The Vault: Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii

An album and movie not from the early days of rock and roll, nor of recent memory, Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii actually performed in an old Roman Amphitheater offers a unique and timeless sound.

Originally released in theaters in 1973, not long after the debut of the album itself, a DVD version, Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii: The Director’s Cut came out in 2003. Running significantly longer than the earlier versions of the film, it includes additional commentary and interviews with the band in the EMI Recording Studios Abby Road in London.

The premise: Pink Floyd performs at a set of old ruins that once may have hosted performances of Greco-Roman tragedies, period concerts, or the place of some spectacularly bloody and violent show put on to satisfy the Roman Empire’s thirst for blood at the height of the once formidable empire.

It starts with the gentle pinging of the cymbals on the drum, and other slow, soft, sounds including some played using an early electronic keyboard. The melody builds up from those initial soft sounds to Waters on bass and Gilmour on six-string as they dominate with harder guitar rhythms throughout the work.

Vocalists Gilmour and Waters evoke the Albatross of old literature as they sing of an Albatross flying overhead, almost lifeless, much like the Albatross of Coleridge’s poem hung around the head of those that harmed the poor marine bird.  The lyrical segment is short; the group goes back to instrumentals for the remainder.

The audience gets a break from the music with a series of interview and commentary with the group filmed as they were preparing their iconic album, Dark Side of the Moon.

The setting is informal, no one is dressed for the stage, or for formal interview, they dress as themselves. Gilmour and Waters share their thoughts on the direction of rock and roll, in particular what they see as a greater emphasis on using the sophisticated equipment coming out, but all the same, no matter how sophisticated the equipment, what makes a band great is the talent of the members. Water’s comment, “Give a man a Les Paul guitar and he becomes Eric Clapton” feels relevant now, as it did in the early ‘70s.

Nick Mason, who played with Pink Floyd from their inception, does much of the drumming for this album.

Fans of Mason’s drumming will find it almost mesmerizing to see his talent for percussion come to life as he plays in sync with the group. While playing One of These Days his drumstick flies away, he gets another and plays again without missing a beat.

The popular song, A Saucerful of Secrets is performed. Haunting melodies and voiceless vocals with instrumental clashes throughout that surprise, yet never feel out of place.

The film is not without flaw. Animated CGI scenes of ancient Rome before the empire’s fall are mixed in with Pink Floyd’s music playing in the background. This does not take away from the music, just begs of the audience to ask why? It still does not have much place in a film about Pink Floyd.

An enduring legacy of all that is Pink Floyd, Live at Pompeii remains as fresh and daring an album as it did in the early ‘70.

  • dave

    I just skimmed this article and wanted to point out that:

    1. This was a film only – no album was EVER issued legally (tho bootlegs of course surfaced)
    2. The animated scenes were added when they remastered the thing for DVD release, and yes, a bad idea…best to watch the original version of it which is also on the DVD – oddly, it is the newer scenes that seem dated, not the original scenes shot back in 71/72.
    3. Yes, it is a great document of early 70’s Floyd!

  • Diggz

    Roger Waters does not sing on ‘Echoes’, it’s David Gilmour and Richard Wright. The ‘ping’ does not come from drums, it comes from a piano.

    ‘Voiceless vocals’? Ooooo k.