In 1971, Pink Floyd was invited to produce a concert film in an Ancient Roman amphitheatre. In 2016, almost 45 years to the date of that film’s production, David Gilmour, Floyd’s extraordinary guitarist, performed a concert for a crowd of 2,600 people in the very same venue.
The last time a paid event for an audience took place on those grounds, gladiators wrestled with lions. The last time Gilmour himself set foot here, it was with a band he has long since distanced himself from. He and Roger Waters are known for not getting along, and keyboard player Richard Wright passed away in 2008, leaving Gilmour without his longest collaborator and oldest friend. Gilmour himself is not blind to the personal and historical significance of the occasion (the opening shot, scored to Gilmour’s instrumental piece “5 am”, depicts Mount Vesuvius towering above the tiny amphitheatre). In celebration of the venue, director Gavin Elder has put great effort into including the amphitheater in the majority of the footage, as if it were taking part in the concert itself. In celebration of Gilmour’s personal connection, his set list for the evening includes “The Great Gig in the Sky”, originally written by Richard Wright for The Dark Side of the Moon, and included here as a tribute to him.
This isn’t the only surprise on the evening’s set list; amongst other seldom-heard picks lies “One of These Days,” the angry space-rock anthem that opens the 1971 album Meddle. An outrageously funky rendition of “What Do You Want From Me” also appears, the song having not been played since Gilmour toured as a member of Pink Floyd. But perhaps the most surprising— and exciting — inclusion is “Sorrow”, another track seemingly lost to the ages. No moment in the film is quite as startling as the intro to this song, from which the subterranean howl of Gilmour’s guitar tears through the stillness of the pitch black night.
Plenty of old favorites also return here, although due to length of the included songs, only around half the set list from the concert is included in the film. What is included, however, is wonderful. A lot of these songs are decades old, but new life is given to them by the most unique backing band Gilmour has ever produced. Only his bassist (Guy Pratt) and drummer (Steve DiStanislao) are previous collaborators; the rest are new recruits whose collective previous experience covers everything from Michael Jackson to the Allman Brothers. It’s the strength of these performers, and the chemistry between them, that gives these old hits an energy that feels like they were written yesterday. Keyboardist Greg Phillinganes gives “Wish You Were Here” a beautifully blues-y piano solo, and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” soars with a passion that it hasn’t seemed to had in decades.
That’s to say nothing even of Gilmour’s guitar playing, which is leaps and bounds beyond what can be heard on 2008’s Live in Gdansk recordings. Comfortable enough to improvise almost every note of a solo, and clearly energized by his backing band, this is by far his most brilliant performance to date. “Comfortably Numb”, the iconic closing track for any Floyd-related gig, has never felt so free and alive. This concert has something to offer fans of Pink Floyd, fans of the guitar, and fans of music of any kind; Gilmour states early in the film that live performance ‘is the lifeblood of music’, and Live At Pompeii is perhaps the most eloquent example he could have provided.
David Gilmour: Live at Pompeii will be relased on CD, DVD, Blu-ray and most streaming platforms on September 29.