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Area Resident’s Stylus Counsel | Pink Floyd & Montreal

Track 112: The Show Must Go On?

Pink Floyd had a complicated relationship with Montreal. We often think of the city, and the province of Quebec in general, as a historically safe space for prog bands. Certainly Peter Gabriel recalls fans there being receptive to Genesis during their early years. I remember him saying so when I caught him live in Ottawa in the summer of 1987. The other thing I remember about that show — perhaps even more so — was the pre-concert announcement that my favourite band were coming to town on Sept. 9. Pink Floyd. I was 14, so obviously I’d never seen the band live before.

It was their first show in six years. Their first without Roger Waters. And they chose to do that first tour warmup show in Ottawa — somewhere they had never played. It would also be their first concert in Canada since the infamous Olympic Stadium show on July 6, 1977.

That concert was historic as well as infamous. It was the first time any concert had been held at the not-quite-finished “Big O.” The estimated crowd of 80,000-100,000 people set a record for concert attendance in Montreal. It was the last show on Floyd’s In The Flesh tour in support of their latest album, Animals. The concert came two days after a string of four sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden, as Waters recovered from a bout of hepatitis. In fact, in the days before MSG, the band played two nights in Philadelphia, where Waters needed an injection in order to perform — something which partially inspired the song Comfortably Numb on 1979’s The Wall. But the Montreal show on July 6, 1977 influenced The Wall as much or more than anything else in the famous concept album’s storyline.

You may recall that The Wall is the story of depressed rock star Pink. It’s partially modelled upon creator Waters’ own life — a famous musician whose father was killed during the Second World War. Pink also has much in common with band founder Syd Barrett. Like Barrett, Pink is described as having “wild, staring eyes” and an “obligatory Hendrix perm, and the inevitable pinhole burns all down the front of my favorite satin shirt.”

As the character of Pink begins to fall apart due to marital problems, boredom and excess, he suffers delusions and begins to build a metaphorical wall around himself to remove himself from the “cruel world.” The concept of building a wall is directly related to Waters’ personal experience from the Montreal concert — except he envisioned a literal wall separating him from the audience. He had an awful time at that July 6 show — as did David Gilmour, who refused to come back on stage when the crowd demanded a second encore.

The problems began with something I witnessed myself at the Ottawa show in 1987 — general admission crowds gathered hours before the gates opened because floor spots were not reserved. You buy your ticket, come early and run to get the best spot. Even after this, thousands of fans waited ages for the show to start. Pink Floyd didn’t employ an opening act. So by the time the band hit the stage, those fans had spent the past several hours restlessly drinking and smoking weed. A large group of them pressed up against the barricades in front of the stage — lit and rowdy. Many had firecrackers.

The concert started — as it did every time but once on the tour — with the Animals track Sheep, and Rick Wright’s wonderful Rhodes intro. There are plenty of recordings of the show on YouTube. Imagine being Wright, trying to get the feel over the din of screams, catcalls, whistling and beer burps.

That ain’t the Troubadour. Keep listening to that concert bootleg and you can hear firecrackers going off while the band plow powerfully through their new material. It really becomes obvious on the next song, the tender Pigs On The Wing Part 1. Then they tackle Animals’ centrepiece — the 22-minute Dogs. But things go from bad to worse when Waters picks up the acoustic guitar again to do the second part of Pigs On The Wing. A firecracker gets tossed on stage — and goes off loudly near Waters’ head. Now he’s mad. “Aw, for fuck’s sake,” he shouts, exasperated. “Stop lighting off fireworks and shouting and screaming, I’m trying to sing a song.” He goes on for a bit. You can hear it all go down.

Waters manages to get into Pigs On The Wing Part 2, featuring a rare extra solo from touring guitarist Snowy White, who typically stood in the shadows providing rhythm parts under Gilmour’s lead guitar. Fun fact: If you have certain copies of Animals on 8-track cartridge, you can hear a studio version of White doing a solo at the end of Pigs On The Wing Part 2, designed to bridge the song intoto Pigs On The Wing Part 1 because 8-tracks start over when they’re done. It’s a nice touch, allowing the album to artfully loop.

The next song is Pigs (Three Different Ones), and this is where the infamous spitting incident happens. One particularly obnoxious fan managed to get close to Waters, who angrily egged him on with a variety of taunts, including “Here piggy!” Once the fan got within range, Waters spat in his face — something he says he regrets. On one level, perhaps — but this incident also was the seed which grew into the band’s second-biggest selling album: The Wall. Waters could see that a “wall” seemed to have come between the band and their audiences due to the nature of stadium shows which lacked any intimacy at all. He also probably felt an actual wall would keep him from being nearly hit with explosives.

It’s no coincidence the opening track on The Wall is named after this tour, In The Flesh? It’s opening line: “So ya thought ya might like to go to the show.” The song is actually supposed to describe one of the Pink character’s delusions in which he becomes a tyrannical, fascist dictator whose concerts resemble Nazi rallies. There still are, however, obvious connections to the experience in Montreal.

“Who let all this riff-raff into the room?
There’s one smokin’ a joint
And another with spots
If I had my way
I’d have all of them shot.”

The band took an intermission break and came back to perform selections from their 1975 album Wish You Were Here, followed by an encore of Money and Us And Them from Dark Side Of The Moon. You might think all was forgiven, but when the crowd demanded another encore, Gilmour was having none of it. It was the last show on the tour and he wasn’t happy with how they played, or with how the audience and the bass player behaved. He refused to go on, instead allowing White to be the band’s sole guitarist for an impromptu 12-bar blues encore, which some setlists refer to as Drift Away Blues. Waters introduced the song as “music to go home to.”

Let’s just take a second to be thankful the band played on and didn’t walk out early. No question there would have been a riot.

Pink Floyd wouldn’t return to Olympic Stadium until the Momentary Lapse of Reason Tour on May 11, 1988. That was the 100th show of the tour. They never brought the elaborate Wall tour to Canada in 1980-81, let alone Montreal where it was born. The first time the band played Montreal was on the Meddle tour on Nov. 9, 1971 at CEPSUMCentre Sportif at the Universite de Montreal. The last time they played Montreal was again at Olympic Stadium — three days in a row on the Division Bell tour May 22-24, 1994.

Waters has played Montreal 12 times as a solo artist since that fateful 1977 show, but has never been back on stage at Olympic Stadium, maybe for fear of one of his turns coming on. Fun fact: The actress portraying the voice of the groupie on The Wall track One Of My Turns is Canadian. Trudy Young was on the kids’ shows Razzle Dazzle and Alphabet Soup. She retired from acting in the 1980s and lives in Oshawa, Ont.

“Wanna take a bath?”

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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.