A few thousand of us are queuing up for this major league event. Behold among the crowd the obligatory Dark Side T-shirts; there’s also an Endless River one, and a chap’s just hit the merch desk and is now sporting a freshly printed Rattle That Lock.
Gilmour’s rather beautiful third solo album is rattling up the charts across the world, just as his last outing On An Island did nine years ago. He’s now four dates into his world tour, and this will be the first of five nights at this venue.
There’s just something about the Albert Hall. Its walls have soaked up so much history, not least many vital chapters in the story of Pink Floyd themselves. But Gilmour has been ambivalent about that during his recent charm offensive in the press. He’s tired of talking about it – he’s been asked every possible Floyd question at least twice, but then he’s realised his own sound is, inherently, their sound, and he’s reconciled himself with that.
Anyone suspicious that he might only play the new album with a handful of old favourites are allayed by the first glimpse of the stage. Through the dry ice, there’s Mr Screen, the colossal circular display/lighting rig synonymous with Floyd. It bathes us in blue light as the house lights dim and in darkness, Gilmour and his nine-strong band sneak onstage. To a deafening reception he metes out the gentle strains of 5AM on a Gibson Les Paul. Later he’ll use a Telecaster and his trademark black Strat, but regardless of his instrument, it’s striking how his sound is still utterly unmistakeable.
Rattle That Lock sees Po Powell’s animations kick in on screen, with snakes, crows and levitating trees. The moody French-flavoured waltz Faces Of Stone is saved from dourness by an immaculate solo, and then, in a rare moment, Gilmour engages with us – ‘Good evening, welcome, I hope you’re enjoying the new record’ – then offers us something we’ll know. Beneath a scattered spotlight, Phil Manzanera brushes at his 12-string and it’s Wish You Were Here. Voicing loud approval, the audience offer their own light show, the hall sprouting into
a translucent forest of arms and phones, recording the evidence – I was here for this.
‘Old pals’ David Crosby and Graham Nash are welcomed on for A Boat Lies Waiting, Rattle That Lock’s paean to Gilmour’s old shipmate and avid sailor, Rick Wright. It’s a gorgeous read of the song.
Also presented tonight are the album’s title track, sultry jazzer The Girl In The Yellow Dress and In Any Tongue, with Today the only time the show gets close to treading water. But the Floyd catalogue forms the meat of the evening. Gilmour has rarely if ever included Money and Us And Them in his solo repertoire, yet both hit home tonight, with winds player João Mello on the mark with the sax parts. Meanwhile, dosh, bare bums and records (Dark Side… among them) whizz overhead on-screen.
High Hopes closes the first set, and soon the second explodes into life with Astronomy Domine, given full psychedelic light treatment. Though Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts I-V always sounds shoehorned in if not opening a set, that riff sends the audience into near euphoria. With Mr Screen burning auburn then bright white, Fat Old Sun is always welcome, and on the imperious Sorrow, a song machine-tooled for big venues, Gilmour really digs into his fretwork.
The man and his band hit fifth gear with a brilliant Run Like Hell. As its rhythmic intro kicks in, one ecstatic and liberally refreshed fan starts marching up and down the aisle as if an extra in The Wall. Then he’s joined in rough lockstep by another, and another, until there are a dozen fans providing their own performance.
And how’s this for an encore: Time, Breathe and – with David Crosby taking Roger Waters’ part – the inevitable Comfortably Numb. A matrix of green lasers forms a canopy overhead – grown men ooh and aah – and two-plus hours in, the Albert Hall’s on its feet, howling, cheering, air guitar-ing and singing along. And yes, there are tears of sheer joy. It’s an exultant end to a triumphant show, this old school major leaguer leaving yet another audience with their locks duly rattled.