No Farting in the Church of Rock (Johannesburg 2005)

I was a tender 12 years old when I first heard Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2), and I’ve never been the same since. It was 1980, the year after The Wall was released, and I’d just started high school. The song was being covered by a band comprised of older pupils at a school function welcoming us Standard 6 kids, and the lyrics ‘we don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control’ blew my impressionable young mind.

Although I recall being quite horrified that fellow pupils were being allowed to perform a banned number in our school hall, secretly I absolutely loved the subversiveness. I didn’t yet know it was a Pink Floyd song, and it was much, much later that I understood the context of the song properly. While my appreciation for Pink Floyd grew over the years, it became apparent that I would probably never get to see the band play live. In those days, it was only the odd brave or foolhardy outfit that dared break the cultural boycott and perform in South Africa.

Now, of course, their performance at the recent Live 8 concert notwithstanding – Pink Floyd is no more, and I definitely will never see them live. Damn.

Then I heard that The Pink Floyd Experience, a ‘tribute-style’ stage production, was coming to the Civic Theatre, and I thought I might like to go to the show. Not that I had much choice in the matter – a close friend had made a block booking and harangued me into taking a couple of tickets.

The Pink Floyd Experience is a New Zealand outfit which – according to the notes in the show’s slightly disappointing program – started to ‘re-create’ Pink Floyd’s sound after thankless years of playing cover tunes to drunks in pubs. What had started out as a one-off production transmogrified into what I witnessed the other night – a dramatized musical collage, consisting mostly of songs taken from The Wall, but also encompassing elements of one of Pink Floyd’s other great albums, 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon.

As I took my seat in the Civic, I was flooded with doubts. What if they screw up or tinker with the songs – like farting in the Holy Church of Rock n Roll? Rows and rows of the front seats were also empty, and I fretted that the band would struggle to bridge that gulf between them and us.

But the moment the show started, kicking off with the very long Shine on You Crazy Diamond (from 1975’s Wish You Were Here), my worries evaporated. This was no second-string cover band: it was obviously a highly competent outfit, whose members love Pink Floyd and have taken great care to handle the material with the respect it deserves, and whose visuals captured a lot of familiar Floyd imagery – the hammer logo from The Wall, a wall that was gradually constructed as the show progressed, even a circular video screen.

Vocalist Stan Gratkowski and guitarist Darren Whittaker shouldered the responsibility of capturing the essence of Pink Floyd, and they did so admirably. I reveled in music I have loved for so long: In the Flesh, Mother, Hey You, Goodbye Blue Sky, Young Lust, the Another Brick in the Wall parts….virtually the entire The Wall song list, interspersed with stuff from Dark Side of the Moon, Money, Us and Them and Brain Damage.

I was a little let down by the rendition of Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2), but Whittaker’s searing guitar solo in Comfortably Numb more than made up for it, reducing that band-audience gap to mere millimeters – it’s worth a ticket just to experience it.

Light years away from that amateurish bunch of school boys who introduced me to the contraband that was The Wall a quarter-century ago, they are guaranteed to satisfy old fans – and capture more than a few new ones.

By Willem Steenkamp – Tonight (www.tonight.co.za)Johannesburg Civic Theatre 12/08/05


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