Continued from Part 1
Taking it apart in order to put it all together
Concurrent with all the logistics and planning for the show’s “big picture”, I spent time last summer trying to figure out exactly what keyboards I would need to be able to play the show and how they would be set up.
(Beware: self-indulgent technical details here)
The first electronic keyboard that I owned (and the last I let go of) was a Korg Poly-Ensemble manufactured in 1976 that my parents had given me, one of the first preset analog polyphonic synthesizers. Back in the day my rig usually consisted of a piano, electric piano, organ, and synthesizers – whatever I had at the time or could get hold of for the gig. This kind of keyboard setup was in fact pretty standard for a rock keyboardist and similar in concept to what Richard Wright used on The Dark Side of the Moon, although not nearly as elaborate.
But, details. Getting the right sounds takes finesse, patience, and an understanding of the gear involved – the analog instruments all had individual nuances of timbre (further exploited through the use of effects) which gave the great 70s rock keyboard artists like Richard Wright, Rick Wakeman (Yes), Tony Banks (Genesis), Keith Emerson (ELP) characteristics of their own voices beyond the notes they chose to play. And electronic keyboards have progressed (metaphorically) light-years beyond the analog instruments I was familiar with decades ago.
So I spent a couple of months doing research. I had a lot of conversations with Michael, and with some professionals in town, and I did some experimenting and a lot of reading and listening, and slowly my rig came together. Using the same instruments Wright used was never an option – even if I could have found those instruments, I would never have been able to afford them, or had the space to accommodate them all (or the energy to schlep them back and forth to rehearsals). Using some gear that was borrowed, some I already had, and purchasing a few other things I was able to put together two “banks” of two keyboards each that could emulate all the instruments I needed for the performance. The “left bank” included a lower keyboard I used for all the pianos and electric pianos and an upper keyboard for the organs, while the right bank included a software synth (run by the laptop I am typing this article on) controlled by a small but robust keyboard and sequencer, and a hardware synth controlled by a larger keyboard and run through a crybaby and an analog delay. The right bank also included a desk for the laptop, delay, small keyboard, and a small mixer through which I ran all the keyboards that allowed me control the relative volumes for each instrument and to pan effects back and forth across the mains during the performance.
All of us had similar situations when it came to our gear for the show. Alex went through his own challenges when designing his guitar and effects setup to be able to emulate the many sounds and effects David Gilmour used on DSOTM, and even Andrew wound up expanding his kit with the addition of a digital drum pad to emulate the rototoms that Nick Mason used for the famous solo on Time.
The many special effects (primarily for Speak To Me and On The Run) and the short recordings of spoken words that are scattered throughout almost every track on DSOTM set Michael and I a special challenge. I catalogued every effect and track used on both the studio album and the ’74 concert (Pink Floyd did not include every single effect and quote from the album in their live performance, but introduced a few that were new, and changed others), Michael and I made a decision about what to use in every case (we used almost everything), and then made a plan about how to replicate each one.
This was time-consuming and took up several evenings and afternoons, and a few pints. In the end The Forest’s performance included many of the original effects or spoken word tracks from the studio album (quite a few can be found on the internet, isolated from the rest of the mix); some we recorded a member of the band or a friend speaking, created with synthesizers ourselves, or otherwise found; the few remaining were performed live by someone in the band. Michael loaded all of the prerecorded effects into a dedicated controller and was responsible for triggering them during the performance. Speak To Me and On The Run – both sound collages – were performed primarily as duets between Michael (triggering effects and recordings) and me (on synthesizers) and took more time to prepare for the shows than anything else.
Although about half of DSOTM is purely instrumental music, singers are featured on most of the album’s tracks, and a few of the songs – notably Us And Them, Brain Damage, and Eclipse – include robust harmonies. Michael and I had our first rehearsal with Eric – our lead singer – on July 26. That was an important rehearsal – the three of us worked out a clear plan for every vocal part for the entire album: who would sing what part for every song. It was also the first rehearsal to expand preparations from conversations between Michael and me about what we could do, and moved them into the sphere of what we were going to do.
Kate, Alex, and Danesa joined the three of us for the next two all-vocals rehearsals in August and September. All six of us sang in the show, in different assignments for each song, for instance: Eric sang lead on all the songs that feature a male vocalists with two exceptions. On Time, which has contrasting moods for verse and bridge, Gilmour sang the verses and Wright sang the bridges on the album. In The Forest’s performance, Eric sang the verses and Alex sang the bridges. The other exception was that I sang lead on Brain Damage, and Eric sang harmony.
These all-vocals rehearsals – which were conducted without microphones, Michael, Alex, and I playing our instruments quietly – were fun and productive, and ensured that by the time we put all of the singers together with the band, we would not need to work on a lot of details regarding vocal parts in those rehearsals. It was especially exciting for us to begin working with Kate and Danesa, who had never met before the August all-vocals rehearsal. They developed a strong rapport from the beginning and it was immediately apparent to all of us that their participation was a huge asset to the band. Both of them knew the album well and their voices and singing styles were very well suited to the project.
Eric, as I was to learn over the next months, was a constant, positive presence in rehearsals and the week of the show. He loves music and has a lot of rock’n’roll experience! Eric brought tremendous enthusiasm to his role as lead singer, and really inhabited that role during the shows with a strong stage presence.
All six of us sang together on the climactic moments of Us And Them, Brain Damage, and Eclipse in four-, five-, and even six-part harmonies. Working all of these out in those early rehearsals was really fulfilling and laid a solid foundation for the full-band rehearsals later in the fall.
Meanwhile, band rehearsals had already begun in the rock’n’roll basement at Andrew’s house. After an initial instrumental quartet rehearsal on July 8 at which we began to work on Breathe, Time, The Great Gig in the Sky, and Money, Eric joined us for these rehearsals beginning on August 10. The five of of worked steadily in rehearsals nearly every week through August, and were joined by Kate and Danesa in September. We crafted an encore featuring a sax solo over changes from Money, Fearless (from Meddle, Pink Floyd’s album previous to DSOTM) sung by Kate and Danesa, a reprise of the first verse of Breathe, and bows for each member of the production. In late September we began running the entire show from beginning to end without stopping.
Through all of these rehearsals, new friendships were forged and old ones were renewed through alignment of effort, refinement of technique, persistence, humor, a fair amount of repetition, some no-holds-barred jamming, and a few pints. Alex recreated David Gilmour’s iconic guitar solos with astounding authenticity, Andrew’s drumming drove us through the entire expressive range of the album, Michael’s in-the-pocket bass playing kept everyone together. The singers brought everything they had to the expression of The Dark Side of the Moon‘s timeless archetypal themes. We became a band.
In addition to providing us with a space to rehearse each week, we were all helped greatly by Andrew’s practice of recording each rehearsal. Andrew is sensitive to the dynamic level of the band and responsive in his playing, adjusting to the band and the room with considerable skill. He achieves this by placing a pair of stereo microphones at “front of house” and listening to the band as a whole while we play. He also recorded our rehearsals with these microphones, and sent everyone the recordings, from which I was able to write notes after rehearsals, and email them back out to the band so we could be “on the same page” about what we needed to practice for the next rehearsal. This saved us a lot of time and made our rehearsals more productive – and fun.
As a musician, a show like this is refreshing. There are no egos to bruise, no hopes to let down. You’re not the difference between someone getting their big break or spreading their message, the only goal is to enjoy the music and entertain folks who’ve come only to hear a favorite work and escape for a night. Expectations were set before arrival and, so long as we did a decent job, there were no let-downs to be delivered. I feel we accomplished taking people away from their individual realities and provided a new-old experience; familiar sounds with new imagery. So many groups who do tribute shows try to become the band; we simply played the music and had a great time doing it. I really appreciated the opportunity and hope to get to do another The Forest Presents soon.
~ Andrew Guinn
Finally October arrived, and everything had come together. Ryan joined us for our first rehearsal featuring all eight band members on October 5, and we practiced the pieces that feature saxophone before running the entire show. Ryan is such a remarkable musician that we wanted to feature him more than Pink Floyd featured Dick Parry (their sax player) – in addition to the expected solos on Money and Us And Them, Ryan traded phrases with Alex during the long jam in the middle of Money, and joined the band on the longest jam of the show: Any Colour You Like. Although these instrumentals are not very long on the studio recording of DSOTM, in concert Pink Floyd extended them considerably, and we followed their example in using these pieces as opportunities to let the band stretch out.
After the October 5 rehearsal, we took a couple of weeks off to rest up for the last big push the week of the shows. We held a run-through rehearsal on October 21 and it went so well that we cancelled the rehearsal we had scheduled for October 26. We were ready!
Michael set up a website for The Forest in July where short bios of the band members are posted and it was linked to Eventbrite for ticket purchases. Eric set up a Facebook Page for the band and as we began rehearsals we started to post content regularly in an attempt to drum up and audience for the shows. Eric was very dedicated to taking photos – unfortunately this resulted in fewer photos of him than anyone else!
In an effort to produce content in addition to photos, I made three brief video collages of members of the band reciting the spoken word quotes from the album:
All of these were posted on our Facebook Page and generated thousands of views. Encouraged by this success, I made (what I thought was) one last, slightly longer video in which all ten members of the production participated. I wrote a script that sort of “boiled down” the essay I wrote in July to three minutes:
When Andrew sent us the recording of our October 5 rehearsal – the first one with all eight of us – I was so impressed with our take of Any Colour You Like that I made a slideshow of photos across all of The Forest’s rehearsals and preparations for the show using that performance as the soundtrack and posted it as final publicity for the shows, which were upon us.
The Forest at The Barbershop Theater
We loaded all of our gear into the theater on Sunday afternoon, October 28. Madeleine Seage, a former student and friend of both mine and Graham’s was painting the marquee on the outside front wall of the building. Brian and Kari came and set up a huge screen and tested all of their equipment. Michael, Andrew, Alex, and Eric all came and together with Graham and Nettie, we figured out how to lay out the stage and got all of our sound equipment and instruments set up. Graham and Kari focused all of the lights in place for the following night’s work.
We held tech rehearsal on Monday. Mario Galati, a sound engineer and musician who had just moved to town joined us (he was there every night for the rest of the week). Graham, Kari, and I went through all of the lighting cues and Graham loaded them into his software program – Graham managed a multitude of things during our week at The Barbershop, including all of the lighting cues for the lights focus on the band. We got through the show but ran out of steam before we set the lights for the encores.
So when we returned to the theater Tuesday night for the dress rehearsal, we set all of the lighting cues for the encore before we ran the entire show. Things went more smoothly on Tuesday night! we played through everything and left the theater excited and ready for the performances to begin.
We played three shows of The Dark Side of the Moon: Halloween, which fell on Wednesday last year, and then Friday & Saturday nights. We had a great turnout each night although the Halloween show was the most crowded – so many people came it was difficult to fit everyone in the theater. There were a lot of people in costume that night. I distinctly remember that one guy who stood in the front row was wearing a hot dog suit. Every time I would look up from the electric piano or the organ I would see him there, a dancing hot dog right in front, and several of my friends standing behind him singing along or laughing their heads off. So many friends, former students, colleagues from the symphony and from past chapters of my Nashville life came each night – it was heartwarming to share one of those evenings with them and I know that for so many others in our band, the audience was full of friends and family as well.
I didn’t get to see a lot of Brian’s and Kari’s visual show (I was too engrossed in what I had to play) but what I saw was immersive and utterly unique. Brian had conceived a narrative over the course of a single human life that ran through the entire presentation, and interspersed many hand-drawn images that told this story with photographs and video that drew on both collective contemporary experience and his artistic imagination. Kari’s light show overlapped and colored and morphed, complemented, contrasted, tied together Brian’s images with constant motion, at times creating an illusion of hallucination. It was psychedelic.
And The Forest played amazingly well – everyone said so, and when I finally heard a soundboard recording from one of the shows a few weeks later, that confirmed it.
We really did.
Putting this show together has been one of the best musical experiences of my life and I’m grateful to everyone who participated. The Dark Side of the Moon has been a big part of my musical life and to be able to do this show with friends has made it all the more meaningful. Through this project we were able to bring a new band into existence and I’m excited about what the future holds; and it all started with The Dark Side of the Moon.
~ Michael McLemore
The Forest presents Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon
On The Dark Side of the Moon