Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live: 1980-81

PINK FLOYD: Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980-81 (Columbia)Pink Floyd fans have been waiting a long time for this album to be released. Sure, there have been bootlegged copies of assorted Wall shows circulating in varying quality for years, but there has never been a commercial release--until now. Performing The Wall live was a massive undertaking for the band, even by today's standards. It was only performed 29 times; in New York, Los Angeles, Dortmund, and London. Rather than releasing a complete show in its entirety, Is There Anybody Out There? is culled from the concerts at Earls Court in London.

For those who aren't aware of what went on at the shows, a huge brick wall was constructed across the stage as the 'surrogate band' performed in front of it with masks on to look like the members of the band. There was very little room for improvisation on stage. Everything had to be explicitly planned out to coincide with the people who were constructing the wall during the show. At the end of the shows, the wall would come tumbling down in front of the crowd.

People who are familiar with the bootlegs will notice several things when they hear these CDs. Several of the songs seem to be speeded up, and/or edited, and the sound quality is too 'clean' for a live album - even for Pink Floyd. The other bad thing is that they don't tell you which songs come from which performances.

The album is played from start to finish, with a few 'alterations.' The shows all started with stage announcements. On the CD, these announcements appear here as "MC/Atmos." The mix sounds strange on "The Happiest Days of Our Lives," especially the vocals. The extended version of "Another Brick in the Wall - Part Two" gives the band its first chance to stretch out, and guitarist David Gilmour's solo is a highlight. "Mother" is longer as well, with an additional Gilmour solo thrown in for good measure.

The lyrics to "What Shall We Do Now" appeared on the sleeves of the original Wall album, leaving record buyers wondering why the song wasn't included. The song was only performed on stage, in place of "Empty Spaces." It's too bad, because it's actually a better song (a studio version of the song appears in the 1982 film). "Young Lust" is Gilmour's first real chance in the spotlight. Again, it's an extended version, and the keyboards are noticeably more pronounced than before. The biggest highlight on disc one is "Another Brick in the Wall - Part Three." The vocal arrangements are a bit different, but it's a killer performance. "The Last Few Bricks," the other 'new' song appearing here, is essentially a jam out of ABITW3, used to give the wall builders time to finish the wall.

As it does on the studio album, "Hey You" kicks off disc two. Finally, they get the vocal mix right. The background singers blend in perfectly. "Comfortably Numb" is the centerpiece of the album, and Gilmour's solo is his reigning moment on top of the wall. It also serves as a clear reminder of just how great his band can be if they would only put their bickering with bassist Roger Waters aside and go back to playing/writing music together. The thunderous applause at the end of the song says it all. "The Show Must Go On" contains the extra verse that was printed on the original album sleeve (again, missing from the studio version).

At this point in the show, the stage announcements are played again, only this time at a considerably slower speed. On the CD however, they're severely cut. About ¼ of the way through, "In the Flesh" comes blasting out of the speakers. This is one of the most powerful versions of the song you'll ever hear, and it features a cool new bass line from Waters. Speaking of Waters, it's time for Roger to say a few words, introducing "Run Like Hell" as "a song for all the weak people in the audience." Actually, he yells at the audience, telling them to "have a nice time," etc. This is one of the places on the CDs where the sound is too clean. Roger's vocals are noticeably louder than Dave's, but it's a great performance. The band didn't do any encores at these shows, and honestly, it would seem pretty pointless after witnessing a spectacle like this.

The packaging for the album is spectacular in itself. With artwork by longtime Floyd alumnus, Storm Thorgerson, it lives up to (and surpasses) everything you'd expect with a Pink Floyd album. The CDs come with not one, but two booklets full of photos from the shows and interviews with each of the band members. There is also a limited edition version of the album available, for the collectors out there.

If you've made it this far, you're probably asking yourself, 'do I need to add this to my collection?' If you already own the studio version, then the answer is a resounding yes. If not, pick up a copy of the original first.

© 2000 Steve Marshall

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