Pink Floyd Plays in Venice on a Massive Floating Stage in 1989; Forces the Mayor & City Council to Resign

When Roger Waters left Pink Floyd after 1983’s The Final Cut, the remain­ing mem­bers had good rea­son to assume the band was tru­ly, as Waters’ pro­claimed, “a spent force.” After releas­ing solo projects in the next few years, David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright soon dis­cov­ered they would nev­er achieve as indi­vid­u­als what they did as a band, both musi­cal­ly and com­mer­cial­ly. Gilmour got to work in 1986 on devel­op­ing new solo mate­r­i­al into the 13th Pink Floyd stu­dio album, the first with­out Waters, A Momen­tary Lapse of Rea­son.

Whether the record is “mis­un­der­stood, or just bad” is a mat­ter for fans and crit­ics to hash out. At the time, as Ulti­mate Clas­sic Rock writes, it “would make or break their future abil­i­ty to tour and record with­out” Waters. Richard Wright, who could only con­tribute unof­fi­cial­ly for legal rea­sons, lat­er admit­ted that “it’s not a band album at all,” and most­ly served as a show­case for Gilmour’s songs, sup­port­ed in record­ing by sev­er­al ses­sion play­ers.

Still A Momen­tary Lapse of Rea­son “sur­passed quadru­ple plat­inum sta­tus in the U.S.,” dri­ven by the sin­gle “Learn­ing to Fly.” The Russ­ian crew of the Soyuz TM‑7 took the disc with them on their 1988 expe­di­tion, “mak­ing Pink Floyd the first rock band to be played in out­er space,” and the album “spawned the year’s biggest tour and a com­pan­ion live album.”

Uncer­tain whether the album would sell, the band only planned a small series of shows ini­tial­ly in 1987, but are­na after are­na filled up, and the tour extend­ed into the fol­low­ing two years, with mas­sive shows all over the world and the usu­al extrav­a­gan­za of lights and props, includ­ing “a large dis­co ball which opens like a flower. Lasers and light effects. Fly­ing hos­pi­tal beds that crash in the stage, Teles­can Pods and of course the 32-foot round screen.” As in the past, the over-stim­u­lat­ing stage shows seemed war­rant­ed by the huge, quadro­phon­ic sound of the live band. When they arrived in Venice in 1989, they were met by over 200,000 Ital­ian fans. And by a sig­nif­i­cant con­tin­gent of Vene­tians who had no desire to see the show hap­pen at all.

This is because the free con­cert had been arranged to take place in St. Mark’s square, coin­cid­ing with the wide­ly cel­e­brat­ed Feast of the Redeemer, and threat­en­ing the frag­ile his­toric art and archi­tec­ture of the city. “A num­ber of the city’s munic­i­pal admin­is­tra­tors,” writes Lea-Cather­ine Sza­c­ka at The Archi­tects’ News­pa­per, “viewed the con­cert as an assault against Venice, some­thing akin to a bar­bar­ian inva­sion of urban space.” The city’s super­in­ten­dent for cul­tur­al her­itage “vetoed the con­cert” three days before its July 15 date, “on the grounds that the ampli­fied sound would dam­age the mosaics of St. Mark’s Basil­i­ca, while the whole piaz­za could very well sink under the weight of so many peo­ple.”

An accord was final­ly reached when the band offered to low­er the deci­bel lev­els from 100 to 60 and per­form on a float­ing stage 200 yards from the square, which would join “a long his­to­ry… of float­ing ephemer­al archi­tec­tures” on the canals and lagoons of Venice. Filmed by state-run tele­vi­sion RAI, the spec­ta­cle was broad­cast “in over 20 coun­tries with an esti­mat­ed audi­ence of almost 100 mil­lion.”

The show end­ed up becom­ing a major scan­dal, split­ting tra­di­tion­al­ists in the city gov­ern­ment and pro­gres­sives on the council—who believed Venice “must be open to new trends, includ­ing rock music” (deemed “new” in 1989). It drew over 150 thou­sand more peo­ple than even lived with­in the city lim­its, and while “it was report­ed that most of the fans were on their best behav­ior,” notes Dave Lifton, and only one group of stat­ues sus­tained minor dam­age, offi­cials claimed they “left behind 300 tons of garbage and 500 cubic meters of emp­ty cans and bot­tles. And because the city didn’t pro­vide portable bath­rooms, con­cert­go­ers relieved them­selves on the mon­u­ments and walls.”

Enraged after­ward, res­i­dents shout­ed down the May­or Anto­nio Casel­lati, who attempt­ed a pub­lic rap­proche­ment two days lat­er, with cries of “resign, resign, you’ve turned Venice into a toi­let.” Casel­lati did so, along with the entire city coun­cil who had brought him to pow­er. Was the event—which you can see report­ed on in sev­er­al Ital­ian news broad­casts, above—worth such unsan­i­tary incon­ve­nience and polit­i­cal tur­bu­lence? The band may have tak­en down the city’s gov­ern­ment, but they put on a hell of a show–one the Ital­ian fans, and the mil­lions of who watched from home, will nev­er for­get. See the front rows of the crowd queued up and rest­less on barges and boats in footage above, and at the top of the post, see the band play their clos­er in their 90-minute water-borne set, “Run Like Hell” from The Wall, with bassist Guy Pratt sub­bing in for the depart­ed Waters. Hear a record­ing of the full show here. Or watch it below:

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” Pro­vides a Sound­track for the Final Scene of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

Hear How Clare Torry’s Vocals on Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” Made the Song Go from Pret­ty Good to Stun­ning

Pink Floyd Adapts George Orwell’s Ani­mal Farm into Their 1977 Con­cept Album, Ani­mals (a Cri­tique of Late Cap­i­tal­ism, Not Stal­in)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagnessd

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Comments (5)
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  • Fred says:

    Rock and rolls lega­cy will always be that nev­er went qui­et­ly into the night.

  • Wesley Harding says:

    It was actu­al­ly the live 1988 album, A Del­i­cate Sound of Thun­der that was tak­en into space by the cos­mo­nauts. And nor was it a disc, but the tape cas­sette, minus the case, to reduce the weight.

  • Rower41 says:

    Love the Floyd posts. Lis­ten­ing now. THANKS.

  • Robert J Nickerson says:

    What ever Roger waters and David Gilmore had in there dif­fer­ences thay alone cre­at­ed what pink floyed is today it would be trib­ute to there loy­al fans and to them­selves to have one more con­cert togeth­er as the whole I know sid Bar­ret would have want­ed it your fan BOB

  • Tim says:

    GBH — Pink Floyd Venice con­cert👍

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