"Dark Side of the Moon" Revisited

I think like most of us music fans who get into Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon was the album that wormed its way most deeply into my consciousness, a subtle kind of infiltration that manifested itself prominently during my late teenage years. It's an album with a tremendous kind of seductive power and those heady years between 16-19 seems to be the age when almost everyone identifies strongly with the sentiments DSOTM covers: alienation, mental anguish, and the thoroughly unfair cold human facts of time, money, and conflict. It's an album you "outgrow"- that's at least the common perception among a lot of other music fans. At the very least, it's an album that is absorbed during so many hazy evenings in a dorm room or parents' basement that it becomes unnecessary to keep listening to it a decade or more after first hearing it. Those notes are in your DNA. It had been quite some time since I, at the advanced age of 28, had given DSOTM a proper front-to-back listen. Cory offhandedly tossed out the idea at a rehearsal early this fall- "why don't we cover Dark Side?" We chuckled at first, but then instinctively noodling around realized that we knew the chords to "Breathe". I knew the main riff to "Money", a line that I think every bassist picks up within a few weeks of buying a bass. Jereme knew those haunting opening chords to "The Great Gig In the Sky". Hmmmmmm. We've covered plenty of Pink Floyd in the past: "Fearless", "Astronomy Domine", even the leviathan that is "Echoes". Maybe we’re up for this. But tackling their most famous work, and an album that is so meticulously produced and arranged? Would we have to pipe in sound effects? What about the synth weirdness in "On the Run"? What about the saxophone? What about all those female vocals? We'd figure it out. We gave ourselves a few weeks to listen, learn our parts, and then give things a whirl at rehearsal in a few weeks. And so I revisited Dark Side, this time with the perspective of a musician dissecting sounds that I thought I had practically memorized. You may have noticed this, but DSOTM is an awfully good album. And surprisingly, most of the chords and melodies are fairly easy to grasp. Floyd had monumental talents, but flashy virtuosity was not what this album was about. Most guitarists or keyboardists with just a few months' experience could make it through pretty much all the tracks with little difficulty. E minors, D majors, pentatonics- I know this stuff. The minimalism really struck me after a few listens. That wonderful verse progression on "Us and Them" is just two notes on the bass, and the chorus has a whopping four different notes. "Money" is a blues in B minor basically, despite all the time signature and dynamic shifts. Hey, being Roger Waters is easy! That first run-through... well, maybe it isn't so easy. Nailing the beginning of "Breathe" takes some work, dammit. And it's only through playing that you realize how truly laid-back the tempos are in these compositions. Restraint became the order of the day. The feel makes or breaks music with this kind of slow-brewing might. "Time" was a little busy when we first went over it. Cut back the keys, make sure the drums and bass lock and take it slow, and remember that we aren't in Abbey Road Studios, and will have the benefit of just a single guitar track. Our attitudes were adjusting to where we needed to be. Think Pink. All that synthesized craziness in “On the Run”? Well, we came to the conclusion that note-for-note recreation was not only unfeasible, but ultimately pointless. We had to nail the spirit of the song. And for that, we found that there’s little weirdness that effects pedals and ingenuity can’t accomplish. The edge of a metal slide dragged down bass strings with a distortion pedal makes for a fine plane crash. No virtuoso diva available for "The Great Gig In the Sky"? Cory managed to work out a fine facsimile of the vocal improv using slide guitar. Saxophone? We made contact with Justin from the band Jazz Delinquency, who were extremely impressive at a gig we played with them in early October. This might just work. A date was secured at the Strasburg Theater. Our friend Jay whipped up some impressive looking flyers. Word spread. The rehearsals kept tightening up. November 30th came, and we waited backstage after Jazz Delinquency warmed up the nearly 200 folks in attendance with a ripping set. Anticipation was high as Jay took the stage for his introduction, Ryan kick-drumming the famous album-opening heartbeats. We went out there, made a little ambient noise that approximated “Speak to Me” and then Cory screamed and we were off to the Moon with that huge clanging E-minor that announces "Breathe" and a roar from those in attendance. Note perfect? No. This was Dirty Side of the Moon, after all. Cheers greeted the familiar introductory drum roll to the verse of “Time”. This wasn’t just a band serving as a jukebox for some vinyl and black-light nostalgia. People still love these songs. 1973 or 2007- it makes little difference. The emotion tied up with this album is timeless. This is a language we all speak, and the little parts of the whole, like the tremolo-drenched chords in “Money” or the delicate piano sparkles of “The Great Gig In the Sky”, these are all the secret syntax shared by speakers of this language. Justin completed our sound on “Money” and “Us and Them” with his saxophone skills- no other way of putting it. We were getting palpable chills on stage by this point. “Any Colour You Like” was instrumental, spacey, and funky- right in our wheelhouse. This was the bread and butter sound of our earliest days as a band. The opening jangle of “Brain Damage” elicited another roar of approval. The home stretch. This is a tune where dynamics play a key role, a reflection of our own more current song-oriented focus as a band. Jereme’s synth solo was perfect during the outro as we came to the time-shift into “Eclipse”. The drums and bass locked in, and the vocals accumulated power as the song built. Everything under the sun was in tune. The crowd was right there with us, transfixed near the bar area or down in front of the stage, and several dozen people leaned waaaay back in the theater seats absorbing the entire sensory experience. The sun is eclipsed by the moon. The heartbeat resumes, the circle is complete, and everyone simultaneously realizes that this was a unique moment for us as a band and as performers. The crowd went nuts, and we walked off stage. We had undertaken a journey and acknowledged a landmark of our own musical development and inspiration while learning a little more about the incredible reciprocal power of performer and audience. The lines for us blurred between being jaded musicians and being listeners excited to hear one of our favorite albums again in an entirely new light. For one show at least, everyone in the room was purely a fan and a music lover, tuned into the same heartbeat. There is no dark side of the moon. -Ben