New York Music Daily

Music for Transcending Dark Times

Category: jam band

A Mighty, Epic, Surreal Double Live Album From King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

Australian rock can be very surreal, and there’s none more surreal than psychedelic road warriors King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard‘s vast catalog. They put out albums at a frenetic pace, have a passion for edgy Middle Eastern tonalities and don’t show any sign of slowing down. Their latest release, Chunky Shrapnel – streaming at Bandcamp – is a lavish double live lp recorded at several European festivals last year. It’s the band at their most squalling, three-guitar intense: the swoosh and swirl of many of their studio records gets switched out for a roaring attack and a deliciously Balkan-tinged triptych at the end.

After a murky, ambient soundscape, the band launch into the sarcastic faux-lounge of The Rover. About three minutes in, they take a pause and then shift into high gear for some Os Mutantes tropicalia, a haphazard guitar solo from frontman Stu Mackenzie kicking off a long quasi-funk jam.

The group take their time straightening out the rhythm as they segue into the wryly titled Wah Wah, Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s organ lingering behind the guitars of Joey Walker and Cook Craig, As drummers Michael Cavanagh and Eric Moore pound away, they shift right into the jubilantly galloping, metal-tinged Road Train.

Lucas Harwood’s tricky, loopy bass riffage propels the distantly Middle Eastern-flavored Murder of the Universe, ablaze in oscillating guitar distortion. They hit a hardcore drive with the furious eco-disaster parable Planet B, winding down to a boomy bass loop. A London crowd goes nuts for a silly drum solo; then the Lizards (Wizards?) pick up right where they left off with a pummeling, acidic take of Venusian 2, from a Milan gig.

Hell is pretty much straight-up thrashmetal, with more of a delicious Middle Eastern chromatic tinge: it’s one of the record’s high points. The White Denim-style pseudo-soul of Let Me Mend the Past makes a jarring segue, even with its tastily shrieky guitar break.

The Turkish-flavored Inner Cells, with its tricky tempos, suspenseful keys and icepick bass, is another killer cut. The synth cleverly picks up that same Balkan riff and runs with it in Loyalty, switching out eventually for brooding mellotron. They continue the magnificently dark, dancing interlude with Horology and cap off the record with practically twenty-minute take of A Brief History of Planet Earth, part Grateful Dead, part Doors LA Woman with a little Balkan punk and Jethro Tull mixed in. This is one of the best albums these guys have ever made – and they’ve made a bunch.

The Dream Syndicate’s Most Epic, Psychedelic Masterpiece: A New Double Vinyl Record

The Dream Syndicate distinguish themselves from the legions of jambands out there with the sheer intensity and focus of the guitar duels between bandleader Steve Wynn and lead player Jason Victor – and their songs’ carefully crafted narratives. One of the band’s signature moves is to take Wynn’s tightly wound three-and-a-half-minute riff-rock gems and thrash the hell out of them.

Their new double viinyl album, The Universe Inside – streaming at Bandcamp – takes a turn in a radically different direction. It’s a suite, by far the band’s most psychedelic record: history may judge this as the fullest realization of the vision Wynn introduced on the band’s influential debut, The Days of Wine and Roses. There are element of jazz, art-rock and latin music here, but ultimately this is its own animal.

Bassist Mark Walton more or less loops a catchy, dry, trebly riff as Wynn and Victor triangulate in a spare exchange with guest Stephen McCarthy’s lingering guitar-sitar to open the album’s twenty-minute first track, The Regulator. Shards of reverb and sputters of sparks from the amps punctuate those succinct phrases amid the swirl and pulse: Chris Cacavas’ echoey electric piano becomes the icing on this space cake. With drummer Dennis Duck and percussionist Johnny Hott’s supple shuffle groove, Carlos Santana’s late 60s jams come to mind, but also Isaac Hayes’ sprawling psychedelic soul vamps – and Meddle-era Pink Floyd, and Angelo Badalamenti’s David Lynch film themes.

There’s a spoken-word vocal that concerns soothing the soul and blown fuses, both things this band know something about. Marcus Tenney’s one-man horn section wafts through the mix – some sax, some trumpet, sometimes both, frequently evoking Sonny Rollins’ work on the Stones’ Waiting on a Friend. It ends as you would expect it

The groove expands, the spacerock becoming more drifty in the second track, The Longing. This tragedy occurred “Like it happened moments ago, distant across the chasm…the harder you try to fix it, eliminate, deep-six it, all that remains is the longing,” Wynn sings, pushing against the top of his register.

The three six-string guys – that’s McCarthy on six-string bass here – trade off warmly major-key Ticket to Ride phrases as Apropos Of Nothing gets underway. It’s a classic, cynical, allusively grim Wynn narrative

What were you expecting
What did you become
Apropos of nothing
Chain reaction before the fall

And just when the band have lulled you into an alterred state, they hit a crunchy, roaring What Goes On drive.

The sardonic jousting that introduces the instrumental Dusting Off the Rust – a line from The Regulator – is one of the album’s funniest moments. This one’s a gritty slinker, a trippy dichotomy of punchy riffs and swirling cascades in the same vein as the spidery Topanga Canyon Freaks, from Wynn’s iconic 2001 Here Come the Miracles album.

The record’s final cut, The Slowest Rendition rises from a web of aching bent-note cries, to a pummeling drive and then a brooding, summery haze. Elegantly animated interplay aside, it’s one of Wynn’s most haunting, death-fixated songs. “Chaos flickers in the night” on “this silent, darkening, empty beach,” his disembodied narrator bracing for what comes next as the sax winds down. It’s an apt ending from the guy who wrote John Coltrane Stereo Blues. If there’s still a reason, or a means, for music blogs to exist at the end of 2020 – let’s hope there are – you will see this high on the annual best album of the year list here

Randy Holden’s Rare 1970 Heavy Psychedelic Album Rescued From Obscurity

In 1970, fresh off about a year playing with proto-metallers Blue Cheer, guitarist Randy Holden rented a theatre, stood in front of a wall of Sunn amps and recorded an album, Population II, whose few remaining original copies command absurd prices on the collector market. It’s just Holden and Chris Lockheed, a dynamic psychedelic rock drummer who turned out to be the perfect choice for this duo project (hence the album name). Holden would overdub similarly purposeful, imaginative bass and guitar afterward.

It’s a characteristically individualistic moment in the history of stoner music: sometimes drugs inspire people to great heights, ha. For all his love of sheer volume, Holden is not a showoff: texture, tone and tunes are his thing. Some of this you could call minimalist Hendrix. There’s some proto-doom that raises the question of whether Black Sabbath’s debut album had hit the stores by the time Holden made this, or if he was simultaneously inventing the style. Whatever the case, Riding Easy Records has done us all a favor and reissued the record – on vinyl, of course, and streaming at their album site.

The opening track, simply titled Guitar Song, is what might have doomed it to obscurity: lyrics are not Holden’s thing, although his Hendrix-at-quarterspeed heavy blues style is inspired, in a WTF, acid-baked, how-did-this-riff-just-fall-into-my-hand kind of way. On one hand, the second track, Fruit Icebergs is total Sabbath – on the other, Holden’s fat, thick, yet spare bent-note chromatics are completely different from Tony Iommi’s blistering volleys of multitracks.

Between Time is another track that would be better off as an instrumental, Holden picking an odd moment to go back to the doom of Fruit Icebergs to wind it up with a shriek. Then again, odd moments are what we love about this kind of music.

Blue My Mind, a return to leaden Hendrix, finally gets the kind of multitracks everybody’s been waiting for, Holden’s raging blues panned hard in each channel. The final song is Keeper of My Flame. The lyrics are pure Spinal Tap, but the duo build a tightly burning attack, with flaring leads that echo Hendrix and foreshadow Ron Asheton, over some bizarrely amusing, faux-Indian drumming. It’s medical marijuana in a cardboard gatefold sleeve.

A New Psychedelic Cult Classic by the Greek Theatre

If Swedish band the Greek Theatre’s 2017 album Broken Circle – streaming at Bandcamp – had come out in 1975, it would be considered a cult classic. It’s 70s psychedelia at its most colorful and outside-the-box. There are moments that look back to Pink Floyd, Nektar, the Strawbs, even the Grateful Dead, but there’s no other band on earth who sound like this. Layers and layers of guitars and less expected instruments artfully arranged throughout the sonic picture, tersely atmospheric keys, and a spring-loaded rhythm section deliver smartly orchestrated, stylistically puddlejumping, relentlessly uneasy trippiness. Who said they don’t make music like this anymore?

Take the first track, Fat Apple. The opening quickly winds down to a delicate, starry theme with what seems to be a bagpipe wafting through the glimmer – Pink Floyd with Celtic tinges. “Castrate all your fears,” frontman Sven Froberg advises as a cautionary tale of a Dylanesque ballad, sparkling with pedal steel, suddenly appears. “See what you became, what a shame you turned out this way.” They take this seven-minute epic out with a swaying twin-guitar duel. Are we having fun yet?

Spiky, gleaming guitars and airy keys introduce Paper Moon, rising to a restrained gallop, a brooding tale of hiding out from trouble capped off with an elegant mandolin solo. Still Lost Out at Sea follows a drifting 6/8 pulse, lilting soprano sax carrying a wistful sea chantey tune over a low-key acoustic web. “Go back through the years, see how it feels, find out what’s real,” Froberg gently suggests.

“They’re selling drugs down at the mall, and though we know, we don’t tell a single soul,” he quietly announces over a similar, mutedly triumphant folk-rock backdrop in Stray Dog Blues, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Marty Willson-Piper catalog. They follow with the pensive instrumental 1920, its deft echo phrasing and balance of subtly dynamic acoustic guitars and distantly omious kickdrum.

The album’s unexpectedly optimistic, increasingly anthemic title track fades up into a rumbling sway, its icy, echoey, resonant guitar multitracks recalling Pink Floyd’s Animals as well as Nektar’s Journey to the Center of the Eye. From there the band go back to instrumental territory with the delicate, bluegrass-tinged Ruby-khon.

Likewise, Kings of Old has a rustic Strawbs-like intro, then the band leaps into an early Genesis-style vamp with more of that delicious, watery chorus-box guitar they like so much. The deftly fingerpicked final cut, Now Is the Time makes a benedictory, warmly hypnotic coda, complete with a calmly shamanic outro.

Unpredictable, Deliciously Psychedelic Venezuelan Sounds From Insolito UniVerso

Digging through the crates to find another treat for you today! Paris-based Venezuelan expats Insólito UniVerso’s deliciously unpredictable, psychedelic album La Candela Del Río – streaming at Bandcamp – landed on the hard drive here in 2018. With their adopted city under an even more severe lockdown than New York, we can only hope the band are surviving.

Looking back, maybe the reason why the album sat around as long as it did without getting any attention here is that the opening track, Transmutada takes so long to get going. When it does, it’s a perfectly pleasant bossa-tinged waltz with surreal touches like keyboardist Edgar Bonilla Jiménez’s electric harpsichord and what sounds like a mellotron, plus, Raúl Monsalve’s dancing bass solo midway through.

The band really put the rubber to the road with the wryly circling Vuelve, with its joropo llanero triplet rhythm, rapidfire lyrics about doing things over and over again, and keening psychedelic organ. It’s like Brooklyn’s Las Rubias Del Norte at their trippiest.

Frontwoman Maria Fernanda Ruette’s multitracked cuatro mingles with the organ in the slowly swaying, bittersweetly gorgeous Machurucuto, a shout-out to a Venezuelan seaside town. The smoky, dubby breakdown comes as a surprise: imagine Country Joe & the Fish with a woman out front. After that, the group pick up the pace with the jauntily rippling Pájaro, which could be a rhythmically trickier Os Mutantes.

Lloviendo en Guatire, which opens on side 2 of the record, blends a hypnotic, Indian-influenced theme with dreampop, surf guitar and bass over drummer Andres Sequera’s mutedly suspenseful beats. He gets a lot busier behind the eerily acidic keys and fuzztone bass in Yo Soy Mi Río. Scampering along with the minor-key rivulets from the band’s arsenal of keyboards, their instrumental cover of harpist José Gregorio López’s El Vuelo del Gabán is the album’s catchiest track and closest thing to psychedelic cumbia here. They close it with Tonada del Guante, a slowly swaying, dubwise, bass-fueled update on an old Venezuelan work song. It’s like nothing you’ve heard this year. If psychedelic sounds are your thing, you’re in for a treat.

A Playful, Entertaining, Expertly Choreographed Change of Pace for the Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York

This is not to suggest that there could possibly be any upside to the coronavirus crisis for anyone other than a criminal – but at least it’s been a chance to catch up on what one of this era’s most distinctively prolific composers and pianists, Satoko Fujii, has been up to lately. She records pretty much everywhere she plays: the ratio of greatness to mere goodness in her work is superhuman. Her latest album – at least last time anybody here checked – is Entity, with her Orchestra New York, whose 2017 Fukushima Suite ranks with any other big band jazz album released this century.

In general, this one is either more sardonically funny or soberly shamanistic, without the outright rage and terror invoked by that landmark work. As usual, it’s packed with tightly choreographed moments for collective improvisation: it careens and sways, but it doesn’t swing in the usual sense of the word. These are long songs, going on for ten or fifteen minutes at a clip.

The album opens with the title track, a diptych, kickking off with hints of a shamanic beat, squiggly guitar effects, and finally a massed, microtonal march that drummer Ches Smith tumbles around until six-string guy Nels Cline hits a mighty boom and the music falls away. Cline’s roars and toxically bubbling trails bring the orchestra back in, rising up this time, as the drums go completely hardcore: this music has a very 80s downtown New York feel. The second part is much more ominously airy until Fujii signals a return to that twistedly, stairstepping march.

Flashback begins with a less pronounced martial beat: with its surreal volleys of microtonal triplets from the horns, it’s an action movie theme in disguise. A wry good cop/bad cop conversation between bassist Stomu Takeishi and trombonist Joe Fiedler falls away for a playfully glissandoing alto sax solo by Oscar Noriega, setting up a spaciously chattering rise by the whole band. Then it’s trumpeter Herb Robertson who gets to tickle the rhythm section, up to a series of tongue-in-cheek false endings.

Hypnotic sheets of sound from the reeds shift slowly through the sonic picture as Gounkaiku takes shape. A stately, syncopated, characteristically catchy processional follows, Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother through a funhouse mirror. Trumpeter Dave Ballou’s jaunty, straightforward solo finally falls apart into squiggliness just as the orchestra decide to stop messing around and get serious. Fujii being a Libra, she knows a good dialectic when she hears one, underscored by how she brings the music full circle.

In Elementary Particle, Takeishi’s Briggs and Stratton engine burble mingles with alto saxophonist Ellery Eskelin’s shivery lines, orchestral atmospherics punching in and out: we get a redemptively crazy coda. The final cut, Everlasting, has symphonic majesty, Cline’s stratospheric flute-like melody anchored by growly bass and a Japanese folk-tinged melody. Then buffoonery ensues: first trumpeter Natsuki Tamura irresistibly antagonizing trombonist Curtis Hassellbring, then alto player Briggan Krauss and baritonist Andy Laster playing tag like a couple of of four-year-olds.

This isn’t Fujii’s most accessible work, but it’s very entertaining, another triumph for a band which also includes reedman Tony Malaby. Like many other albums released during this spring’s crisis, it hasn’t hit the web yet.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band Bring Cuba to New Orleans, and Vice Versa

Listening to a gargantuan five-album set of New Orleans music (see yesterday’s piece here) makes a person hungry for more. So today’s album is the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s latest release, the soundtrack to the documentary film A Tuba to Cuba, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a throwback to the days of Machito and the first wave of Afro-Cuban music making its way to these shores, tracing bassist Ben Jaffe’s trip with the band to Cuba for some deep roots immersion. If you like your salsa on the organic side, this is for you.

Being on the gulf, New Orleans played an enormous role in helping spread American jazz, blues, soul, country and gospel sounds to Mexico and points further south. And that pollintation worked both ways. So it only makes sense that the revered, multi-generational band – who’ve always played a lot more than just New Orleans jazz – would look to Cuba for inspiration.

With its smoky sax, echoey Rhodes piano and slinky salsa percussion section, the album’s first track, Timba, comes across as a mashup of the Meters, Morphine and slinky Afro-Cuban traditions. The second cut, simply titled Descarga (which makes sense since it’s a hypnotic one-chord jam) has spiky cuatro and energetic call-and-response vocals from the group’s Cuban collaborators in lieu of the band’s legendary brass. They bring all that back in I Am, a jubilant soprano sax-driven cha-cha, then take it down again with the balmy, vamping sax-and-Rhodes ballad Corazon.

With Keep Your Head Up, they take a cheery mambo and make a second-line march out of it. Then they invoke the ancient Yoruba spirits with stirring vocal harmonies in a shout-out to the god of good times, Ellegua. The album’s best track is Kreyol, part biting minor-key cha-cha, part New Orleans shuffle, with more than a hint of dub reggae. Another standout is Paloma, a brief, rustic bolero for just cuatro and vocals.

The band return to summery sax-and-Rhodes ambience in Solitude, picking up the pace with the careening, shuffling Manicero, a slightly out-of-tune tres adding to the haphazard energy. They wind up the record with Malecon, a starry mambo.

Although the group tour from time to time, they typically hang close to their home base. So it was a rare treat to be able to catch them live, early one afternoon in downtown Brooklyn in the summer of 2017. Even at that early hour, they were even more adrenalizing than they are on this record, with a fiery, solo-centric mix of marches, funk, expansively brassy jazz and brooding soul themes.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Compilation: Five Albums of Crescent City Madness

What can you do when you’re unemployed (temporarily, let’s hope) and your city’s nightlife has gone completely dark? You could fire up Bandcamp and listen to all five of the albums of Jazz Fest: the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival compilation. In a sick way, most New Yorkers will never have as much time on our hands as we do now – and let’s all swear that we will never again use this same excuse for sitting around listening to long albums!

This playlist spans several decades of revelry. Pretty much every style of music and every culture to ever play the festival are represented here – historically, New Orleans has been a melting pot every bit as diverse as New York. There are a lot of big names from across the years, a bunch of standards and many rare treats as well. In general, these are LONG songs: if you can multitask, the compilation has you covered for two days of a work week.

It’s a mixed bag. Some of the segues are jarring, and you can quit halfway through album five without missing anything. Giving Kenny Neal and his generic blues band fifteen minutes, more than just about anybody else, to phone in a medley was a waste. Surely the compilers could have found something more compelling from Professor Longhair than the song where he plays a trebly Wurlitzer…and whistles. Notwithstanding how much great material Preservation Hall Jazz Band have put out lately, we get…My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It? And who really wants to hear all the band intros at the end of a rote version of a familiar Clarence Frogman Henry novelty song?

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there’s a ton of great material you can use for your own playlists. You can tell from the first few close harmonies of Hey, Now Baby that it’s Henry Butler at the piano. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band are represented by a pouncing guitar-and-sax-fueled 2004 take of Blackbird Special. Dr. John’s emphatic, darkly stirring Litanie des Saints and a smoldering, vengeful, psychedelic take of I Walk on Gilded Splinters could be the high point of the whole album. The soulful John Boutte contributes a simmering post-Katrina parable, Louisiana 1927, a tale of “Twelve feet of water in the Lower Nine….They’re trying to wash us away, don’t let ’em!”

The Al Belletto Big Band bring the storm with their mambo-tinged Jazzmocracy. Bluesman Champion Jack Dupree and pianist Allen Toussaint deliver Bring Me Flowers While I’m Living with plenty of gallows humor, then cut loose in Rub a Little Boogie. Toussaint turns in a brass-fueled Yes We Can Can, as well as What Is Success, with Bonnie Raitt on sunbaked slide guitar, a little later on.

The expansive, oldtimey version of Summertime, by the Original Liberty Jazz Band featuring Dr. Michael White is strikingly fresh. The bursts from the choir in Ain’t Nobody Can Do Me Like Jesus, by Raymond Myles with the Gospel Soul Children are viscerally breathtaking. The Zion Harmonizers‘ I Want to Be At the Meeting and Golden Gate Gospel Train are just as stirring instrumentally as they are vocally.

The accordion/fiddle harmonies of the Savoy Family Cajun Band‘s Midland Two Step are especially juicy. When Beausoleil‘s sad twelve-string guitar waltz Recherche d’Acadie finally appears, four albums in, it’s actually a welcome break from all the relentless good cheer. Shortly afterward, the Neville Brothers’ slow-burning Yellow Moon rises to an eerily surreal halfspeed dixieland raveup. And bluesman John Mooney’s It Don’t Mean a Doggone Thing, Deacon John‘s Happy Home and Sonny Landreth‘s Blue Tarp Blues each have some sizzling slide guitar. Those are just some of the highlights: at this point, it’s time to stop and turn it over to you. Enjoy.

Eunhye Jeong and Her Quartet Make Haunting Improvisational Music Out of Otherworldly Korean Pansori Themes

Pianist Eunhye Jeong‘s CHI-DA quartet’s live album The Colliding Beings – streaming at Bandcamp – is like nothing else you’ll hear this year. With an otherworldly intensity true to the spirit of the epic Korean pansori tradition, the group reinvent those stark, dramatic themes as jazz improvisation. What’s most striking is that Jeong brings in the great pansori singer Il-dong Bae, whose stern, melismatic vocals shed eerie microtones and soar over the instrumentalists in more muted moments, and interact with them when the music grows more stormy. The greatest pansori singers are known for their individualistic interpretations, so there’s always been an element of improvisation in the tradition, and Jeong seizes that mightily here, with a relentless unease and a fondness for lower registers. This is dark music.

The concert is a series of longscale works that conclude with a relatively brief, six-minute number. The group – which also includes cellist Ji Park and colorful drummer Soo Jin Suh – open with the almost eighteen-minute Jeogori, based on a historical song popular among diasporic Korean schoolchildren in Japan. There’s a lot of stark conversationality throughout this performance, beginning with murky resonance and quickly giving way to a little leaping around. The drums introduce a suspensefully muted backbeat as the cello scrapes the lows and Jeong colors the music with enigmatic close harmonies and sudden bursts. Bae’s gruffly impassioned intensity eventually recedes for a persistently flurrying, funereal Atrocity Exhibition beat contrasting with all the agitation overhead; then the vocals take over the rhythm. Mysterious lulls and gritty declamations serve as a contrasting backdrops for spare, rather bleak accents from the band.

The ghostly, anguished Return to Life begins with snowbanks of white noise from Suh’s drumheads punctuated by icy piano droplets, shards and wisps of sound from the cello as Jeong goes to stygian lows. A flickering franticness that recalls the macabre compositions of Michael Hersch develops, rises and falls, Jeong using every texture available, both inside and outside the piano, from a menacing drone to furtive scrambles and fragmented, circularly percussive phrases, Bae lingering like a spectre outside the window.

The centerpiece of the concert is The Hope Landed. In about twenty-six minutes, Bae is an often anguished, desolate voice in the wilderness, Jeong a persistently restless presence, Park and Suh the shadows lingering behind. There’s infinitely more going on: dynamically shifting variations on an insistently troubled, stairstepping Messiaenic passage; a long, aching vocal interlude with atmospheric, lurking cello and leapfrogging piano; chilly, ambient dips to stillness; surreal handoffs and echo effects; heavy, severe block chords from Jeong; and a hint of a ballad at the end.

The Sacrifice is dedicated to the victims of the 2014 Sewol Ferry disaster. Calm/acerbic contrasts between cello and piano build tension, then back away elegantly for Bae’s mournful intonations: this music transcends any linguistic limitation. The grim crescendo midway through, seemingly where the overcrowded boat capsizes and everything goes flying, is arguably the most intense point of the show. They bring it full circle, elegaically.

They close the concert with Curtain Call, a return to contrasts between shamanistic beats and poltergeist piano blurts, and shivers from the rest of the ensemble. Even if free jazz is a little outside for you, the roles are so clearly defined and the playing so focused here that fans of dark sounds in general should check this out.

Psychedelic Rock Icon With Inspired Band Picks Up Gloriously Where He Left Off

What can a person do at night in a place that suddenly became the City That Always Sleeps?

You could pick up your instrument, or sit down at it, and write something.

If you gravitate toward big, ornate sounds, you could tune in to the New York Philharmonic’s live webcast.

Or you could watch James Tonkin‘s new concert film Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets: Live at the Roadhouse. It hasn’t hit VOD yet, but the audio is streaming at Spotify. This isn’t just your ordinary Pink Floyd cover band: “There’s so many thousands, all playing the same four albums,” guitarist Gary Kemp smirks. “The first thing that will be really telling will be to see how they change their setlists as a result of us doing this!”

What differentiates these guys from the wannabes is that they play exclusively pre-Dark Side material from the Syd Barrett and early David Gilmour eras. They also managed to convince Floyd’s iconic drummer to join them. After a few well-received shows, they had this frequently glorious concert immortalized, at a venue where the Barrett edition of the band were the first group to play.

To open the show, Telecaster player Kemp picks hard on his low E string, second Tele player Lee Harris launches into the evil, chromatic descending riff of the instrumental Interstellar Overdrive, then bassist Guy Pratt – playing a snappy Rickenbacker – joins the song along with organist Dom Beken and the bandleader…and they’re off. In general, throughout the concert, the music has a tighter, somewhat lighter-fingered pulse than the reckless abandon of the Syd Barrett era. The songs also tend to be more ornate, but in a lot of ways the additional layers raise the psychedelic factor. Who wants to hear a band play something exactly as it was recorded, anyway?

Jim Parsons’ classic rock-doc production is purist: lots of fretboard close-ups, panning the stage and then back. The sound mix is tastefully oldschool as well. To his infinite credit, the bandleader is toward the back, just as he was throughout Pink Floyd’s tenure: he’s always been a guy to let the sound out of his kit instead of trying to bang something into it. And what a big kit it is. One of his bandmates remarks that even in his seventies, Mason’s vigor is “terrifying.” Maybe his subtlety has something to do with that.

Tellingly, it takes two guitarists to replicate what both Barrett and Gilmour did, with plenty of noise and echo, closer to the former’s style than the latter’s anguished, Hendrix-inspired existential screams. Likewise, Beken has a Rick Wright-sized array of textures at his disposal, orchestrating the music with more of an overtly trippy ripple and twinkle than just the vast deep-space textures the late, great Pink Floyd keyboardist constructed so expertly.

The group segue into Astronomy Domine after the night’s opening jagged surrealism: this song is a little more bluesy than the original, but practically just as crazed in places, the bass obviously higher than that instrument typically was recorded in 1967 when Roger Waters played it. Lucifer Sam and Arnold Layne seem a little fast. and rotely digital; yet that same approach improves Fearless, underscoring that otherwise gentle pastoral pop tune’s druggy narrative.

The woozy instrumentals Obscured by Clouds and When You’re In seem odd choices, little more than a platform for Kemp’s simple slide work. As does Vegetable Man, considering what happened to Barrett. In that context, the “why can’t we reach the sun” refrain in Remember a Day has special poignancy, a cautionary tale to the extreme.

While Kemp stays on key more than Waters did singing If, the gloomily sunbaked madness anthem, Waters’ acid-damaged vocals are stil missed. As are the horns and orchestra of Atom Heart Mother – at least we get about seven minutes of the majestic main theme, emphasis on the macabre.

The proto-metal of The Nile Song holds up well (and foreshadows a famous Johnny Rotten lyric). The alien-encounter anthem Let There Be More Light has an almost gleefully grim intensity; likewise, the bulked-up version of the rarely played Gilmour narrative Childhood’s End is more richly dark.

The show’s centerpiece, the menacingly raga-influenced Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun, has a literally breathtaking vastness, Mason having a wryly good time with his huge gongs and then his mallets on the toms. The band pick up the pace with the hauntingly bittersweet See Emily Play, romp through Barrett’s mid 60s Carnaby Street pop tune Bike, then hammer their way through One of These Days, Waters’ strobe-lit repeaterbox instrumental from the Meddle album.

Fueled by Beken’s funereal chromatics and enveloping, smoky echoes, the band go way down the rabbit hole with A Saucerful of Secrets and end the show triumphantly with Point Me At the Sky. The film also contains a few snippets of live footage from the Barrett years plus a bit of context from individual band members. Who would have thought that in 2020, anyone would attempt, let alone succeed in revisiting these classic sounds?