Pink Floyd Films a Concert in an Empty Auditorium, Still Trying to Break Into the U.S. Charts (1970)

It’s hard to imagine that in the late 60s, the band who would become the most famous of the psychedelic era was still an obscurity to most U.S. listeners. Nowadays “Pink Floyd may be the only rock band that can credibly be compared to both the Beatles and Spinal Tap,” writes Bill Wyman in a Vulture retrospective of their entire catalogue. Indeed, it’s possible their stadium-sized popularity has been underestimated. According to the data, they’ve actually sold more albums worldwide than the Fab Four.

But they had to pay dues in the States. “In the last week of April 1973,” notes KQED’s Richie Unterberger, Dark Side of the Moon “reached No. 1 on the American charts. In the last week of April 1970, though, they had yet to crack the U.S. Top 50 after three years of recording and performing.”

Their first singer/songwriter, and later tragic muse, Syd Barrett, had come and gone after their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. They were already well into what Wyman describes as the second phase of “four, or arguably five, Pink Floyds.”

This version “was one of the founders of progressive rock, a psychedelic, space-rock-y, quasi-improvisational ensemble.” They were excellent live musicians and masters of mood and atmosphere. But their experimental direction didn’t sell. “At that point, they were really anxious to have whatever publicity they could,” says Jim Farber, who co-produced the hour-long TV concert film above for KQED, San Francisco’s public television station.

We did not have much of a budget. Pink Floyd did the performance and offered the rights for a certain number of airings for practically nothing. My memory is we paid them $200.

The band played in the empty Fillmore Auditorium for a film crew. The venue wasn’t empty because no one showed up. They could draw a crowd and had already played the Fillmore West and toured the U.S. three times. But, “for as strong an underground following as they were building in the United States,” writes Unterberger, they “were so eager for an American audience that they played a free concert at UCLA a week later” after the KQED taping.

The station, which in 1970 “was more known for Sesame Street than psychedelic rock,” had already begun to move into concert films. “Local icons” like “Big Brother & the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, and Quicksilver Messenger Service all got airtime.” But Pink Floyd was something different indeed. The film, broadcast in January of ’71, “got an incredibly positive response when we aired it in San Francisco,” says Farber. “After that, it had two national broadcasts on PBS.”

You can watch the full “Hour with Pink Floyd,” as the program was called, just above. At the top, see the band play “Astronomy Domine” in footage cut from the original broadcast. Further up, see the sixteen minute “Atom Heart Mother,” a testament to how far out Pink Floyd could go, and how much a local public television station was willing to go with them. The track opens with five minutes of aerial footage of the San Joaquin Valley, the band nowhere in sight. When Pink Floyd finally arrives onscreen, the desert vistas continue to weave in and out.

In “Grantchester Meadows,” below, forest sounds and images introduce the song. The effect was to translate the mystique British listeners associated with Pink Floyd to U.S. audiences just on the verge of being blown away by a very different-sounding band who released Dark Side of the Moon three years later.

via Laughing Squid

Related Content:

An Hour-Long Collection of Live Footage Documents the Early Days of Pink Floyd (1967-1972)

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

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

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

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  • Pat Beaudry says:

    Thus is a wonderful and fantastic reproduction of live early Floyd. Atom Heart Mother, my favorite early Floyd is very different life. But still as close as possible to the over dubbed album. I was looking for some live Meddle, they we’re learning , and every pc of Vynil that was new from 67-72 was better than the last or previous album. Once they hit with DSOTM they almost should have taken 3-5 years off. Still what a band. Open culture is great. Thank you

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