain) exception of a Roger Waters gig.

I walked down to the Crest at around 7 p.m., dodging a brutally bastardized combination of Second Saturday lurkers and poop-faced premature St. Patty’s Day pub-crawlers as I went. It was just like The Walking Dead out there, except instead of zombies hunting brains, it was jackholes hunting Irish car-bombs. I’m not sure which scenario unnerves me more. (Actually, the latter, because at least you can take a bat to the zombies.)

I was ecstatic when I reached the Crest, unbitten. I surveyed the scene, which was refreshingly free of green top hats, leprechaun vests, "Kiss me, I’m a moron” shirts and nearly all other trappings of the one-time religious, now sophomorically inebria-centric holiday which remained five days away.

The crowd at the Crest was as diverse a group of white people as you’ll ever find.

College kids, 20-somethings, 30-somethings, middle-aged couples with their kids, aging hippies, aged hippies. It ran the gamut. Pink Floyd truly has a universal and timeless appeal (to white people).

After a $5.75 Negra Modela, I adjourned outside for a smoke, where I met Jillian and Bryan.

"I thought I was buying tickets for a Pink Floyd laser light show," Bryan said. "I didn’t realize it was a live tribute band playing until later."

I took my seat in the auditorium at a couple minutes after 8 p.m.

At 8:09 p.m. the lights went down.

At 8:10 p.m., the band took the stage, the backdrop lit up with a shot of the moon, and through the speakers began the cacophonous intro of "Speak to Me/Breathe" — the heart beat, the clocks, the cash register, the creepily spoken line "I’ve always been mad. I know I’ve been mad, like the most of us are. It’s very hard to explain why you’re mad, even if you’re not mad."

By the time the wailing came around and they entered into the meat of the song, I was covered in goosebumps.

"This is amazing!" was my first thought.

My second? "Man, I wish I was stoned right now."

I don’t puff at shows I’m covering, even if it is offered (and it is, often). I try to pay great attention to detail in order to paint a more vivid picture and, hopefully, add to your enjoyment of the piece. In this case, dear reader, I feel I may have done you a disservice by being such a straight-edge weenie. I mean, this is freakin’ Pink Floyd we’re talking about.

During the course of the evening, the movie screen behind the stage showed a wide variety of images, both familiar and un, that were often spliced with live video of the performers on stage. The common theme throughout? This would look awesome if you were baked right now. A few highlights, all from the first 10 minutes or so:

– One of the first images was of the words "ARE YOU TRIPPING?" with the letters slightly Dali-fied, as if to hammer the question home and increase the likelihood that your answer would be yes.

– Moments later, "Did everything just taste purple for a second?" Classic stoner move, switching a color for a taste or vice versa. I wished everything tasted purple for a second, but, alas, it did not.

– Toward the end of their second song of the evening, the Syd Barrett penned 1967 classic "Astronomy Domine," they started playing the Pink Elephant scene from "Dumbo," which is the first hallucinatory trip we are ever exposed to as children, and has been for more than three generations. And to top it off, it’s a bad trip. The first time I watched it, I wigged out. "The pink elephants! They’re everywhere! And they won’t stop marching! Now one giant elephant is made out of hella little ones, and it’s all up in my face! Get me out of here!". I was four.

– Giant melting mushrooms.

"Shine On parts 1-5", another goosebump-inducer, was up next, followed by "Keep Talking" off "The Division Bell". Sheri Showalter and Melissa Hartley, two backup singers who swayed rhythmically while nailing the many female singing parts in the P.F. oeuvre, really got a chance to shine for the first time on the latter number: "Why won’t you talk to me? What are you thinking?" It was also the first song (of many) where Joe Bartone brought out the Frampton-y talk box.

The rest of the first set was a doozy: "Welcome to the Machine" led into "Mother," with lead guitarist/vocalist Pat Potter swapping out his electric axe for an acoustic. Since potter already had his acoustic out, Bartone swapped his electric for an epic "Wish You Were Here.”(the opening strains of which were strummed, recorded and used by me as my outgoing voicemail for about half of my junior year in high school. Their version was better.) They plugged in again for "Pigs (3 Different Ones)" and one of my all time favorites, "Have a Cigar", before re-entering "Shine On Pts 6-9" to close it out.

They left the stage at 9:19pm, and returned a little over 10 minutes later. They opened the second set with "Raving and Drooling" the opening song from their 1975 tour. Never recorded, it was changed to "Sheep" for at the Animals album.

They rejoined the mega-hit portion of the program for their next stretch, tapping Darkside with "Time" (more goosebumps), "Great Gig in the Sky" (holy amazing pipes! Sheri absolutely nailed the unreal wordless wailing vocal, laid down on the album by Clare Torry ), and "Money", the last of which afforded vocalist and keyboard player mark Showalter to show off his sizable saxophone chops.

Up next was a stretch from "the Wall", starting with "Another Brick 2", which led to the first dancer of the evening. A lone woman, about four rows back on the floor, at first danced by her seat, attempting, with no success, to start a trend. She soon recognized that she was fighting a losing battle and moved her one-woman dance party to the aisle. Across the venue, I stood up and danced next to the stage. Solidarity and whatnot.

She maintained her post through most of "Empty Spaces> What Shall We do Now?" before abandoning ship before "Young Lust" (The screen behind the band was playing the "Off with their heads/paint the roses red" scene from "Alice in Wonderland. Awesome.).

They finished the second set with "Run like Hell", which got the girl and a newfound partner back on their feet, cutting the rug in the aisle. At 10:19 the band left the stage, only to return 30 seconds later to cap off the evening with "Comfortably Numb", which was mind-blowing to hear live.

I don’t know if it made up for my missing The Division Bell Tour, but seeing House of Floyd certainly eased the sting. The guys and girls in House of Floyd do an amazing job of recreating the huge, lush, layered soundscapes for which Pink Floyd is so known, and loved.

Now, it wasn’t perfect:

-The laser show, considering Pink Floyd has become almost synonymous with them, was something of a disappointment: It probably would have been considered cutting edge about 30 years ago. Saturday, it was a little sad. They are doing amazing things with lasers these days. H.o.F could take a lesson from the electronica movement and bring their laser show up to date. 

-The vocals weren’t identical (Not Britishy enough?) to the source material, but what tribute band/replacement singer’s are? (besides the Fillipino kid that Journey drafted to the bigs ‘cuz he does a better Steve Perry than Steve Perry)

-The venue. Though beautiful, and lovingly restored, The Crest is not the best place to see a show. The sound is good, if a little bass heavy, but it just doesn’t lend itself to dancing at all. If they took out the chairs on the floor, leveled off the ground in front of the stage and added a couple bars it could be something akin to a Warfied East. As it stands, The Crest more closely resembles John Lithgow’s character in "Footloose".

Minor quibbles all, none of which I took home with me. What I did take home, and will carry with me for a while, is the feeling I got listening to "Comfortably Numb" played live for the first time, in all it’s glory.

Maybe it wasn’t Pink Floyd, when I closed my eyes, it might as well have been.

House of Floyd will be back in town playing at Harlow’s on May 7th. Tickets are $20 and dancing is actively encouraged.

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