Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets ‘Live at the Roundhouse’ Bravely Recreates Pink Floyd’s Early Years (ALBUM REVIEW)

The audio and video content of Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets Live at the Roundhouse mirrors its packaging and vice-versa. A die-cut slipcase and the alternately glossy and flat finish of its subdued color scheme on 2CDS, a DVD and a thirty-page booklet presents much the same range of nuance as this quintet’s performance of Pink Floyd material taken exclusively from the period before Dark Side of the Moon in 1972.

Snippets of conversation appear in the film at well-timed junctures, during which Mason and company—guitarist/vocalist Gary Kemp, bassist/vocalist Guy Pratt (a member of the post-Roger Waters Floyd touring ensemble), guitarist/vocalist Lee Harris and keyboardist/vocalist Dom Beken —reference the early days of Pink Floyd. Yet, this is not an exercise in nostalgia, but rather a scrupulously-arranged and produced set of music on its own terms, a homage to the original band to be sure, but an honest interpretation thereof. 

So, for all the reverence the individuals express for the work, they are not respectful to a fault: as indicated by their lively body language and stage presence in general, they are playing with this music as they play it, having some fun with it and imbuing the songs with their individual and collective personalities. And that goes for those tunes of ominous grand crescendos like “Set The Controls For the Heart of the Sun” or the quintessential English rock and roll of the Sixties like “See Emily Play.”

Such tunes as the latter are interspersed with the atmospheric likes of the former throughout the near two hour set, effectively achieving a dual goal: honoring the author of the shorter tunes, founding Floyd member Syd Barrett (who was replaced by David Gilmour), and expertly pacing the performance. In keeping with Pink Floyd presentations, but kept in appropriate proportion, the stage production suits the music (an impeccable audio mix available on the DVD in either stereo or surround sound), which in turn reflects the real-time action on film.

Furthermore, lighting and special effects (including a stage backdrop similar to this package’s cover art) are proportionate to the Roundhouse venue, illuminating its structure but never intruding in the relative intimacy of the approximately 1700 capacity audience. And even sans many closeups, these attendees seem as knowledgeable as they are attentive, responding to dramatic cues in the music and showmanship but never over-dramatically so; for instance, the spontaneous group singalong around “Fearless” almost sounds rehearsed, evidence how this crowd remains as down to earth as the performers they are watching. Still, everyone present would appear to find the experience transportive.

The pragmatic common sense Nick Mason and company applied to the formation and preparation of this project extends to this Live at the Roundhouse release. That’s to say, there are no overly clever exclusive insertions between the two configurations–besides those of the video medium comprised of interviews with the musicians and some footage of rehearsals—so the CD sequencing has a flow of its own that approximates the show in its entirety on video. Meanwhile, the enclosed collection of prose, (b&w and color) photos and all due credits more than just scratches the surface of the germination and the execution of this unusual concept.

That said, all the meticulous attention to detail here may still beg the question of how much attraction this offering holds for an audience mostly familiar with Pink Floyd’s most popular mainstream efforts and/or the work done under the aegis of Gilmour following the departure of the mastermind of The Wall, Roger Waters. And it’s possible too that some followers of the group, dating back to the Syd Barrett’s tenure with the group or the era just prior to Dark Side may even harbor some reservations with this unit’s approach to the iconic Brits’ heritage. But the fact is, the band that calls itself Saucer Full of Secrets is doing a great service to the overall legacy of the fabled group by breathing life into this music through its own enthusiasm and imagination.

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