“I got some bad news for you sunshine, Pink isn’t well, he stayed back at the hotel. And they sent us along as a surrogate band, we’re gonna find out where you fans really stand.”
It’s funny how classic rock has evolved over the decades since its heyday in the 70s. These days, surrogate bands – or tribute bands as they’re more affectionately called – have grown in stature to a level not dreamed of a couple of decades ago. Sporting their own merch, concert DVDs and even VIP meet and greets, these surrogates are creating their very own cult of personality as hungry audiences gobble up any chance to relive their youth, or perhaps experience a sliver of what they missed out on back in the day. The fact that the actual final incarnations of Queen, Yes, Roger Waters/Nick Mason and – until recently – Genesis are still touring in real time doesn’t diminish the dozens of tribute bands who also tour their music and who draw impressively large crowds as they do so.
Case in point – Brit Floyd. Billed as “The World’s Greatest Pink Floyd Experience”, this tribute concert delivers what the fans want: the band’s entire catalog played impeccably, supported by a stage show to match (or at least approximate) the scale of the original. Although Brit Floyd may only employ 2 trailers of equipment, unlike Roger Water’s 21 trailers for his tour of The Wall, it’s still a most impressive stage show including lasers, fog, banks of lights and, most importantly, the circular video screen at its center. The Red Rocks show is the pinnacle of their massive 110-date tour but it is not an anomaly. To the contrary, the band has played the Rocks ten times before! Which is why tonight’s show being a sell out months in advance came as no surprise. In the past year Denver Pink Floyd fans have had the chance to see Nick Mason performing pre-Dark Side material with his excellent band, Roger Waters performing his renditions and political overtures, but the crowd still clearly calls out for more. Brit Floyd is here to meet that need and then some.
Although the band is celebrating the 50th anniversary of one of the most popular and well-known albums in the history of rock, Brit Floyd isn’t pandering just to the casual Floyd fan. This approach is apparent even in the recorded warm-up music played during the hour before the band takes the stage, including such Floyd rarities as “Grantchester Meadows,” “Terminal Frost” and “Obscured By Clouds”. Similar nuggets will appear in the evening’s set-list but the inevitable concert opener has to be “Speak To Me/Breathe” which establishes the skill of the band and their dedication to replicating the original, complete with steel guitar. They quickly jump forward in time to the Gilmour-led era with the standout “What Do You Want From Me”, which is accompanied by a stinging guitar solo and the appearance of three female backup singers, a Floyd staple.
The first set is mostly a slow-paced affair which isn’t too surprising given Floyd’s catalog. “The Great Gig In The Sky” features spot-on vocals from Eva Avila, while bassist Ian Cattle gives his best Waters vocal homage during the unexpected “Gunner’s Dream”, segueing into Ryan Saranich’s soulful saxophone solo. The band does rock it up a bit with the fan-favorite “Young Lust”, accompanied by a saucy video montage, and they are sure to do it right by including the opening intro “Empty Spaces”. Brit Floyd displays their ability to seamlessly traverse era’s by playing the acoustic deep cut “Fearless” (a personal favorite) from “Meddle” followed immediately by “Happiest Days of Our Lives/Another Brick Pt. 2”, which works convincingly well. After band leader Damian Darlington flawlessly executes one of the best guitar solos in rock ’n roll as we know it, Edo Scordo rounds out the song with an inspired additional guitar solo, one of the night’s few moments of expanding on the original recording (which he later follows up by adding tasty Spanish guitar to the end of “High Hopes” after Darlington’s steel guitar solo). And yes, they do bring out a local school choir on stage to add to the visual impact of “We don’t need no education”.
By the time Intermission ends, the summer night is sufficiently dark to make the most of the band’s special effects, nicely complimenting the natural effects that Red Rocks is renown for. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is the other classic set opener and the crowd revels in Matt Riddle’s keyboard treatment of it, along with the 4-note signature guitar motif that shook the world. Still, Saranich seems to always garner the most applause with those short but impactful sax solos, and it’s always a treat to hear the deep tone of a baritone sax in “Shine” before he pivots to the tenor. As the sax fades out into the mist, an image of Sid comes onto the circular screen, a nice nod to some of the source inspiration for the song. Brit Floyd are very good at adding classy touches like this throughout the show. Appropriately, “See Emily Play” follows, one of Syd’s early hits for the band.
A highlight of the second set is “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” which finds Scordo pulling swine calls out of his guitar during the interlude as Darlington commands the talk box guitar. The latter portion of the 12 minute piece is spotlighted by Darlington launching into one of the fiercest guitar solos of the evening. The audience needs a breather afterwards, which “Wish You Were Here” is perfectly timed to offer, the screen lighting up with images of the Floyd band members throughout their career and ending with the final group appearance at Live 8, bringing a tear to the eye.
The lighting and laser displays take it up a notch for the final run of “One of These Days”, “Brain Damage/Eclipse” and finally “Comfortably Numb”. The closing piece adds a bit of classic Floyd theater to the stage, with a Bob Geldof-like “Pink” slouched in a chair in his living room while the film version of The Wall cleverly plays on the TV. Cattell plays “the Doctor” and acts out the role during the verses while Andy Robbins takes his spot on bass. Again, Brit Floyd going the extra mile to make a show more than just the music. But ah, the music is there, too, in all its glory. This time around Scordo takes the first classic guitar solo, leaving Darlington to follow up with one of the all-time greats in rock guitar moments. The grand disco ball descends from its overhang and Red Rocks is bathed in the glow of visual and aural bliss.
After leaving 10,000 fans comfortably numb, there’s hardly need for an encore. But Brit Floyd are up for the task, not only delivering the expected “Run Like Hell” as the final visual blowout, but also pulling in “The Final Cut”’s rocker “Not Now John”. Fuck all that. It’s good fun and at nearly 3 hours, this is an epic Floyd show to please nearly any fan of the band. (No, there was no “Echoes” tonight, they played that in last year’s set) Truly, Brit Floyd is an experience that does justice to the massive legacy that the original Floyd has left. Hats off to the entire band and staff who worked hard to add a little Pink to these Red Rocks. Most assuredly they’ll be back again next summer with a new set-list to continue the tradition.