You Mean That Really Wasn’t Pink Floyd at B.B King’s Last Night?
If B.B. King’s wasn’t sold out last night, it was close to capacity. The crowd was multi-generational: there were at least two tables with grandparents, parents and grandchildren. Dads with college-age daughters were everywhere, and there was a lot of Spanish being spoken: south of the US-Mexico border, art-rock never went into eclipse. Many of those concertgoers spent part of the set with their eyes closed, which made sense. Without watching the band onstage, it was as if Pink Floyd was up there. That good.
Since the 80s, the Machine have made a living on the road playing the complete Pink Floyd catalog. They are revered among musicians. Many of their peers had come out on one of the few truly cold nights of this young “winter” for inspiration and to be swept away by a chillingly spot-on recreation of the towering angst, epic grandeur and improvisational flair of the world’s most iconic art-rock band. The Machine opened with the complete Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Pt. 1. More than three hours later, they ended with the complete second part, plus a long jam midway through where the individual members got to color the music with their own erudite personalities and irrepressible deadpan humor. Like everything else they did, it was in keeping with the spirit of Pink Floyd, subtle and distinctively British. All this from a bunch of native New Yorkers.
Forget having the perfect, unmistakeable collection of vintage keyboard patches and guitar effects: to effectively recreate Pink Floyd takes fearsome chops., which this band has coming out their pores. In deference to the brilliance of David Gilmour, the Machine had two guitarists – frontman Joe Pascarell, and Ryan Ball, who doubled on pedal steel – taking turns with the lead and rhythm parts, channeling sepulchral vibrato, lightning blues and trippy intensity. It was good to hear bassist Adam Minkoff up in the mix, playing Roger Waters’ terse, purposeful lines with a little more treble than Waters typically used, and usually with a pick, as Waters typically did. Drummer Tahrah Cohen perfectly captured Nick Mason’s stately grace, subtle swing and playful counterintuitivity with the occasional well-placed cymbal splash or funereal tom-tom flurry on an elaborate, oversize kit. Scott Chasolen negotatiated Richard Wright’s lavish keyboard orchestration with split-second precision and made it look easy. Surprisingly, the band relied on him as the prime mover during the jams, as much or even more than the guitars. His animated, good-naturedly spiraling phrases brought to mind Genesis’ Tony Banks more than they did Wright.
After the richly lingering opening number, Pascarell tackled the evening’s lone “deep album cut,” Fat Old Sun – from the Atomheart Mother record – running his Strat through an acoustic patch, Ball on pedal steel, Chasolen channeling Richard Wright at his most austerely spiritual with spacious gospel piano licks. They followed with album-precise versions of Breathe and Time, establishing that the band had the essential organ and guitar tones, Ball using the steel to recreate Gilmour’s anguished slide guitar riffage. What was clear by now was how much this band plays up Pink Floyd’s psychedelic side – and notwithstanding how many hundreds of times they’ve played these songs onstage, how much fun this band has after all this years. “It’s good to smoke a bone beside the fire,” Pascarell intoned at the end of Time, resulting in a wave of raised joints, one-hitters and vape thingys down front.
Early in a matter-of-fact, aptly brooding, low-key take of Mother, Pascarell turned the mic over to the audience. “Mother do you think they’re going to break?…” got the appropriately ballsy response, nobody missing a beat. Later during the second set, he and the rest of the band teased the crowd with a succession of riffs: what was it going to be, Careful With That Axe, Eugene, or Astronomy Domine? It turned out to be a searing yet comfortably relaxed Lucifer Sam.
As hard-driven as much of the material was – a snarling Not Now John, complete with “Fuck all that” chorus, and blistering takes of Comfortably Numb and Run Like Hell – the high point was a hypnotically pulsing, enveloping, potently crescendoing full-length version of Dogs. Otherwise, this was the classic rock radio set. Chasolen’s warpy synth solo on Money was a vast improvement on the awful sax solo on the original, and his washes of white noise on Hey You just as unexpectedly welcome. The band’s choice of riding a slow build through most of side one of The Wall up to big radio hit – where they reveled in the song’s inner funk – was a revelation. There was also a take of Wish You Were Here with a long twelve-string acoustic intro and audience singalong. Pink Floyd may be history, but that doesn’t stop a new generation of alienated kids from discovering them, and being transformed by them, every year. It’s a good thing that we have the Machine to keep that vast body of work alive onstage. And they have a similarly vast archive.org page, where you can treat yourself to enough concert material to keep you in more-or-less new Floyd for literally weeks.