VI. The Machine Live In Long Island

The Northfork Theatre, Westbury, NY, Sept. 23rd, 2005.

Granted, I am biased slightly. We have been friends for many years and I have seen them perform their musical tribute to Pink Floyd more than a dozen times. But there is no bias in my claim when I say there are few bands more thrilling to listen to or watch then The Machine. I had the pleasure of seeing this fantastic four at The Northfork Theatre in Westbury, Long Island on Friday, September 23rd along with a few thousand other spellbound people, all of whom were well aware how powerfully entertaining and thought-provoking this group is. It didn’t hurt that The Northfork Theatre is a terrific venue with comfortable seating and a fine sound system which rendered the music into a multi-dimensional aural picture, full of depth and color, conveying the power and expertise of the band. It was the perfect volume, not too loud, not too soft, you could hear every note; like listening to a record really loud, only better. Add to this a set-list and a seamless sense of pacing that left nothing to be desired and you have one hell of a Rock Show. Then there was the lighting, which ran the gamut from dramatic half-lit silhouettes of the performers to intensely bright spotlighting, rising and falling with the dynamics of the music. A feast for the eyes and ears. The several impromptu standing ovations the band received were glorious proof this is a production at the peak of its powers. Two and a half hours of peerless renditions of some of the best Rock music ever made, by four musicians who have clearly put in their time in rehearsal and on the road to present the greatest Pink Floyd show in the world this side of the real thing. To quote Bono, I would go so far as to say it’s Even Better.

A lone spotlight comes up out of the darkness above resident keyboard wizard Neil Alexander as he begins the phantom introduction of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." He stands at a magician’s station, surrounded by keyboards, a modern Rick Wakeman, your Captain Fantastic on a trip through your own memory of what this amazing music sounded like the first time you heard it. It is at once exactly like Rick Wright’s mournful opening piece, but also entirely new, living and breathing in the now, modern and momentous, colored with the musician’s own personal touch. The man is a master, as he will prove over and over through the course of two majestic sets, playing both subtle piano and organ accompaniment and raging, surreal leads on his analog synth and stand-up keyboard/guitar wonder-thing. Indeed, the highpoint of the entire evening might be Neil’s wailing synth-guitar solo at the end of an inspired reading of "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" from the masterwork that is Animals. But that’s for later in the discussion. As Neil finishes Part One of "Shine," another light comes up to reveal The Man in The Middle, the leader and shining light of the band, guitarist/vocalist Joe Pascarell. There are few performers as charismatic, few musicians as invested in the moment, few frontmen as watchable. You can’t not look at this guy. And you cannot escape his guitar, an instrument carrying a veritable arsenal of sounds, colors, and emotions. Over the course of the evening, there must be thirty distinctly different sounds he plucks from those strings. The notes begin slowly, sadly, bending slightly, a hush falling over the crowd, a communal experience because of an electric guitar played by a Jedi master. People know great music. It’s an immediate shared sensation when it happens, and this night was no exception. Everyone knew what was happening and what was going to happen. Magic. Joe brought forth Part Two of "Shine" effortlessly, at one with his Stratocaster, letting the notes breathe and soothe in the wake of the song’s inherent sense of tragedy. The light slowly shifted in shade above him, then faded with the end of the section. Darkness again. And out of the darkness, from the shadow of the acid-drenched black hole in poor Syd Barrett’s brain, those four haunting notes hanging there: Dah – dah – dah - dahhhhh…. Repeated. Dah-dah-dah-dahhhh….The notes ringing in the dark, the crowd rising with anticipation. Dah-dah-dah-dahhhh….The band falling in with its guitarist, the massive rhythm section of Todd Cohen on drums and Ryan Ball on bass rumbling beneath into the inevitable swing of Roger Waters’ lamenting paean to his long lost friend… Drama. Magic. Tension. Release. "Remember when you were young…You shone like the sun." Neil laughing like the Madcap he is. And then that fantastic refrain, sung in all its glory by the three vocalists: "Shine on you crazy diamond!" Chilling. When a tribute show is not good, it’s an awful, embarrassing thing, and there are plenty, indeed too many, of that kind. You sit there and wonder how on earth should this be happening. But when a tribute band is great, like The Machine, it’s an awesome thing to behold.

From here, it was two-plus-hours of bliss. "Welcome To The Machine" exploded with double lead vocals from Joe and Ryan, swirling keyboard fireworks from Neil, and pounding solid rock from Todd, anchoring the beat, holding it all together, keeping time like the giants of old. The lights dipped to almost nothing and then rose to reveal the band, playing as one, creating sonic holographic wonder for thousands to experience in person right in front of their amazed faces. Once that triumph was completed and the lights sank back into darkness, it was on to "Breathe" and "Time" from Dark Side Of The Moon, complete with full sound effects, an inspired roto-tom workout from Todd, and excellent trade-off lead vocals (a la Dave Gilmour and Rick Wright) from Joe and Ryan; a modern-day re-working of Syd Barrett’s "See Emily Play" for the faithful; and an emotionally jarring version of "Mother" from The Wall. It was with this selection there was no doubt left about The Machine and what a truly great lead singer they have in Joe Pascarell, pouring his entire heart into lyrics like "Mother, do you think she’s good enough for me?" "Is it just a waste of time?" and "Mother, did it need to be so high?" For a moment, it was if Roger Waters himself was singing, but then I remembered it was Joe, and I thought, he sounds just like Roger! But the thing is he doesn’t really, only he sings it so well, so truthfully, it comes across as such. I have heard "Mother" hundreds of times, and more than a dozen times by The Machine and I sat in that theatre shocked by the power of those words, as if I was hearing them for the first time. This blessed phenomena happened repeatedly through the course of the show, where I sat in awe at what I was hearing: the simultaneous authenticity and spontaneity of the performances, the excellence of the execution, the four talents shining onstage, both individually and in ensemble, and the naked emotional power of their lead singer, putting forth these indelible words and melodies with his whole being, hands either rapt in ecstatic feeling in front of him or wrapped around his guitar, wrenching the best of Dave Gilmour back into the world for thousands to enjoy up close and personal. You cannot see or hear it this intimately in a stadium no matter how high-tech the lightshow and video screens are. By the time the first set concluded with a monumental reading of "Brain Damage/Eclipse," it was clear we'd already gotten our money's worth.

The hyper-dramatic soliloquies of "When The Tigers Broke Free," "The Final Cut" and "The Fletcher Memorial Home" from The Final Cut found Joe at his most vulnerable place, and he delivered each time, both with heart-wrenching vocals and soul-scraping lead guitar work. Neil accompanying him with fantastic piano and orchestral arrangements, Todd bolstering the emotion with mallets and tom-tom work Nick Mason would be proud of, Ryan anchoring the theatricality of the pieces with dignity and aplomb. Outrageous stuff. Even the sub-par "Coming Back To Life" from The Division Bell received a stellar treatment which left that song a little higher on the ladder than it actually deserves to be. For those who came looking for a little more than the biggest hits and the exceptional homemade "Brick" medley of Side One and Two of The Wall, there was Joe’s tender, gorgeous take on the little known pearl "If" from Atom Heart Mother and the lovely, loopy "Free Four" from Obscured By Clouds. If that was not enough, there was the aforementioned "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" from Animals with not one, but two amazing lead guitarists, although only one of them was actually playing a guitar. Joe took the "Pig" lead with his voice tube literally down his throat (that thing Peter Frampton and Joe Perry made so popular in the ‘70’s) and wrenched his guitar into the voice of an actual pig, and then it was Neil’s turn. He played the outro with a keyboard slung around his shoulder like a guitar, and blew the place wide open with a frenetic series of notes, wails and screams. His fingers literally flew up and down the keys. I'm not even one for flashy, instrumental gymnastics, but I was awed all the same. And it went on from there. A breathtaking version of "Hey You" from The Wall with Joe's most aching solo of the night, a manic "One Of These Days" from Meddle featuring ferocious bass guitar from Ryan, a humble and loving "Wish You Were Here" and the mother of all Floyd tunes to close, replete with full orchestral arrangement, 12-string guitar and heavenly guitar solos from Joe, The Wall’s "Comfortably Numb." When it was over, the crowd stood and cheered, and well they should have. A local union time curfew prevented an encore. It was the only thing missing. (Well, maybe "Sheep" or "Dogs," or "Nobody Home," but you can’t have everything.) You don’t need it though, with this band, they’re that good. It was quite a night. And my ears weren’t even ringing when it was over.


All you touch and all you see is all your life will ever be.