Sound On Stage, March 1997
The Division Bell Tour
When Pink Floyd embarked on their most recent jaunt around the world with the 1994 Division Bell tour, no less than 53 articulated trucks were required to transport the PA and lighting systems, projection equipment, staging, and all the additional elements which went into what has so far been acclaimed as the benchmark touring production of the '90s.
"Division Bell" tour was one of the first occasions where the Turbosound Flashlight system was used on a full-scale stadium production, on this occasion delivering no less than 232,000 Watts of unbridled music power. Rarely does a rock'n'roll show garner praise for its sonic fidelity in the general press, but throughout the tour, newspapers the world over raved about the "perfect quadraphonic sound system". One reporter, Michael Norman of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, was moved to write: "No rock band can match Pink Floyd when it comes to making a stadium show come off sounding as if it's being held in your living room."
Although the touring system went through several changes following the opening dates in America, the PA itself normally consisted of 200 cabinets with 112 of these forming the front-of- house system across two steel towers. The main PA consisted of 32 Flashlight mid/high cabinets per side, eight wide by four deep, with a further 32 sub-boxes at stage level in the wings. Wide dispersion Floodlights were positioned at the front of the stage as fill-in cabinets, and both Floodlight and Flashlight enclosures were used for the three quadraphonic stacks. Each of the delay towers, meanwhile, carried six focused mid/high and six bass cabinets. The configuration of the PA provided maximum horizontal and front-to-rear coverage, with dispersion spread out to the extremes of the audience. This coverage was further enhanced by having flown mid/high boxes and tall, narrow bass stacks.
This system was amplified by BSS EPC-760s and -780s, and the control racks dedicated to the PA were also full to the brim with BSS wares. These included FDS-360 crossovers, TCS-804 digital delays, MSR-604 and -602 mic splitters, DPR-502 dual graphics, and a bank of Varicurve for accurate remote equalisation of the house and delay rigs.
Set designer Mark Fisher and construction companies Brilliant Stages and StageCo designed and built three enormous stage sets (the largest ever) measuring 60 metres wide by 22 deep by 23.5 high, incorporating 700 tons of steel. Each stage (based on the famous domed Hollywood Bowl) took three days to build, eighteen hours to set up, seven hours to break down, and two days to fully dismantle for load-out. Hence, a strict "leapfrogging" regime was put into action on each leg of the tour, with 33 trucks delivering the staging to venues well in advance of each show.
By contrast, the complete PA system, including delays and quad towers, fitted into a paltry two trucks. Years before, a system of similar power would have required more than double the trucking, but the deceptive size-to-performance ratio of the compact, new generation Turbosound system contributed to a healthy cost saving. And yet more staggering statistics: the tour also employed eight tour buses, another eighteen trucks for production, catering and power, and a 161-strong crew. All in all, this required $4 million to finance prior to the first performance, and a further $25 million in running costs. The 100,000 UKP loss suffered by the Floyd on their 1974 UK tour now paled into petty cash-sized insignificance.
Making his first appearance with the band since they played at The Roundhouse in 1968 was lighting designer Peter Wynne Wilson who brought a psychedelic flavour to the set with the live liquid light show he previously projected onto the Floyd, back in the Syd Barrett era. Fittingly, and much to the amazement of fans, the band included a faithful interpretation of "Astronomy Domine" (from their 1967 debut album) in their set. The inclusion of the track on the live album "Pulse" would earn Barrett substantial royalties. In an equally nostalgic gesture, Pink Floyd dusted down and performed "The Dark Side Of The Moon" in its entirety in Detroit on July 15, the first time the band had done so since Knebworth in 1975. This, along with other classics, new and old, from the Floyd catalogue, benefited from the latest in film projection tecnology, namely four Cameleon Teleprojectors and a Bran Ferren-designed 70mm, 10kW Xenon, SMPTE timecode-controlled projector with the capacity for a 6,000 foot reel. Such expensive hardware was used to display special footage conceived for the tour by long-term Floyd associate Storm Thorgerson, formerly of design gurus Hipgnosis.
At front-of-house, 136 channels were controlled by two Yamaha PM4000 consoles and a PM3000, whose sole purpose was to handle the effects returns. Added to the desk inventory was a custom- designed Midas XL3 quad board with a central VCA section and dual joysticks for panning. As part of Brit Row's equipment stock, this desk would later be used on a variety of tours, including Oasis's 1996 summer festivals.
Mark Fisher styled the mixing tower in such a way that it would appeal to the band while they performed for two hours! Within this structure were front-of-house engineer Andy Jackson and his assistants Colin Norfield and Dave Lohr. Jackson, who had engineered the new album, the "Wall" movie soundtrack, and "The Final Cut", as well as a number of Floyd solo projects, concentrated on mixing the bulk of the band, while Norfield handled bass, drums, and PA management duties, and Lohr controlled the quad system and tape effects.
Much shorter than the previous Pink Floyd outing in 1987-1989, "The Division Bell" tour ended in late 1994 and immediately went into the history books as a classic Floyd period, one which was a veritable showcase for the art of concert production in the '90s. As David Gilmour commented: "The response to 'The Division Bell' and the tour was beyond our wildest dreams. To still be pulling in crowds of this magnitude [an average of 45,000 per night in America] is pretty mind-blowing."
Britannia Row's Bryan Grant says: "I've always felt that part of Pink Floyd's success has been because they always wanted to push boundaries and give an immense production value to what they do. Their concerts are multimedia events and that tradition stretches way back to their psychedelic period with the oil slides. They are certainly hugely responsible for the way concert productions have grown more sophisticated over the years." Long-standing lighting designer Marc Brickman agrees: "The thing about the Floyd is that they're always prepared to take chances, and new things evolve because of that. They're still right on the cutting edge."
With thirty years of madness, pigs, walls, musical innovation, and human conflict behind them, one might say that little remains for Pink Floyd to conquer. Critics assumed they were washed up when Syd Barrett left in 1968. They were wrong. Immense skepticism crept in when Floyd continued without Roger Waters. "The Division Bell" kicked the narrow-minded firmly into touch. Despite seeming impossibilities, with every tour they have always managed to exceed even their own monumental standards of presentation. This obviously begs the question, what next?
With David Gilmour mostly concentrated on family life in the Sussex countryside at present, it would seem that if there are plans for the Floyd machine to spring back to life, it will not occur in the near future. But perhaps we could expect a multimedia Millenium spectacular to end all spectaculars. It would certainly be a fitting end to the 20th century -- the century which gave birth to rock'n'roll and witnessed amazing leaps in concert technology.
Here in its breathtaking entirety is the list of contents of David Gilmour's most recent touring rig:
HITCHHIKER'S JAM AT EARLS COURT
The album title, "The Division Bell", was suggested by the author of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and Floyd fan Douglas Adams. His birthday present from David Gilmour later that year was an invitation to play guitar with the Floyd in October 1994. Shockingly, the first night of the band's mini residency there was cancelled only minutes before the start of the show when seating collapsed, injuring several of the 1,200 fans sat within the block (see letter from the Floyd members).
[On a letterhead from Pink Floyd with a centered image of the stone heads (and a little boy in front of the left head) at the top of the page, is this
text and large signatures of the band members:] "We are very pleased that you were able to get here tonight after the terrible experience of last Wednesday. We are assured that all safety checks
have been made on the rebuilt stand and feel confident that you can sit back and enjoy the show. Thanks for your support." "DIVISION BELL" TOUR BACKLINE