As we sat waiting for Pink Floyd to take the stage, smoke began to fill the Garden. In the 1970s, smoking was still allowed in public arenas. However, half the smoke that filled the area did not just derive from the tobacco plant. A combination of tobacco and marijuana smoke filtered through the remnants of gun powder adversely affected the eyes, ears and throats of about eighteen thousand rock and roll fans; some innocent, some not. As it was the eve of the Fourth of July, many fans had taken it upon themselves to test their Fourth of July fireworks in the great arena of Madison Square Garden. It was not uncommon for fireworks to be set off during rock concerts in the 1970s. However, the proximity to the Fourth of July set the tone for an unusual amount of detonation on that third of July evening. It would be an issue that would be addressed by a public announcement and then eventually by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters halfway through the show.
When writing about a concert seen forty years in the past, it can be difficult to remember every detail of the show. However, certain aspects of a Pink Floyd concert were presented on such a grand scale, that they are forever burned into one’s memory. The majority of rock concerts in the nineteen seventies had opening acts, but Pink Floyd performed alone. The stage was barren except for the presence of a large circular screen set behind the drums at the rear center of the stage. Pink Floyd did not start the concert on time. It was pretty common for bands of rock god status to open concerts usually thirty to sixty minutes late. Only a few weeks earlier, Led Zeppelin had started their concert ninety minutes late at the Garden. But, when bands like Floyd or Zeppelin finally hit the stage, all is forgiven quite quickly.
Pink Floyd opened the concert with the song “Sheep,” which was the first track on their Animals album. The band extended the opening of the song with a slow keyboard-based improvisational jam that eventually gave way to the introduction of the band in full force. Many bands would hit the stage full throttle from the opening note, but Pink Floyd slowly eased in, echoing their recorded works. Pink Floyd went on to perform the entire Animals album which had just been released. Only bands with the iconic status of a Pink Floyd could get away with playing an entire new album to start a concert.
Many bands in the nineteen seventies would utilize laser light shows as part of their performance. Pink Floyd employed a somewhat different technique in entertaining their audience. While Pink Floyd performed the song “Dogs” a huge black curtain opened from behind the stage. From out behind the curtain, floated gigantic parade-style balloons of farm animals, specifically, dogs, sheep, and of course, pigs. Sitting in Madison Square Garden while looking up at floating farm animals while Pink Floyd jammed violently on the stage was a somewhat surreal experience that was also quite entertaining.
As Pink Floyd performed the music of Animals, the dynamics of the music dictated the lighting on the stage. On the slower passages, the lights would dim low, while during the faster and louder passages the lighting filled the arena as if the house lights had been turned on. It was during one of the softer passages that an incident occurred that I had never seen before at a rock concert. While Pink Floyd was performing the Animals album, the band had come to a passage in which the lights dimmed all the way down and there was a few seconds of silence as the band was transitioning between pieces. I believe the incident started at the beginning of “Pigs on the Wing.” It was completely dark and silent in the arena as Pink Floyd’s performance had captivated the audience into an almost spellbinding state.
There was the sound of wind slowly starting to resonate from Pink Floyd’s concert speakers. Then in those short moments of darkness and silence, one foolish concertgoer ignited an M80 or a blockbuster right in front of the stage. (A blockbuster was a firework equivalent to a half a stick of dynamite, while an M80 was equivalent to a quarter stick of dynamite.) As if almost choreographed as part of the show, a small spotlight lit up a silhouette of Roger Waters standing at the edge of the stage.
It at first seemed as if he was about to begin the next part of the piece. However, the silence continued as Roger Waters stared angrily into the crowd. Roger Waters raised his arm and pointed to a fan in the audience. In the angriest voice I had ever heard a rock performer speak with to a crowd, Roger Waters raged at the fan saying “You stupid Mother F##ker, why doesn’t anyone else in here with fireworks just F##k off and let the rest of us get on with it.” The crowd at first was silent because it was such a dramatic moment and it still almost felt as if had been part of the show. But the intensity of the firework explosion and the deep anger in Waters voice made it evident that it had been a very foolish act by the fan that could have had dire consequences.
After Rogers had cursed out the fan, the stunned crowd erupted with applause. The stage went silent for quite some time after what Roger Waters had said. Many of us had thought the show might not continue. There was a definite tension and concern in the crowd that one idiot might have just ruined the concert for eighteen thousand fans. But after about a ten-minute pause, in which you could only assume members of Pink Floyd were trying to calm Rogers Waters down, the band began to play “Pigs on the Wing.” If you had attended that concert, it was a moment you would have never forgotten. Every time I see pictures of Roger Waters, it brings me back to that moment in time seeing the anger on his face and the sheer rage in his voice.
The explosion of the blockbuster was louder than the band had been the entire concert. Bootleg recordings of that concert define the experience of being in that building when the gunpowder had been lit. The limited frequency response of recording tape could never capture the dynamic range of such an explosion of gun powder that was ignited that night. New York City’s Madison Square Garden was one of the loudest venues in the world due to the natural reverberation present in the hall.
If you have ever heard how loud the igniting of an M80 or Blockbuster firework can be, multiply that by ten and imagine it going off in the darkness. In the present day, it is unimaginable the panic that would ensue in an arena if that had happened in today’s world filled with a history of terrorist acts we have all witnessed since the turn of the century. Furthermore, in the present day, you cannot even bring a bottle of Pepsi into a concert arena. Back in the sixties and seventies, fans were sneaking in all sorts of fireworks, illegal drugs, weapons, and alcohol. There were no checkpoints or pat-downs. Most of the ushers and ticket takers were old men usually not too interested in mingling with the average teenage long-haired nineteen seventies rock and roll fan. They were old school ushers raised during the World War II and Korean War eras of the nineteen forties and fifties. They were used to ushering sporting events that had a completely different clientele. You could see their distaste for the long-haired hippie-type rock fan of bands like Pink Floyd. And hey, you really couldn’t blame them; many of the fans were out of their minds before they even entered the arena. The arenas had very little security, so many of the ushers had a hard time on the nights the Garden hosted concerts The times have changed dramatically since the concerts of the classic rock era as today’s concerts are lined with State Troopers and in most arenas, a massive security presence.
Putting aside the drama of the fireworks incident and the culture of the nineteen seventies’ concert-going experience, the remaining setlist of music that Pink Floyd had performed on the night of July 3rd 1977 had consisted of the entire performance of the Animals and Wish you Were Here albums. The two encores “Money,” and “Us and Them,” were from the Dark Side of the Moon album. Nothing from the bands earlier albums such as Meddle, Atom Heart Mother, A Saucerful of Secrets, More, Ummagumma, or Piper at the Gates of Dawn had been performed. Honestly, as a sixteen year old in 1977, the only Pink Floyd music I had known was from the three albums of Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and Animals. The earlier Pink Floyd music was not as popular at that particular point in time as those nineteen seventies albums. The band’s set-list pretty much confirmed the band’s understanding of the popularity of their nineteen seventies material in their catalog.
The performances of the pieces from the Pink Floyd albums, Wish You Were Here and Animals did not deviate too much from the original album arrangements. The intros were extended which created more anticipation of full band performances. Many of the song solo sections were also extended to feature David Gilmour’s original atmospheric guitar solos. Probably the best solo of the night was Gilmour’s extended solo during Pink Floyd’s performance of “Dogs” from the Animals album. After a brief keyboard solo, David Gilmour just tore it up with long sustained lines that ripped right through the crazed crowd. The performance of “Dogs” was one of the highlights of the evening. The album was still fresh and the band seemed to really enjoy performing the music of the entire record. The performance of the Wish You Were Here album was also outstanding, but the Animals entire album performance was one for the ages.
After the performance of the entire Wish You Were Here album, Pink Floyd left the stage only to return about ten minutes later to perform the classic Dark Side of the Moon track, “Money”, as their first encore.” In 2015, when bands tour, fans flock to the internet for videos and set lists of their favorite band’s current concerts. So in essence, when a fan goes to see a show they know pretty much what to expect since they have already reviewed the band’s recent shows. However, in the nineteen seventies we never knew what was coming at a concert, unless you were at the previous night’s show. When Pink Floyd left the stage after performing, “Money”, the house lights went up after about fifteen minutes. The entire Madison Square Garden crowd began to leave. We sat in our seats for about another fifteen minutes before beginning our exit. As we walked down the corridor to exit the arena, we heard slight applause coming from the Garden, I turned around and saw the house lights turned off. This was about thirty minutes after the band had left the stage after their performance of “Money.” We ran back down the hall to see Pink Floyd walking back on the stage. The band then performed the most amazing version of “Us and Them,” that I had ever heard.
Once the band left the stage after the thrilling performance of “Us and Them,” we were told to leave. Many fans were fighting with ushers to stay because of the possibility of another encore. After all, it had seemed like the concert was over before because of the long wait between “Money,” and “Us and Them.” So many of us thought another song was possible. Back then you did not leave concerts early to beat the traffic; you stayed to absorb every last second possible of seeing bands that you never saw anywhere else but on the live concert stage. Eventually, we left and brought our three-dollar slightly defective Pink Floyd tee shirts. They were being sold on the streets of New York City by very shady people carrying large black bags of shirts while looking ready to run at any given second. We brought our shirts and took the D train back to the Bronx.
We all understood quite well that we had just seen a great rock and roll concert. What we did not realize was that we were part of an era witnessing what would become known as “Classic Rock,” music. We thought that bands like Pink Floyd, Yes, and Led Zeppelin would continue to release albums like they did in the nineteen seventies for more years to come while eventually passing the torch to new bands on that same level. Well, simply put, we were wrong.
Seeing Pink Floyd on that warm New York City night during the Summer of 1977 was a rock and roll experience that will never be wiped from my memory. It was an extraordinary night in which the actions of an idiotic individual fan could have caused serious harm to another member of the audience or even members of Pink Floyd. For a moment, I’m sure the band thought about canceling the rest of the show; but they didn’t. The show went on, and Pink Floyd came back once again on the very next night, the Fourth of July.