Watch Pink Floyd Play Live Amidst the Ruins of Pompeii in 1971 … and David Gilmour Does It Again in 2016

Pink Floyd is one of few bands in rock his­to­ry who could play the ruins of Pom­peii with­out seem­ing to over­reach, but it wasn’t their idea to put on a con­cert for Roman ghosts in 1971, the year before they record­ed their mag­num opus Dark Side of the Moon. Accord­ing to the direc­tor Adri­an Maben, who filmed the per­for­mance in the ancient necrop­o­lis, he decid­ed upon the loca­tion after los­ing his pass­port dur­ing a hol­i­day in Italy in 1971. He wan­dered Pom­peii alone in search of it and had an epiphany.

It was strange. A huge desert­ed amphithe­ater filled with echo­ing insect sounds, fly­ing bats and the dis­ap­pear­ing light which meant that I could hard­ly see the oppo­site side of this huge struc­ture built more than two thou­sand years ago.

I knew by instinct that this was the place for the film. It had to be here.

Mak­ing cre­ative deci­sions from a chance encounter with echoes and shad­ows was, nonethe­less, ful­ly in keep­ing with the band’s process. Despite their deci­sion to write acces­si­ble lyrics fit­ting togeth­er under a loose con­cept for their cur­rent album, serendip­i­ty and chance oper­a­tions had always played crit­i­cal roles in the com­po­si­tion of their post-Syd Bar­rett sound­scapes, and became inte­gral to Dark Side’s cre­ation.

As David Gilmour told Gui­tar World’s Alan Di Per­na, ear­ly exper­i­ments like “Saucer­ful of Secrets” (inspired by “weird shapes” drawn by Roger Waters and Nick Mason) gave rise to “Atom Heart Moth­er” and Med­dle’s “Echoes,” which the band played in two parts at the begin­ning and end of the Pom­peii con­cert film. These songs, Gilmour says, “all lead log­i­cal­ly to Dark Side of the Moon.”

And they led through Pom­peii, where the band was first “unleashed on film,” as one the­atri­cal poster put it, before they were unleashed on thou­sands of new fans after Dark Side’s release in Decem­ber. Where the filmed con­cert high­light­ed the band’s mas­tery of exper­i­men­tal space rock, the album brought this sen­si­bil­i­ty under the dis­ci­pline of Roger Waters’ sharp song­writ­ing and Gilmour’s stun­ning gui­tar play­ing and arrang­ing.

Though he is mod­est about it, Gilmour’s con­tri­bu­tions came increas­ing­ly to define the band’s mas­sive sound in the ear­ly 70s. His role, as he told Di Per­na, was “to help cre­ate a bal­ance between form­less­ness and struc­ture, dishar­mo­ny and har­mo­ny.” He was, writes Rolling Stone, “a fiery, blues-based soloist in a band that hard­ly ever played the blues,” but he was just as “adept at dron­ing avant-garde improv,” “Chic-like flour­ish­es,” and “float­ing, dreamy tex­tures,” all qual­i­ties ensur­ing that Pink Floyd’s music rose to the lev­el of their cre­ative ambi­tions.

So when Gilmour returned to Pom­peii in 2016, with­out his Pink Floyd band mem­bers, to play the first live pub­lic con­cert the city’s amphithe­ater had seen in almost 2000 years—and the only laser light show it had ever seen—the per­for­mance didn’t seem like over­reach at all. Above, see him play “Shine on You Crazy Dia­mond” and “Com­fort­ably Numb” with a full back­ing band (includ­ing Chuck Leavell on key­boards, singing Roger Waters’ parts on the lat­ter song). The mas­sive stage show and huge, smart­phone-tot­ing audi­ence makes this footage more are­na rock show than the per­for­mance art of the orig­i­nal con­cert film, but the grandeur of the music, and Gilmour’s soar­ing solos, still jus­ti­fies the grandeur of the set­ting.

You can pur­chase online the Direc­tor’s cut of Pink Floyd — Live at Pom­peii.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Pink Floyd’s “Com­fort­ably Numb” Was Born From an Argu­ment Between Roger Waters & David Gilmour

Hear Lost Record­ing of Pink Floyd Play­ing with Jazz Vio­lin­ist Stéphane Grap­pel­li on “Wish You Were Here”

When Pink Floyd Tried to Make an Album with House­hold Objects: Hear Two Sur­viv­ing Tracks Made with Wine Glass­es & Rub­ber Bands

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

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