Happy Birthday Animals: The Best Pink Floyd Performances

We dig into our massive archive of live recordings to find the band on their incredible 1977 tour.

Music Features Pink Floyd
Happy Birthday Animals: The Best Pink Floyd Performances

Forty years ago this month, Pink Floyd was wrapping up their In The Flesh tour to promote their album of that year, Animals. It would go on to be regarded as one of the band’s greatest records, but what made the 1977 tour unique in rock history was that it was more connected to the albums that preceded and followed Animals than to the album itself.

Each show—and perhaps most spectacularly, the one we’re highlighting here in the Paste Vault from May 9, 1977, at the Oakland Coliseum—featured complete performances of 1975’s Wish You Were Here, which the group often introduced as their favorite album. But during Pink Floyd’s final stop on July 6 in Montreal, frontman Roger Waters literally spit at the group’s fans, setting him on the path for his most ambitious work, the regretfully misogynistic (according to Waters) The Wall in 1982.

Animals is an overtly dark and depressing album, and many of the group’s fans, who just wanted a soundtrack for altering their minds, didn’t appreciate the buzzkill. According to ChartMasters, it has sold 5.4 million copies in America and 12.1 million worldwide. That sounds amazing until you see that Wish You Were Here has sold 8.3 million and 22.3 million, respectively. But Animals has a resonance today for Americans that it lacked then, as Waters was chronicling the political conditions in Britain. The album skewers politicians as clowns whom we mock at our peril, with lyrics like “You’re nearly a laugh / You’re nearly a laugh / But you’re really a cry,” on “Pigs (Three Different Ones”), resonating in 2017. For one day this summer, inflatable versions of the iconic floating pig on the album cover will obscure the logo of Trump Tower Chicago, with Waters’s permission.

Many Pink Floyd fans in the 1970s were disinterested in the new, darker material and wanted to hear the hits. The band obliged.

But Floyd fans in the 1970s were generally disinterested in the material and wanted to hear the group’s hits. This infuriated Waters, who once said, “By 1977 we were playing in football stadiums. The magic was crushed beneath the weight of numbers. We were becoming addicted to the trappings of popularity. I found myself increasingly alienated in that atmosphere of avarice and ego until one night in the Olympic Stadium, Montreal, the boil of my frustrations burst. Some crazed teenage fan was clawing his way up the storm netting that separated us from the human cattle pen in front of the stage screaming his devotion to the demigods beyond his reach. Incensed by his misunderstanding and my own connivance, I spat my frustration in his face. Later that night, back at the hotel, shocked by my behavior, I was faced with a choice. To deny my addiction and embrace that comfortably numb but magic-less existence or accept the burden of insight, take the road less traveled and embark on the often painful journey to discover who I was and where I fit. The Wall was the picture I drew for myself to help me make that choice.”

Accounts at the time said Waters was actually yelling at a rowdy crowd that would not sit still during “Pigs.” Fittingly, the version captured here in the Paste Vault is just a partial recording.

Critics at the time preferred the second-half of the show, feeling that Wish You Were Here worked better with the band’s incredible staging, pyrotechnics and visual imagery via video synchronized with the performance on giant screens.

Here’s the entire album as captured on that night in Oakland, starting with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Pts 1-5)”. Guitarist David Gilmour is one of few guitarists in the history of rock who has an instantly recognizable sound. One could argue that it’s his playing on this song, specifically, that defined it. The space between his notes is his signature, along with the clean, crisp sound.

“Welcome to the Machine”, with its throbbing electronics and washes of static noise, seems like it would be almost impossible to recreate live, and this version is dramatically different than the one on the album. Gilmour and Waters really belt out the vocal, decrying their roles as cogs pushing out a corporate product.

“Have a Cigar” is a revelation, with its riff sounding much more guttural than on the album, and that works to complement the song’s contempt for record executives. Waters and Gilmour sharing a laugh during the vocal is charming in light of their subsequent acrimony, which came to a head a few years later on what would become their final tour, for The Wall.

“Wish You Were Here” (the song) captures the studio recording’s sensation of moving from listening in on what seems to be a transistor radio to hearing the robust sound. Wright and the other keyboard accompaniment really carry the back third of the track.

This unforgettable show closes with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Pts 6-9).”. Waters and Gilmour sing spectacularly here, again producing a remarkable symmetry given how stylistically different they are as singers. Gilmour is in full guitar-hero mode on the back-half of the track. And it’s almost like Floyd is spitting in the face of the burgeoning punk movement by shamelessly clocking this track in at over 21 minutes—or nearly twice as long as the LP version. (The song also came in No. 1 on Paste’s ranking of Pink Floyd’s 20 Greatest Songs.)

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