ROCK / Pink Floyd pig out

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The Independent Culture
A STAGE 180ft wide? Check. Enormous circular projection screen? Check. Laser beams webbing the auditorium? Check. Inflatable pigs (two)? Check. Pink Floyd's Thursday show at Earl's Court was as big as you'd imagine. Such is the band's reputation for less- than-subtle gimmicks that when two seating stands buckled disastrously on Wednesday - which should have been the first night - many people thought at first that it was part of the proceedings. But no, nothing so unusual was planned. The special effects were as dazzling as a fireworks display, but after a few Guy Fawkes Nights you've seen it all before. Even the pigs were boars.

Following a promising opening of 'Shine on you Crazy Diamond', Pink Floyd (I refuse to call them 'the Floyd') ran through some relatively new material, including four songs from The Division Bell, unique among bells in that it puts you to sleep rather than waking you up. Dave Gilmour tweaked his stately guitar over swelling, ponderous chords and three backing singers oohing and aahing. They have to be young and beautiful, incidentally, with matching dresses and dance steps. The chaps can slob around in jeans and T-shirts. Gilmour has reached that point in a rock star's career where they cut their hair short and you know they'll never grow it long again. There are two guitarists, two drummers and two keyboard players, so if any of the triumvirate of Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright were to drop dead, the show could go on.

Following a 15-minute mid- concert tea break, Pink Floyd reclaim their musical youth with 'Astronomy Domine'. The Earl's Court concert, unlike their recorded output, gets better as it goes along. 'Money', 'Time', 'Us and Them', and 'Wish You Were Here' make welcome returns. Some were hastily dispatched, others were like those porkers with headlamps for eyes: inflated to ridiculous proportions.

But it is hard to resist 14,000 people shouting, 'Hey] Teacher] Leave them kids alone', even though most of them would make the demand not as pupils but as PTA members. The fantastic finale - the world's biggest glitter-ball, eyebrow-singeing flashbombs, and a few extra fireworks that you weren't expecting - leaves your critical faculties comfortably numbed.

When Nanci Griffith sings a ballad the audience is rapt. Take Julie Gold's 'Southbound Train', for instance, from the latest album, Flyer (MCA). Just Griffith, two impossibly tight backing vocalists, piano and bass. The crowd is silent throughout, barely daring to breathe. The problem is, when Griffith whacks into a rip-roaring 'Time of Inconvenience', there is not a peep from the audience then either.

Perhaps the Albert Hall is to blame, or perhaps Griffith's acute cuteness. An obvious symptom is her name, which she spells with an 'i' instead of a 'y'. When your little sister did that aged nine you gave her a Chinese burn. Griffith is 41. I expect that when she signs autographs she dots the 'i' with a circle and draws a smiley face. She looks and talks like the offspring of Bambi and Forrest Gump, she dedicates one song to her Great Uncle Tooty, or perhaps Tooti, and announces that John Prine's 'Speed of the Sound of Loneliness' was written by 'a good pal of mine' - pretty much a snub coming from her, as most of her songs are by 'one of my dearest friends'. Such wetness can dampen any crowd's enthusiasm, but Griffith usually manages to rouse the rabble with the power of her singing voice and immaculate country/folk arrangements.

So maybe tonight's failure was down to first-night nerves, of which she frequently complains, and which she demonstrates by beginning 'From a Distance' in the wrong key. First nights can be terrible, as Pink Floyd will tell you.

Pink Floyd: Earl's Court, 071-373 8141, tonight, Mon, Wed-Sun, then 26-29 Oct. Nanci Griffith: Manchester Apollo, 061-273 3775, Thurs; Birmingham Symphony Hall, 021-782 8282, Fri; Glasgow RCH, 041-227 5511, 23-26 Oct.

(Photograph omitted)