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MSO Plays Pink Floyd @ The Riverside Theater

Dec. 11, 2010

Dec. 13, 2010
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It would seem to be a natural fit to have the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra perform the music of Pink Floyd. Even among the wild experimentation of the early psychedelic era, Floyd were more willing than most to move away from conventional pop structures and toward conceptual song cycles and soundscapes that split the difference between rock, canonized symphonic music and the discordant noisiness of contemporary composers. They also enjoyed immense popularity, which culminated in The Dark Side of the Moon’s unprecedented 736-week stay on the Billboard 200 chart. As classical music fights to attract a younger generation, its institutions can no longer afford to be purists.

On that second count, when it came to putting meat in the seats, so to speak, the pairing was a rousing success. As the sold-out crowd surged into the lobby at intermission, forming endless lines for the bar and bathrooms, event staff could be overheard chatting about how they’d never seen things this busy. Unsurprisingly, the crowd appeared to be mainly in their 40s and 50s—not exactly the much-coveted youth demographic, but also not likely the type to turn out for Handel or Mozart either.

Artistically, though, there was little of substance here. On most songs, the MSO simply backed up a Virginia Beach tribute band that, while performing The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, hit all the familiar notes while stretching out in some confusing ways (I don’t remember “Money” ending with a lengthy scat interlude). Vocals were provided by New Orleans singer Randy Jackson (who came off a little like what Michael McKean’s Spinal Tap character might look like nowadays) and were serviceable at best, at least when a glitchy microphone chose to cooperate with him.

The second half of the show consisted of other material, culled mainly from late-era albums like The Wall and A Momentary Lapse of Reason (the first to be recorded sans co-founder Roger Waters), before closing with “Wish You Were Here.” Why they leaned so heavily on the tail end of Floyd’s career is a bit of a mystery. There would seem to be a lot of promise in re-imagining songs from the Syd Barrett era or selections from Ummagumma or Meddle for a classical setting, so it seems a shame to have their discography reduced to something like a WKLH rock block. Also, given the group’s tendency to use their songs as mere starting points for extended freak-outs when playing live, there’s not much life to be found in rote renditions of their most overplayed hits, even when the musicians nail a difficult solo. With no sense of what the band was like in concert and no significant alteration to the songs, it’d be cheaper just to stay home and listen to the record. Don’t own it? At least one of the more than 40 million copies sold is waiting in a used records bin near you.

Photo by CJ Foeckler


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