Pink Floyd Experience combines music and spectacle

Trent Ernst 

I have a love hate relationship with cover songs.

As a musician, covers provide an easy in with an audience. While nobody may have heard the songs we as a band have written, everyone has heard the Tragically Hip, and so pulling out New Orleans is Sinking is a great way to get the crowd riled up.

On the other hand, to just play other people’s music lacks the creative spark that draws me to make music in the first place, and watching a band that only plays cover songs doesn’t really do much for me. They could be amazing performers, but the fact that all they’re doing is parroting other people’s songs? Leaves me a little cold.

Which, if you look at it critically, doesn’t hold water. I will never hear Beethoven perform his own music; Bedrich Smetana never recorded the definitive version of Die Moldau; all I’ve ever heard are other people’s interpretation of the piece.

But somewhere along the line, music started getting committed to recording devices, and suddenly that became the gold standard. For me, the dividing line seems to be jazz, and Dave Brubeck in particular. I’d think nothing about listening to a cover of ‘In the Mood,’ but you have to be pretty awesome to do a cover of ‘Blue Rondo a la Turk’ that I’ll like.

I tell you this because it is through this lens that I view the Pink Floyd Experience (PFX), a tribute band to one of the greatest bands of all time.

The show featured all the trappings of what you might expect to find at a Pink Floyd show: phenomenal sound design (including quadraphonic effects), great lighting design (though no fricken’ lasers), visuals playing on a screen behind the band (though not the same visuals as at a real Pink Floyd show, and even a giant flying pig (though no wall, alas.)

When you get to the point of playing stadium shows, even if it is a smaller venue like the Encana Centre, there is a certain level of musicianship expected. PFX was no exception. These are musicians who are steeped in the music of Pink Floyd, and the performance was terrific. Some pundits have even enthused that the cover band was even better than the original. I wouldn’t go that far, but the performance was stellar.

The six piece band featured a drummer, bassist, keyboards, two people sharing guitar and vocal duties, and a swing musician who played keyboards, guitar and, most notably, saxophone.

The songs were all recognizably Pink Floyd, though PFX is not slavishly devoted to performing the album versions of the songs note-for-note. There was room for some (small) changes and interpretation of the original source material, but they kept it close enough to the bone to keep the crowd happy.

The tour is entitled “Greatest Hits and Rarities” and featured, well, basically that: a mix of songs that most people have heard and a fair number of songs that you’ve probably never heard on the radio.

With more than a dozen albums spanning thirty years, PFX had lots of material to draw from. Indeed, on past tours they have performed the entirety of Dark Side of the Moon and Animals. Here, while there was perhaps more songs from Animals than one might expect, they pulled out ‘Astronomi Domine’ from 1967’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and even a song from 1994’s Division Bell, one of only two albums recorded without Roger Waters, and Pink Floyd’s last album.

With so much material to choose from, there are bound to be omissions, even though the band performed two full sets with a twenty minute intermission. Songs Like ‘Time’ and ‘Hey You’ were notably absent, but ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’ were on the setlist. The greatest hits were backloaded towards the end of the show, with ‘Run Like Hell’, ‘Comfortably Numb’ and ‘Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)’ being found in the second half of the second set.

For the last two songs, a giant winged pig soared out and over the audience. While most of the show was enjoyed sitting down, the crowd came to its feet at the end, perhaps forgetting, or at least, not caring that this was not truly Pink Floyd and collectively allowing itself to be swept along on the current of music.