The Pink Floyd Experience, June 2nd 2000
Powerstation, Auckland, New Zealand
By Bart Jan van der Vorst
100% kiwi owned and operated
as they always say so proudly here in "the other down-under". A Pink Floyd tribute band from New Zealand and although these are only too abundant in Europe nowadays, down here The Pink Floyd Experience is one of the few possibilities to hear any classic Floyd songs live.
I have seen quite a few Floyd tributes over the past few years, with quite a variety in quality, so I was interested to see what this one would be like.
I was quite amused when I arrived at the Powerstation, as I read on the door: "Tonight's acts in order of appearance: Pink Floyd".
Apparently the term tribute band hasn't yet arrived on Kiwi-shores, or maybe the Powerstation's management figured this would sell better. :-)
Once inside the Powerstation turned out to be a decently sized club, which was filled with tables and chairs when I came in. Kiwis prefer to sit at concerts, and although I don't mind this at all with acts like Pink Floyd, they prefer to do it at the balcony! As a result of which the area in front of the stage remains rather empty - hence the tables. This set-up made the venue look more full and created a nice atmosphere. At first I wasn't too sure whether this would be the right atmosphere for a gig, as there was a lot of loud chatter during the long instrumental intro of Shine On, the first song, however it changed for the better during the gig.
The stage itself was rather small in comparison to the rest of the venue (especially in comparison to the bar) and it was way too small for this production. Two drumkits (!!) and a pile of keyboards were cramped on stage, surrounded by pillars with lights and a Floyd-trademark round screen. There was barely enough room for the nine (!!) musicians to fit on stage.
A good 45 minutes late the lights in the venue finally died down and some familiar keyboard tones filled the venue. They started with -could it have been different?- Shine On You Crazy Diamond. One by one the musicians took their positions onstage. Keyboardist Glen Ahearn started the intro, then Darren Whittaker, a long-lost identical twin of Tony Levin started playing the guitar. The biggest of the two drumkits, which was placed on a small elevation, directly under the round screen, was occupied by Rob Ju and together with Ken Te Tau on bass the full band kicked in and played the first six minutes of Shine On.
Then three backing vocalists came onstage and finally the main man of the band, Stan Gratkowski, took his place behind the second drumkit (standing) at the front of the stage and started singing.
He has an excellent voice which is not unlike David Gilmour's, although it was a bit weird to see him play percussion, instead of guitar. In all Pink Floyd tribute bands I have seen so far, the "David Gilmour" of the band was also playing guitar. I wondered who'd do the Roger Waters vocals.
The ninth man onstage was saxophonist Lucian Johnson, who played a fine solo, after which the band carried on with the verses of Shine On part 2 - exactly the way this song is played on the P.U.L.S.E. album.
After Shine On they immediately kicked into their second song: Learning To Fly, during which Stan Gratkowski played all percussion live, as he sang - no samples were used at all! Hats off.
Also hats off for the sound department, as the sound was crystal clear. Virtually every single instrument and voice could be heard.
I was however a bit disappointed with the unimaginative lighting. Six "Icon" lights hung above the stage, but apart from some swinging and flashing they weren't really used to their full capability. Images were projected at the round screen, but as too many lights were packed on too small a stage, the light completely drowned out the projections. It would probably have been more useful to use the lights for projecting shapes and colours on the screen, than to use the projector, as its beam was far too weak for the job.
Having a saxophonist and three backing vocalists aboard the band would be able to play more of the post-waters songs than most tribute bands do. Unfortunately these aren't really the best songs Floyd has ever produced and I think many people agreed with me, as there was a lot of chatter during What Do You Want From Me.
I simply knew what would come next: the song flew into Sorrow, just the way it does on P.U.L.S.E. It was obvious where the band had learned their arrangements from and I was a bit disappointed with their choice of the setlist so far. Even the three girls doing the backing vocals had studied their dances from the video.
At that moment I would bet a hundred dollars that they would play Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety as well. Not that I would object to that, but the choice of songs simply became all too obvious.
The loud roaring guitar of the intro and outtro of Sorrow won the attention of the crowd back however and after a massive ovation everybody was dead quiet during the soft intro of On The Turning Away.
Somewhat a surprise, as the song isn't on P.U.L.S.E. but it was clear the band would stick to Gilmour approved material.
Therefore next track, Hey You, surprised me a bit. Although it can be found on P.U.L.S.E. this was the first Waters-sung track of the evening and I was curious to see who would sing Waters' part.
To my surprise there wasn't a second vocalist. Gratkowski took care of the Waters-vocals as well, but, he did remarkably well! In an instant he changed from David Gilmour into a genuine Roger Waters, including the venomous accent and even some theatrics!
After the song had finished he received a well deserved, massive applause.
And then all lights turned dark and the sound of a heartbeat begun the anticipated Dark Side of the Moon. Without an intermission and quite early in the set - this made really curious of what would come next. But first it was time for 45 minutes of pure enjoyment.
The band played tight, with very sparse use of the samples they raced through Floyd's best known album. They knew how to keep the attention of the audience by keeping boring parts short: On The Run was shortened to only a few minutes and also Money, which tends to drag on and on with most live versions, was kept tight and short.
The intro for Time was a superbly played by Rob Ju playing the tick-tock sound live on some small bongos and Gratkowski doing some excellent percussion.
The Great Gig In The Sky was a chance for the backing vocalists to shine. One of them, Cathy Williams left the stage to leave it to the other two, who sang it exactly as it can be found on P.U.L.S.E. Not that this surprised me, but I wouldn't have minded a slight improvisation.
Nicole Chesterman started the first part and although she missed a few notes at the start she recovered amazingly and wonderfully screamed on top of her lungs. Kate Sunders followed with the quieter middle bit, before handing it over to Nicole again for the finale. They both received a well-deserved applause during their individual parts.
With Money Lucian Johnson came back onstage again and the band played a swinging version of the song, which somehow left the crowd completely dead. Apart from a few nodding heads and a single person singing along (me) everybody tried not to enjoy themselves too much it seemed.
As said they played a pretty short version of Money, which ended a bit abruptly, rather than flowing smoothly into Us and Them.
Us and Them was played superbly. Definitively one of the highlights of the evening, with a perfectly built-up tension and a wonderful saxophone solo.
Any Colour You Like was one of the rare occasions where the guitarsolo got slightly extended and wasn't played note-perfect to the cd.
Perfect versions of Brain Damage and Eclipse finished this excellent rendition of Dark Side. Again, no samples were used, as Rob Ju provided all the spoken words as well as the mad laughs.
Lucian Johnson had not left the stage after Us and Them, although none of the other songs featured any saxophone, so I wondered what they would play next.
The sound of barking dogs started and just as my heart missed a beat of excitement I realised that these were the wrong dogs. The Dogs of War... although I have never heard this song live before, it was once again David Gilmour that ruled here. True, this song isn't on P.U.L.S.E. either, but how's Delicate Sound of Thunder for you? No, it was obvious that Roger Waters had already left this band.
And don't get me wrong, the band was, no is, great. I was just disappointed with the choice of their songs. So far...
Lucian had looked a bit bored during his unemployed fifteen minutes onstage, but he got a chance to shine again during a wonderful solo, for which he got a loud cheer from the crowd.
When both Lucian and Stan left the stage I figured there was only one instrumental they could possibly play, so I jotted One Of These Days down in my little notepad. Ironically about two years ago I did the same thing when I saw The Australian Pink Floyd show (in Britain, btw) and I turned out to be wrong. So of course, according to Murphy's law, this couldn't be an exception and I was really surprised to hear the band kicking in with In The Flesh.
A large banner with The Wall's hammer logo appeared behind the stage and Stan marched back onstage wearing a Nazi-uniform with the same logos. I was even more surprised when this turned out to be *not* In The Flesh? the first song of The Wall, but the long In The Flesh off side 4 of the album.
And Stan really lived the lyrics, walking up and down the front of the stage, pointing at people in the audience: "that one looks Jewish, and that one's a coon!"
This was really Waters walking onstage here. A brilliant act and very original indeed. And that was really welcome after the rather unimaginative setlist so far.
After In The Flesh they continued with the first side of The Wall: The Thin Ice (where all of a sudden he was David Gilmour again) and then Another Brick In The Wall pt 1, during which a few people got up from their seats and moved towards the stage.
The Happiest Days Of Our Lives followed and by the time they got to Another Brick part 2 the whole area in front of the stage was filled with people and the whole thing had turned into a *real* concert.
They played a rather short version of Another Brick part 2, not much longer than the studio version, which was a bit of a pity. With the Wall Live album out now I would have loved to hear some of those arrangements (they even used the album for the radio-commercials promoting this gig) but I guess it hasn't been out long enough to rehearse.
After Another Brick part 2 Stan swapped places with Rob Ju, who picked up an acoustic guitar and took his place at the microphone and started the next track of The Wall: Mother.
Not my favourite, although the live version of the new Floyd album has changed my opinion about the song quite a bit - and Rob changed it even more!
His voice isn't quite Waters (nor did he sound like Gilmour in the "hush" parts) but I really liked the way he sang it. This guy really has a great voice - big wow!
Rob stayed at the mike stand for another song on acoustic guitar: Wish You Were Here. It was loudly sang along by most of the audience, and only -strangely- missed the soloing guitar in the last part.
Stan came back to the mike stand and introduced the bandmembers. He himself got introduced by Ken Te Tau as "Stan The Man".
The last song of the main set was Run Like Hell - another track which I would have loved to have heard in the Anybody Out There-arrangement, especially because this features even more percussion and Stan was already banging on his toms like a madman.
After a very short break Ken came back onstage and started what could be only one song: One Of These Days. The people standing in front of the stage were dancing along and really enjoying themselves. It made me wonder why the management of The Powerhouse had not just simply closed the balcony, so they wouldn't have had to use those ridiculous tables to fill up the venue.
The quiet middle part of One Of These Days seemed different and longer than usual - the second (at least audible) time the band wasn't copying everything directly from the cd. Of course I agree that a tribute band should stay as loyal as possible to the original songs, but a few additions or different arrangements can never hurt in my opinion.
They ended the concert with the only song still missing from the obligatory Floyd set: Comfortably Numb - not that I can complain of course.
As all songs of the evening, they played it really well, just a slight hick-up when Stan started singing the second verse directly after the first chorus, while it was actually time for the first guitarsolo. A few startled looks were exchanged between Stan and Darren, and Darren took over with a note-perfect solo.
As most of the songs of the evening, Comfortably Numb was kept rather short - much shorter than the version on P.U.L.S.E. Maybe because they didn't have such a big lightshow to keep the attention of the audience today - I don't know. However, it struck me that they had kept all the songs so short during the gig. Apart from Shine on none of the songs lasted longer than six-seven minutes. Even songs that are usually extended (like Another Brick, Money, etc) were kept short and tight. The only reason I can think of is they did this so to keep the audience's attention. People who are not familiar with the material (yes, they do exist) may get bored with long instrumental passages. There is something to say for it, but then again, I don't know whether I fully agree though.
Nonetheless it was a great gig, an excellent performance. The band gave superb renditions of all the songs. The somewhat mediocre lightshow was easily compensated for by the truly superb sound - something which is still more important for me at gigs. And Stan Gratkowski's theatrics added a lot as well.
The only real criticism I have is the poor choice of setlist, but then again, all songs were played excellently and I definitely enjoyed them. The long version of In The Flesh and the whole first side (and more) of The Wall were great to hear, but it's just a pity that they stuck so tightly to the Gilmour material and that they (just like the real Floyd) persistently ignored that one little masterpiece which has been released in between Wish You Were Here and The Wall. :-(
After the gig I had a quick chat with Darren Whittaker, the guitarist of the band. He told me how they are constantly evolving and touring. Naturally they are not a full-time band, but they try to do a short tour of three or four gigs every month.
Normally they play in larger venues than this, in real theatres in fact, where they have enough room onstage for their full production.
Next year they plan to recreate the whole Wall live production during their tour, now that will definitely be something to look out for. It's a pity that I'm only here for a few months, as I would have loved to see that!
Stan Gratkowski - Lead Vocals, Percussion, Acoustic Guitar
Rob Ju - Drums, Backing Vocals, Acoustic Guitar and Lead Vocal on *
Darren Whittaker - Guitars
Ken Te Tau - Bass
Glen Ahearn - Keyboards
Lucian Johnson - Saxophone
Kate Sunders - Backing Vocals
Cathy Williams - Backing Vocals
Nicole Chesterman - Backing Vocals
Shine On You Crazy Diamond
Learning To Fly
What Do You Want From Me?
On The Turning Away
Dark Side Of The Moon:
Speak To Me
On The Run
The Great Gig In The Sky
Us And Them
Any Colour You Like
Dogs Of War
In The Flesh
The Thin Ice
Another Brick In The Wall pt 1
The Happiest Days Of Our Lives
Another Brick In The Wall pt 2
Wish You Were Here *
Run Like Hell
One Of These Days