Missing in the eternal argument embodied in their 1970s lyric — Which one’s Pink? — was my idea that it was neither Roger Waters nor David Gilmour.
Maybe there would have been no Pink Floyd, not really, without Richard Wright.
That’s what I hear in “Live at Gdansk” with Gilmour and Wright, recorded in 2006, but issued just days after the former Floyd keyboardist’s sudden death from cancer this month.
Gilmour initially kindled a lost passion for the band upon Waters’ departure when Wright rejoined the proceedings in the late 1980s. Similarly, nearly 15 years after the last Pink Floyd release, he again rediscovers a similar emotion here for his most important work from that period — with Wright at his side.
Gilmour’s soloing boasts a newfound directness on “Gdansk,” thanks in no small way to the logical and crisp shadings that Wright provides.
Wright, from the start, underscored Pink Floyd’s sound with a jazz-based inventiveness, helping the group transcend an early psychedelic-pop template established under original band leader Syd Barrett — then a confrontational, didactic tone set by his successor, Waters. Until the end, Wright was a deeply emotive foundation for the group’s more famous voices, this consistency in a band that saw dramatic shifts.
Wright met Barrett, drummer Nick Mason and the bassist Waters at Britain’s Regent Street Polytechnic College of Architecture, where they eventually formed the Pink Floyd Sound, a title taken from two American blues musicians that was later shortened. (Earlier incarnations included Sigma 6 and the Screaming Abdabs.)
David Gilmour joined the band as Barrett began to lose a battle with mental illness — and Gilmour’s distinctive contributions on guitar and vocals became the cornerstone of one of rock music’s most celebrated albums, 1973′s “Dark Side of the Moon,” which has since spent more than 1,500 weeks on the Billboard charts.
Throughout, Gilmour has trumpeted key contributions from Wright, notably on tracks like “Us and Them” and “Great Gig in the Sky.” The keyboardist was also integral to the follow up to “Dark Side,” “Wish You Were Here.”
By the late 1970s, however, Waters and the rest of the band were at odds — a rift that deepened when Waters relegated Wright to sideman status on “The Wall.” Pink Floyd recorded 1983′s “The Final Cut” without Wright, then descended into a protracted legal battle when Gilmour sought to reform the group with Mason and Wright.
Roger Waters wouldn’t perform with the band again until 2005′s “Live 8″ concert.
Meanwhile, the remaining trio produced two more albums, 1987′s “Momentary Lapse of Reason” and 1994′s “The Division Bell.” Wright’s reemergence recalled a once-familiar etherealness, even if Pink Floyd lost some of its lyrical edge. Often brittle through Waters’ final few releases, Gilmour would with Wright again embrace an uplifting beauty that had long been missing on tracks like “A Great Day for Freedom, “Learning to Fly” and “High Hopes.”
“In my view,” Gilmour has said of Wright, “all the greatest Pink Floyd moments are the ones where he is in full flow.”
The Gdansk concert was held on the anniversary of the Solidarity uprising in Poland, a national holiday in that country, making an emotional reading of “Freedom” — from Pink Floyd’s swansong CD — all the more meaningful.
The set began with a brief foray into “Dark Side of the Moon” and then several cuts from Gilmour’s recent solo release “On An Island” — presented here with orchestrations by Polish arranger/conductor Zbigniew Preisner with the Baltic Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra — before the two former bandmates settle into an interesting mix of Floyd gems.
Featured on this, the final date of Gilmour’s tour two years ago, is a meditation on “Shine On Crazy Diamond,” a mid-1970s tune written for Barrett and then “Astronome Domine,” one of Syd Barrett’s signature up-tempo numbers. (Ironically, he had died just six weeks before this show.) Also included is “Fat Old Sun,” from 1970′s “Atom Heart Mother,” one of Gilmour’s first compositions.
But it’s later, during Wright’s luminous effort on the 25-minute long rendition of “Echoes” (his own centerpiece effort on Pink Floyd’s seminal 1971 “Meddle” album), where we find a last testiment both to his own lingering musical relevance but also to the collaborative fire that still burned with Gilmour.
Gilmour’s working band also included guitarist Phil Manzanera (once with Roxy Music, he had been featured on both of the Waters-less Floyd LPs) and bassist Guy Pratt, keyboardist John Carin and sax player Dick Parry — all veterans of the Floyd tours of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
But it is with his long-time keyboardist, inside something Gilmour called a “musical telepathy,” that Pink Floyd’s 62-year-old guitarist and singer — and maybe, Pink Floyd itself — found its clearest voice. I’m not sure Gilmour has sounded better in 30 years.
That’s a tribute to Wright, I realize just now — somehow, too late.