Words by jenkins
Picture and videos by jenkins
Once again, winter is upon us and the month of December has come and gone. Certain things are as dependable as clockwork during this time of year. The days get shorter, the temperature drops, and the world around us is inundated (for better or worse) with non-stop holiday themed decorations and music.
Another significant thing happens as the year draws to a close: a group of highly talented Saint Louis musicians join together like a giant inflatable pig-shaped Voltron to form El Monstero, and every year during the week surrounding Christmas they play 5 to 7 shows paying tribute to the sights and sounds of Pink Floyd, with proceeds benefiting The Pageant’s charitable foundation.
This is one of those shows where I have to have a reserved seat – the standing room only/general admission is just too crowded for me to be able to enjoy myself, and I don’t ever feel like showing up early enough to wait in line and get a good spot on the floor. I try every year to buy my own reserved tickets at the time they go on sale, and I have never been able to find any reserved tickets to any of the nights – and that’s if I am sitting at the computer ready to hit the button the minute they go on sale. Thankfully, someone I know has been able to get tickets for me the last few years, and came through again this year. This year the tickets were for the Thursday night show – 12/22, exactly one year after the 2010 show we attended. As a refresher, my thoughts on El Monstero and that particular show can be found here.
While the December gigs have never disappointed me before, in July El Monstero played a set at the Jefferson Barracks Veterans Memorial Amphitheater that just didn’t have the same magic. I was disappointed enough with the experience overall that I actually opted to not write a review of the show as I didn’t want to spend 2,000 words raining piss and vinegar on an act that I love. The band played well enough at this July gig, but everything else about it was pretty much awful. Long story short, the producers of this show sold 7,000 tickets to a show at a 5,000 capacity venue, it was the hottest day of the year, the crowd was rude and stupid (including wookies interpretive dancing and spinning glow in the dark hula hoops in the overcrowded seating area), the logistics were a total clusterfuck with 2+ hours lines to get beer/soda/water/food (with temporary outages of all of these items), and NONE of the rules were enforced by any of the crowd control officers. Yeah, maybe the band played great, but it was hard to have a good time in such a shit storm, and more than once I wanted to cram the glow in the dark hula hoops up some wookie’s ass. As a result, I was looking forward to a proper El Monstero show. It was, after all, one of the normal December gigs at The Pageant – but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little concerned after that summer show. It turns out that I was concerned for no reason. This year’s version of El Monstero was easily one of the best I’ve seen and was definitely on par with what I have come to expect from the previous winter shows.
Every year something big is added/changed in the production of the show to make each year stand out from the years before. Last year it was the fearless stage seating which put some lucky fans up on stage with the band for the duration of the concert (which may have also put them awkwardly close to the stripper poles during Young Lust). This year there was no fearless stage seating – instead, the band was on the main stage, but steps at each side of the stage lead up to a raised stage platform behind the band (ideal for the more theatrical/visual songs), and half a dozen or tall, skinny screens that displayed various content and images during songs. Also new this year were flame pillars located around the perimeter of the stage (at least, I think this was new – I don’t remember the flames in prior years). The flame pillars and fireballs released from these on stage pyrotechnics were big enough that we could feel the heat from every burst in the upper level balcony. I was at least a little surprised to see that The Pageant was rated for this kind of pyrotechnic display.
Here’s the best shot I have of the stage. Not the best picture, but you get the idea:
On to the show itself. I will spare you the play by play and focus on what I thought were the real highlights (and of course whatever I have videos of). In terms of song selection, this year’s set was very similar to last year. Overall song order was arranged a little differently this year which created a better flow, especially during the set of songs from “The Wall”. I have the full set listed out at the end of the review.
As usual, the band started the night off with one of the more theatrical songs in their arsenal – In The Flesh. This was complete with police officers on stage armed with spotlights and singer Mark Quinn flailing a riding crop at audience members while being raised into the air via a genie lift strategically placed near the stage. What followed was a greatest hits parade from the album “The Wall”, including crowd favorites such as Another Brick in the Wall, Mother, Young Lust, Hey You, and Run Like Hell.
Always popular with the El Monstero audiences, Young Lust (which typically includes an authentic pole dancer on each side of the stage) upped the stripper ante this year with nearly a full dozen of East St. Louis’ finest. One Of My Turns was up next – for whatever reason, I’ve always had a soft spot for this three minute mental meltdown of a song, and the electric guitar duet midway through the song is one of my favorite things that Pink Floyd has ever done (starting at about 2:30 in the video below).
One of my Turns:
The only two songs in the “The Wall” portion of the set that really felt out of place to me were Vera and Bring the Boys Back Home. I get the message. I understand the role these songs play in the overall concept of “The Wall”. I still think they’re filler songs in a live setting and don’t understand why they are played every year. My problem, I guess, but to me this is time that would be better filled with a song from somewhere else in the band’s catalogue, like Fearless or One Of These Days.
After Bring the Boys Back Home came the highlight of the first set: Run Like Hell > Another Brick in the Wall III > Run Like Hell. This was definitely a major highlight of the show – with high energy guitar driven rock and roll, a drum solo, and fireballs and flame pillars erupting on stage in sync with the rhythm of the song, this is hands down the best song played in the first set.
Run Like Hell > ABITY III > Run Like Hell:
Finally, after completing their run of songs from “The Wall”, El Monstero ended their first set of the night with Shine On You Crazy Diamond, the haunting and beautiful tribute to Syd Barrett. Saxophone player Dave Farver came out for the outro/jam at the end and took to the bar/handrail area surrounding the perimeter of the floor, strutting and dancing across the bar (and narrowly avoiding spilling people’s drinks) as he played. This was a fairly standard version of Shine On, but even the standard version is still exceptional.
The curtain closed for a set break, and after a brief intermission the lights went down, the music started, and two crew members dressed as cops (or some other kind of authority figures) pulled the curtain back to reveal a giant projection screen covering the front of the stage showing thematically appropriate images of hammers beating down nails and cavemen beating things with rocks. The message was clear: The nail that sticks up must be hammered down. The band started Welcome to the Machine from behind the screen and after a verse or so the screen dropped to reveal the band on stage with the same “the man will break you” type imagery on display on the 6 smaller screens at the rear of the stage.
Welcome to the Machine:
This led right into Have A Cigar, and true to the studio recording a special guest came out to sing lead vocals. A song about record labels and selling out, as usual this performance was complete with fake money being thrown into the crowd during the song. I was shocked to see people leaning way over the rail of the balcony struggling to grab fake paper money like it was the black Friday door buster deal at Walmart.
Have A Cigar:
The set took a turn for the psychedelic next with a medley of Echoes and Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun. As a song, I have always (and still do) love the lyrics and imagery of Echoes. Conceptually, it has always fascinated me. Something about a 30 minute song that is 4 minutes of song and 26 minutes submarine pings, trippy guitar jams, and outer space sounds really appealed to the teenager to me, but it’s a track I have to skip after the first four minutes now. Thankfully, El Monstero’s arrangement of Echoes clocks in at less than a third of the time and focuses on all of the important parts of the song while leaving out the crazy acid flashback. This year, they mixed in a version of Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun set to black lights and mostly naked glow-in-the-dark body painted interpretive dancers.
Echoes > Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun > Echoes (video starts at Set the Controls…):
After this we were treated to a set of songs from “Animals” (my favorite Floyd album) that included Dogs, Pigs (Three Different Ones), and Pigs on the Wing. Similar to One Of My Turns, the guitar duet in the middle of Dogs is perhaps the best thing they’ve ever put to tape (the video below starts at that duet).
Dogs (partial) > Pigs
I suspect this next run of songs may be the most anticipated part of this show, and I suspect it keeps most fans coming back year after year: The album “Dark Side of The Moon” in its entirety. There really isn’t much to say about this, either you know it or you don’t. Pink Floyd derailed before I ever had the chance to see them live, but all I know for sure is that if I sit back and close my eyes during this, it’s the closest that I will likely ever get.
On The Run > Time
Great Gig in the Sky:
“Dark Side of the Moon” concluded, and after a short encore break the band returned to the stage to perform what are perhaps the two most popular songs in the Pink Floyd library: Wish You Were Here and Comfortably Numb.
Comfortably Numb had the full run of stage animations and pyrotechnics, with fireballs and flame columns exploding throughout, sparks raining down from the ceiling, and a hydraulically raised platform in the middle of the room for the two lead guitarists to take their extended solos on. Rock and roll, defined.
Wish You Were Here:
It is worth mentioning here that my father is the source of my Pink Floyd nerdery. He was perhaps the single biggest influence on my musical preferences as a child, and without a doubt he was the origin of the Pink Floyd virus. This is all his fault, so naturally I’ve been waiting for years for a chance to be able to bring him to one of these shows. Unfortunately, the show that he went to was the same summer show that I mentioned above, and while he swore that he had a great time, I was disappointed that it wasn’t everything I had talked it up to be. Seeking redemption, it was more important than ever to me to get him to one of the proper December shows. My mother had taken him to see the Australian Pink Floyd at the Fox theater earlier in the fall, and he was satisfied with that – he didn’t really feel the need to go see El Monstero again and thought someone else might have more fun. While we had to drag him kicking and screaming (he was trying to give his ticket away to my sister as late as two hours before the show started), he went.
Curious for my dad’s thoughts on the show given that he went to Australian Pink Floyd and the July El Monstero gig, I asked him what he thought after the show.
His response is the most important line of this whole review: “Fuck Australian Pink Floyd. These guys [El Monstero] just did Floyd WAY better than Australian Pink Floyd. I think they just did Floyd better than Pink Floyd did Floyd.”
I wrote over two thousand three hundred words in this post, and he may have written a better review than me in less than thirty.
Maybe he wants to join Concert Confessions?
In The Flesh
The Thin Ice
Another Brick in the Wall I >
Happiest Days of our Lives >
Another Brick in the Wall II
Goodbye Blue Sky
One Of My Turns >
Goodbye Cruel World
Is There Anybody Out There?
Bring The Boys Back Home
Run Like Hell >
Another Brick in the Wall III
Shine On You Crazy Diamond
— set break —
Welcome to the Machine
Have a Cigar
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun >
Pigs on the Wing
Dark Side of the Moon (full album)
Wish You Were Here