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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