March 4, 2018 marks the 45th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s North American debut performance of their seminal work, Dark Side of the Moon. Rather than open the tour in New York, Chicago or other large city, it premiered in a 9,000 seat venue in Madison, Wisconsin. I lived only forty miles south and attended the concert with some friends. It was a show I’ll never forget.
The first I heard that Pink Floyd was kicking off their 1973 North American tour in Madison, Wisconsin probably would have been on a Radio Free Madison broadcast. Radio Free Madison was an “underground” music program on WIBA-FM that began broadcasting on Halloween night 1969 and continued into the mid-70s. It was on for only a few hours every night and played more album-oriented “head” music than anyone else was doing at that time. We’d been enjoying various tracks from Floyd’s Obscured By Clouds, Atom Heart Mother and Meddle on Radio Free and there was buzz about their forthcoming album, the title of which was announced as Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics.
“A piece for assorted lunatics?” I was all in and so were three friends. The radio station was already spinning a promotional copy of the song Money. It featured an interesting time signature, 7/4 alternating with more typical 4/4 for the solos. Apparently, the 4/4 solos were done because David Gilmour thought it would be too complicated to write them in 7/4 time. Some music critics said the single dynamic of maintaining tempo but changing from seven beats to the bar to 8 beats added to the track’s unique appeal. It also featured some pretty good sound effects which were expected to be even better in quadraphonic (four-channel) sound, a format that Floyd had been working with for a while and was becoming popular for vinyl LPs. I couldn’t afford a quadraphonic audio system then, but a friend eventually set up one and it was pretty impressive.
Before we got it together to buy tickets in advance, the concert was cancelled. This announcement was in the January 25, 1973 Madison Capital Times. What a bummer! At least we hadn’t shelled out any money yet. We waited patiently for more details about the album release or a rescheduled concert date. At last it was announced that the band had cleared up its visa issues. The concert was back on and the following ad was published in Madison newspapers.
The lunatics were psyched! We still hadn’t bought tickets in advance, so we traveled to the Coliseum from Janesville on the evening of the show thinking we’d arrive in plenty of time to buy them at the door. We never expected an endless line of cars waiting to enter the parking lot. (Quick… roll the windows down and let the air clear!) As the car inched forward with each vehicle ahead of us stopping at the gatehouse to pay for parking, it seemed like an eternity. Eventually we paid, parked and hoofed it to the ticket window. There were plenty available, but it required waiting in yet another line. The concert had already begun by the time the four of us entered the dark arena. The venue, typically used for sporting events and exhibitions, featured “festival seating,” a euphemism for finding someplace to stand on the seatless arena floor along with 9,000 others. Alternatively, we could have chosen to sit in a seat around the perimeter, but we wanted to be in the center of that ground-shaking quadraphonic sound system. With pink smoke and a laser light show in progress, an extended jam of Obscured By Clouds followed by When You’re In was underway. Weaving through a mass of humanity in the dark, someone bumped my elbow and an unlit chunk of “sensory enhancement” flew from the pipe in my hand into the abyss and on to the floor, lost under a dozen shuffling feet.
According to author Glenn Povey in his book Echoes: The Complete History of Pink Floyd, the band’s equipment for that tour was hauled in two forty-foot articulated trucks, with two drivers in each. They would meet the road crew at the venue at ten in the morning, usually after driving all night. The road crew, who traveled with the band, would be there when the truck arrived and then would begin setting up the equipment. Upon completing the setup at around four in the afternoon, the band would show up for their usual sound check.
On stage for this 1973 North American tour were: David Gilmour (vocals, guitar, synthesizers), Nick Mason (percussion, tape effects), Roger Waters (bass guitar, vocals, synthesizers, tape effects), Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals, synthesizers), Nawasa Chowder (backing vocals), Mary Ann Lindsey (backing vocals), Phyllis Lindsey (backing vocals), and Dick Parry (saxophone).
Inside the Coliseum, music and lights were at full throttle. Following Careful With That Ax, Eugene the band took a short intermission. They returned to the stage and the lights dimmed as the opening sound effects of Speak To Me filled the arena from a massive quad sound system. Floyd performed Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, lasers blazing through the pink stage lights and into the upper regions of the hall. Among the most impressive auditory effects, were the cash register and money-changing sounds that chased around the four massive speaker banks hung from the ceiling, all pointed toward the center. The quad sound was mind-blowing as the introductory bass line segued in, followed by the other instruments and vocals. Visually and aurally, that show was a peak experience, the intensity of which I had never witnessed before and have not witnessed since.
Eyes blurry and ears buzzing, we drifted out after the encore, One Of These Days, from Meddle. I’ve forgotten many things, but that Dark Side of the Moon experience remains vivid in my memory, forty-five years on.
There is no dark side of the moon, really. Matter of fact it’s all dark.
On Thursday, March 1, 2018 I’ll be sitting in as DJ Joey Books for “Professor of Prog,” JD, to host his award-winning, progressive music show, “Closer to the Edge.” The following Thursday, March 8, when JD returns to host his program, he’ll have a special guest. Asheville author Bill Kopp recently published his book, Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to the Dark Side of the Moon. Bill will read from his book and chat with JD. I’ll be there as well, to answer phone calls and chat. “Closer to the Edge” is on Asheville FM from 2:00 to 5:00 pm every Thursday. And don’t forget my weekly radio show, “Life Out of Tunes,” Mondays from 2:00 to 3:00 pm on AshevilleFM.org .
Tune in and turn it up!