The lights in the auditorium dimmed as smoke began wafting forward from the sides of the backlit stage. The overlarge (but apparently harmless) bearded basement-dweller to my left began to stir in anticipation of the common spectacle: Echoes of Pink Floyd was about to perform.
I sat, shrouded in smog, in Jackson’s Michigan Theatre. Echoes of Pink Floyd, a cover band native to Michigan, was here for an annual performance: for five years now, they had paid tribute to their muse. The event, billed as “HITS CLASSICS AND RARITIES WITH LASERSHOW,” summoned forth the antiquated characters of Pink Floyd’s heyday, as well as the younger, consciously backward-looking generation of Pink Floyd’s devoted and eccentric fan base.
The seating attendants, hulking and middle-aged, held canned beers and dimly surveyed the gathering crowd. The scents of buttered popcorn and stale hops became one with the smoke, rising heavenward in a benign sacrifice to the high gods of psychedelia. The interior of the theater — optimistically characterized by the proprietors as Spanish by inspiration — was in the process of renovation, belied by large patches of exposed plaster.
The setlist, taken primarily from “Dark Side of the Moon” (1973) and “The Wall” (1979), was executed with loving devotion. The lead guitarist was both incredibly talented and remarkably small: A button-down tucked into khakis, a beard, and wailing guitar solos constituted his stage presence. Tall and dark-haired, the band’s frontman had an odd habit of thrusting his chin up and forward, as if to assure his audience of earnest lyrical enthusiasm. The saxophonist, with the heroic self-possession known only to musicians of his species, wore plastic sunglasses for the duration of the performance.
A fine specimen of the Pink Floyd tribe, tattoos clashing beautifully with an old cotton shirt, was seated directly to my fore. His forearms were all sharp angles and dark ink; spread across his broad back and upper arms, however, were cartoon figures in primary colors, long faded in the wash. He had been enthusiastically gesturing throughout the entire set, encouraging the hefty backup singers when he felt it necessary and ceasing only to observe the lasers with an occasional awestruck pause and a reverent “Oh, shit.”
In his joy he was not alone. With the opening of “Mother,” I heard a small gasp and faint sniffling. One of my companions, junior Catherine Coffey, was wiping her eyes. “It’s just such a tender song,” she sniffed. Shortly thereafter, “Comfortably Numb” began playing. Sitting next to me, sophomore Amelia Stieren leaned over confidentially. “This song is about drugs.” A giggle.
As the three-hour set wore on, I began to notice how people responded to Pink Floyd’s music. The performance was not merely a spectacle, but an experience — one that brought with it a wealth of past experience and personal meaning. An older man, quiet and still through the greater part of the tracklist, smiled and nodded at the beginning of “Wish You Were Here.” From behind us, the band’s prompting loosened cries of “HOW CAN YOU HAVE ANY PUDDING IF YOU DON’T EAT YER MEAT?”
Great bands possess something more than talent, more than style. Though Echoes of Pink Floyd is an admirably competent cover band, the virtue of their performance lay simply in the fact that they loved Pink Floyd every bit as much as their audience.
Wish you were there.