How Pink Floyd Ended Up Documenting Their Final Tour With ‘Pulse’
When Pink Floyd began their expansive world tour behind 1994's The Division Bell, David Gilmour and company had no intention of documenting the jaunt with a live LP. But a series of logistical moves resulted in their double-disc concert set Pulse, which was released on May 29, 1995.
The Division Bell set list was structured with a logical mix of old staples ("Shine On You Crazy Diamond") and recent, post-Roger Waters tracks ("Learning to Fly"). As usual, the band was playing almost the entire Dark Side of the Moon LP onstage, and Gilmour decided to restructure the set into two distinct halves, with the second part comprising the full Dark Side experience.
Without that move, Pulse wouldn't exist.
"The reason for Pulse is Dark Side of the Moon, obviously," Gilmour told Guitar magazine in 1995. "We weren't going to do a live album for this tour; it seemed a bit superfluous having just done one [1988's The Delicate Sound of Thunder] a few years ago. But, as we started out on the tour, we were looking for ways to change the show around and make ourselves a little more flexible and have a little fun, and Dark Side of the Moon was one of the ideas that came across. We thought, 'That'll be easy, we're already playing half the songs.' But it took us about three months to put all the bits of sound-effect tape into it, besides getting all the old film and making one or two new bits of the ones that were too ancient or damaged.
"So we did it on the end of our American tour, and then when we carried it over to Europe, we started thinking, 'Well, it would be nice for us – and for posterity – to have a live version of Dark Side of the Moon, which I always particularly wanted," Gilmour continued. "We, in fact, discussed it years ago – even when Roger was still in the band – about putting a live version of Dark Side of the Moon back together and recording it, because we don't have a record of it ourselves. So, I thought that would be a very nice idea. Of course, discussing it, we finally thought it was daft to just put out Dark Side of the Moon. We might as well put out the whole thing."
Ironically, even though the Dark Side material is Pulse's main selling point, it's also the weaker of the two discs, with the band churning out professional if perfunctory takes on their 1973 masterpiece. The core trio – Gilmour, drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Richard Wright – are supplemented by a militia of guest players, and the most interesting moments harness those extra colors, like the more percussive groove in "Time" (featuring percussion from Gary Wallis) and the sleek jazz-funk take on "Any Colour You Like" (propelled by session man Guy Pratt's nimble slap-bass).
Luckily, disc one is loaded with highlights. The set opens with a surging take on "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," anchored by Pratt's funky bass and Dick Parry's reliably stunning sax solo. Hands down, the album's centerpiece is a stratospheric take on the Syd Barrett epic "Astronomy Domine," with Gilmour and Wright sharing lead vocals.
The disc's soggiest stretches, perhaps inevitably, focus on Floyd's two most recent LPs, The Division Bell and 1987's A Momentary Lapse of Reason – both filled with expertly crafted but sometimes forgettable material. One exception is the sultry "Coming Back to Life," which features one of Gilmour's most expressive vocals. Unlike the other late-era Floyd material on Pulse, "Life" feels more alive onstage, the grittiness of Gilmour's vocal adding an emotional dimension lacking in its slick studio counterpart.
Pulse marks the end of an era for Pink Floyd, documenting the band's final full tour. (In 2005, they reunited – with Waters – for a brief set at the Live 8 concert in London.) And that sense of finality gives the album an importance its performances probably don't earn. No, Pulse isn't a revelation, but it still remains an essential piece of any Floyd fan's collection.
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