Watch Pink Floyd Play Live in the Ruins of Pompeii (1972)

Tourism and historical research aside, most ruins aren’t particularly useful, least of all for their original purposes. Yet Pink Floyd fans know of one instance when a ruin made a comeback, if a brief and specialized one, that could make you forget all about the ash and pumice that buried it nearly 2000 years before. In October 1971, the band set up their gear in the middle of the Ampitheatre of Pompeii and blasted three songs out into the antiquity surrounding them: “Echoes,” “A Saucerful of Secrets,” and “One of These Days.” They played not to a live audience, but to an array of studio-quality recording equipment designed to faithfully capture every layer of their sound for theatrical reproduction. You can see and hear all the then-highest-of-the-high-tech musical equipment used to produce then-thoroughly modern rock music in this nearly alien-looking geometric setting of time-worn stone and encroaching grass in Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii, now free to watch on YouTube.

Pink Floyd’s chosen venue, the oldest standing Roman ampitheatre of them all, suits their project sonically as well as aesthetically. Had the band invited an audience, the old place probably could, with a touch of restoration, have handled it with aplomb. An article from CSO Security and Risk cites its bathroom design and placement, its queue separation, its anxiety-reducing openness, its simple stairway scheme, its lack of corners and bottleneck points, and the wide road leading to it as qualities from which today’s stadium designers can still learn. Just last May, the surviving members of Pink Floyd happened to get back together on stage; should they launch a reunion tour, they might consider starting at the ampitheatre they introduced to so many young fans before history teachers could.

You’ll find embedded above the 2003 director’s cut of Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii, the latest of several versions of the film. It includes not just the band’s Pompeii performance, but additional songs shot in Paris, recording and interviewing sessions at Abbey Road, and a number of clips of exploding volcanoes and Earth from space. The non-concert material further explores themes naturally raised by placing music from 1971 into a venue from 70 BC.  Considering any creation’s place in history and the danger of fetishizing the man-made, the band members talk about how to avoid becoming “slaves to all our equipment,” how not to one day find themselves “a relic of the past,” and whether or not rock would survive a vast societal collapse. Some of this feels like a more intelligent version of the rock-documentary sensibility that This is Spinal Tap would so thoroughly lambast almost a decade later. We all had a good laugh when that film’s hapless fictional rock group ordered up an all-too-miniature replica of Stonehenge for their live show. You may also chuckle at the grandness of Pink Floyd’s use of the Ampitheatre of Pompeii, but it also presents you with questions worth thinking about.

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.



Make knowledge free & open. Share our posts with friends on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms:

by | Permalink | Comments (6) |

  • Roger Leatherwood

    And for those of you interested, here’s the “original” 62-minute version, without the interviews and just the Ampitheatre and the band, on google video.

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2157824805736114591

    I love how they played in an empty (and obsolete) stadium, unlike many of the concert films of the upcoming era. Fits the music well.

    Cheers, R

  • Chief Allen Eugene Axeman XLI,

    ‘Tis better with the interviews.

    “It’s all extensions of what’s coming out of our heads. I mean you have got to remember that you have got to have it inside your head to be able to get it out at all anyway…”
    -David Gilmour

    Brilliant!

    What a truly great website.
    Astronomy, literature, Floyd.
    Thank You.

  • warren c williams

    this film is great and funny and very very cool after all Floyd paved the way for the DJ’s today with all of there electric synthesizer gear thank you very awesome video

  • Renee McGinnis

    Brilliant. Transforming, I will never be the same.

  • drxian

    Great film.. Terrible choice of font…

  • kelo minyo

    Horrible Sound mix….you burned it too hard.

Quantcast