by Ed Lopez-Reyes for Brain Damage
For many years, fans have been clamouring for a DVD release of Delicate Sound of Thunder. It (finally) arrives on December 13th, in full re-master glory, and boasting improvements that honour its previously under-appreciated legacy. New York City got a sneak-peek of this new version last night (December 4th) at the historic Village East Cinema, as did Chicago and San Francisco, in a trio of one night only, private screenings.
It is a well-known fact that when David Gilmour re-launched Pink Floyd with 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason, its promotional tour kick-off was riddled with uncertainties, insecurity, and self-doubt – but ended in record-breaking success.
This entire story arc was captured at its bookends in two films: early performances in Atlanta, just a few weeks into the tour, were filmed and would eventually be bootlegged as the Calhoun Tapes; latter performances, recorded at Nassau Coliseum just a few months before the tour ended, landed an official release in the form of Delicate Sound of Thunder.
Delicate Sound of Thunder captures a band in top form, rejuvenated, confident, and financially viable. The contrast between the original edit and the new edit of this official release is largely rooted in a spectacular balance between detail and panorama.
If there was a simple way to describe Delicate Sound of Thunder 1988 compared to Delicate Sound of Thunder 2019, it might be this: the former is the audience’s perspective and the latter the band’s – but that would be an over-simplification.
Delicate Sound of Thunder 2019 preserves the cinematic drama of the original release (particularly when compared to its successor, Pulse – which can get into an entire film vs. video debate) but expands its perspective: the newly edited version gives viewers a visceral stage presence, taking advantage of any footage that snaked through the performers and their equipment in splendid detail but also capturing the band’s view of the audience in a more dominant form.
The 2019 version makes the audience at Nassau Coliseum the protagonist, its energy and enthusiasm a well of motivation and confidence for a band recovering from well-publicized internal battles. What you sense, while watching Delicate Sound of Thunder in this new form, is how potent that audience’s embrace became in shaping Pink Floyd’s Gilmour era.
This revised version of Delicate Sound of Thunder is a dream-come-true for those of us that are so keen on the Gilmour era, for those that always preferred the warm quality of film used for this production, and for those who felt this production’s legacy had been a tad undermined when the DVD release for Pulse skipped right over it. Modern technology has served this re-edited version well – it lifts a greater wealth of detail and range from the production’s depth and that has been worth the wait.
The new version of Delicate Sound of Thunder serves all its musicians well too. Nick Mason has enjoyed quite a resurgence in recent years, particularly since he has gone out on tour again after an extended break: this has given people a chance to really delve into the brilliance and elegance of his drumming style. The amplification of detail in this new version of Delicate Sound of Thunder is yet another opportunity to appreciate how vigorous and gigantic his drum sound really is. The close-up shots of David Gilmour’s guitars are something to behold: it made a journey of each song, his movements on the fretboard and his strumming over the pick-ups accentuating the music being played in ways the original edit couldn’t capture. But some of the greatest moments were reserved for Richard Wright: the footage of Wright and his keyboards is particularly emotive and more powerfully so on a track like On the Turning Away – after watching that particular song you will walk away with a new appreciation for it and for Wright’s playing.
Some of the greatest, newly edited footage celebrates Pink Floyd’s touring musicians of the era – Scott Page’s saxophone solo on Shine On Your Crazy Diamond is something to behold: his playing is a force to be reckoned with and his stage presence powerful.
Great Gig in the Sky is a moving piece in its own right but the sound on this updated edit is striking. Rachel Fury, Durga McBroom, and Margaret Taylor make a powerful case for the epic tipping point from Dark Side of the Moon.
It is often forgotten that the live guitar solos on Learning to Fly were delivered by Tim Renwick and not Gilmour. The new footage of the band on stage gives Renwick a stronger presence and cements his place in Pink Floyd’s extended family with greater conviction.
For those of us who grew up during this Pink Floyd era, there is a common (but not universal) psychological pliability that embraces Guy Pratt and Jon Carin as two guys that, well, could have been considered members of Pink Floyd. Although this breaches the deified pre-Gilmour era quaternary and the trinity of the Gilmour era itself, the reality is that these two guys have put the sweat equity and artistic work in – and in Carin’s case, not just on the Gilmour side. Their voices and their performances are given the attention they deserve in this restored version of Delicate Sound of Thunder.
Of course, it may not necessarily be a larger focus on these band members that elevates their presence but the simple fact that the quality of what you see and hear is so much better. It will take a few streams (or spins) before the differences begin to sink in (in large part because it means dusting off the VHS for a comparison) – but somewhere between improved clarity and focus, the edits also serve the audience by giving us a much better glimpse of what happens on stage and what these guys see from the stage.
Sorrow, One Slip, Great Gig in the Sky, and Run Like Hell are some of the video’s highlights. There is a minority of us out there that really liked Comfortably Numb’s sound in the original Delicate Sound of Thunder. This may be the only spot in the entire film you might be torn on: the guitars – that grungy, 80s guitar sound with delay and reverb that permeated the entire track – are not as pervasive and the vocal harmonies are not as evenly distributed. Many people felt that version of Comfortably Numb was too far removed from the original – but there are those of us out there that truly liked its opulence, haunting vocal harmonies, and piercing guitar sound. It seems the new Delicate Sound of Thunder has reworked this track to more closely reflect the sonic intent of the original. This isn’t a flaw: it creates a space for an interesting comparison and is only a mild and temporary distraction in an otherwise uniform and undisputable enhancement.
Delicate Sound of Thunder has received the treatment it deserves. Of course, as fans we always want more: this updated version deserves a movie theatre release and, someday, the Calhoun Tapes should be given an official release in some format (maybe a second disc with a stand-alone DVD release?). But none of that need be on your mind yet. There is a lot to take in and listen for in this new version of Delicate Sound of Thunder. And, by the way, if you were at Nassau for the shows that ended up on this live album and video, you are going to love seeing yourselves or your friends in the greatest clarity, at one of the greatest shows ever.
For more information on an upcoming cinema release of Delicate Sound of Thunder, please visit and subscribe for updates at www.delicatesoundofthunder.com.