It's been said that music is the closest thing we have to time travel. Case in point: the new live album and concert film from Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets. Released today, September 18, Live At The Roundhouse captures the former Pink Floyd drummer and his supergroup of talented friends - guitarists Lee Harris and Gary Kemp, keyboardist Dom Beken, and longtime Floyd associate Guy Pratt on bass - as they tackle some of Pink Floyd's earliest deep cuts in the famed London venue. The 22-song set is available today in an array of formats: Blu-ray, DVD, 2-LP, and 2-CD/DVD (the latter of which we had the pleasure to review).
It came as a surprise when, in 2018, Nick Mason announced a world tour with a new band, Saucerful of Secrets. Even though David Gilmour and Roger Waters, respectively, had built new careers revisiting Pink Floyd and solo successes in arenas and grand halls, it hadn't really occurred to anyone that Nick Mason might chart a similar course. But why not? He was Pink Floyd's most dependable member - the ever-steady heartbeat of the band, the only one to appear on every album and experience every era. The affable timekeeper had long stood in the shadows of his bandmates and their acrimony, and now it was his turn in the spotlight.
From the start, Mason made clear that his show would be markedly different from those of his former bandmates. While Gilmour's and Waters' concerts tended to spotlight the band's mid-'70s successes (and excesses) with songs from Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall, Mason would track his own unique course by focusing only on pre-Dark Side material. On the heels of the 2016 Early Years box set, the Syd Barrett-led era was fresh in the minds of Floydians and had no doubt found a new audience. So every ingredient was just about perfect here: great material, a fantastic band, and, as is Nick Mason's specialty, impeccable timing.
But one more ingredient that makes this particular performance so special is the venue itself. London's Roundhouse holds an important place in Pink Floyd's history, as it was something of a second home to the band from 1966 to 1972. It's near-magical to hear Nick Mason tackle that early material in the venerated space - a case of déjà vu for all involved. Of course, the music is also a trip down memory lane, but not too overtly so. Whether it be the early singles of 1967 and 1968, or the heavier fare from the early '70s, the Saucerful of Secrets band makes the songs their own while simultaneously honoring the arrangements that fans have come to love. If that weren't enough, many of these songs hadn't been performed onstage in decades (if at all) and were finally given a chance at a new life.
The show begins with "Interstellar Overdrive." It's a fitting opener as it served as a centerpiece of Pink Floyd's earliest performances. Fifty years on, we witness a new band on fire with dynamic dual-guitar interplay, dizzying keys, and of course Nick - his talents undiminished despite so long away from the stage - remaining the steady heartbeat. The utter joy on audience faces as they segue into a lengthy jam section is palpable in the film. After a year on stage together, the Saucerfuls proved a well-honed unit, explorative yet deliberate and always capable of keeping the view on the seat's edge.
"Astronomy Domine" follows. The Syd Barrett-era favorite is the first vocal of the night, and while no one could perfectly replicate the voice of Syd Barrett (or David Gilmour or Roger Waters, for that matter) The Saucerfuls do a respectable and convincing job. Here, we see the band gel with one another again as they easily navigate shifting tempos with interlocked guitar solos and intricate drum accents. The Barrett celebration continues with "Lucifer Sam," followed by the first "radio hit" of the night, "Fearless." This is our first taste of the (slightly) later-period Floyd. Gone are the twee accents, the technicolor psychedelia, and the Farfisa. In their place, a more progressive sound took root.
The Saucerful of Secrets turn out a note-perfect performance complete with Rodgers and Hammerstein's anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone" as sung by a crowd of Liverpool Football Club fans. The chant fades and distorts, making way for an other-worldly synthesizer lead into "Obscured By Clouds." The title track to the 1972 album is often overlooked, lost between the game-changing Meddle and the career-redefining Dark Side of the Moon. Yet the song isn't lost on the audience who clap along, entranced by its spacey and funky groove. After this foray into the early '70s, it's back to the psychedelic era with Guy Pratt taking on Richard Wright's "Remember A Day." Next, two of the most recognizable tunes of the band's early days: the breakthrough single "Arnold Layne" and the positively wacky "Vegetable Man."
Next up is a thrilling medley of "If" and "Atom Heart Mother." These tracks saw Pink Floyd really stretching out for the first time, employing orchestral scores and meticulously organized extended forms to great effect. Here, the band strips down Atom Heart Mother's title track of its orchestral grandeur, seamlessly reshaping the arrangement for a five-piece band. It's followed by the rocker "The Nile Song" off the 1969 album More, a tender reading of "Green Is the Color," the 1968 album cut "Let There Be More Light," and a thrilling "Childhood's End." They close out the set with energized renditions of crowd pleasers "Set the Controls For the Heart of The Sun," "See Emily Play," "Bike," and, of course, "One of These Days" which features Mason's unmistakable treated vocals. They return for an encore of "Saucerful of Secrets" and a spirited "Point Me at the Sky," before leaving the stage to a well-deserved uproar of applause.
For many fans in the audience, this was likely the first time hearing many of these songs live in concert. According to statistics on setlist.fm, Pink Floyd performed "If" only three times in 1970 and '71; "Green Is The Color" hadn't been played in 48 years; "Childhood's End" was retired in 1973; and "The Nile Song" had never been performed by a member of Pink Floyd before. For this author, these performances were the most special of the night and those which best demonstrate the goal of the Saucerful of Secrets project. It's not just about honoring this overlooked period of Pink Floyd's music, but allowing it to exist again in a new context. Placed in the capable hands of Mason, Harris, Kemp, Pratt, and Beken, these songs are no longer history pieces, but living and breathing works experienced as something new. With Live At the Roundhouse, we get a chance to experience the thrill of seeing these supremely underrated songs performed onstage, presented beautifully in sound and vision.
As you'd probably expect from a Pink Floyd-related release, the audio is expertly mixed. Nick Davis' engineering highlights the band's instrumental prowess whether in stereo or 5.1 surround sound, and there's plenty of it to go around. Each member contributes joy, power, restraint, and passion. They're capable of playing so freely, giving each instrumentalist ample room to move, while remaining simultaneously locked in with one another. It's that electricity found in the best ensembles that makes this concert so thrilling. Visually, the direction and editing are stunning, truly bringing the viewer into the action with perspectives from every inch of the concert hall and every angle of the stage. Wide overhead shots, closeups of every player, scenes from every vantage point of the audience, and even some tasteful psychedelic effects make it an exciting film that you can really get sucked into.
Between some songs, the director has chosen to include interviews with the band. While this sometimes spells bad news for a concert film, here they actually help the pacing. Unlike some of the worst offenders, these interviews aren't just some loosely cobbled-together behind-the-scenes pieces where the band says, "Hey, look, we're on tour! Check out our fancy jet..." Here, each interview provides context on how the band was formed, their almost spiritual connection to the venue, and their love for playing this material together. Still, viewers have an option in the main menu to play just the songs for that uninterrupted concert experience. And for those who crave more glimpses behind the scenes, the disc includes further band interviews and intimate rehearsal footage as bonus features.
The 2 CDs and DVD are packaged in individual card sleeves within a groovy die-cut slipcase. Adding to the package is a beautifully designed 32-page book full of concert photos, notes, backstage snapshots, and interviews with the band as they reflect on Saucerful of Secrets and their grand concert at The Roundhouse. In this era of COVID lockdowns (which indeed affected this very release, originally slated in March), we could all use a dose of music time travel. Whether you want to relive this top-tier concert from Mason and Co.'s magical tour or live vicariously as the very far-out sounds of early Floyd take on new life, Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets: Live At The Roundhouse is the concert to get... There is no other way!
Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets, Live At The Roundhouse is available to order now wherever music is sold, including through the following Amazon links:
- Interstellar Overdrive
- Astronomy Domine
- film: The History
- Lucifer Sam
- Obscured By Clouds / When You're In
- film: The Band
- Remember a Day
- Arnold Layne
- Vegetable Man
- film: The Venue
- If / Atom Heart Mother
- The Nile Song
- Green Is the Colour
- Let There Be More Light
- film: The Performances
- Childhood's End
- Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
- See Emily Play
- One of These Days
- film: The Future
- A Saucerful of Secrets
- Point Me at the Sky
- Band Rehearsals
- Band Interview: Dom Beken
- Band Interview: Gary Kemp
- Band Interview: Guy Pratt
- Band Interview: Lee Harris
- Band Interview: Nick Mason