I’m at the Pink Floyd Laser Spectacular looking for some stoned teenagers to interview. Just like all those cops out front, I’m searching for red eyes, listening for giggles, “whoa”s — if I’m lucky maybe even a “far out” — the typical signifiers of chemical youth rebellion soundtracked by some of the darkest, most mind-expanding rock ’n’ roll to ever top the charts. Instead, we’re seeing strollers and high heels, blazers and Dora the Explorer backpacks. A man wearing a reissued Wall Tour concert T-shirt walks by, talking into his Bluetooth and helping his little girl toddle up the aisle.
Kathi Dixon brought her daughter. Kathi’s only a casual fan, but Keely Dixon, a sophomore at UTSA sporting a crossed-hammer-logo T, has been a true believer ever since Mom let her rent The Wall in fourth grade. Kathi, who should write a manual on parenting, drove her daughter down from Boerne because Keely doesn’t like downtown traffic. This will be their first Laser Spectacular.
From a distance, brothers John and Robert Lindemann, wearing (respectively) a tie-dyed T and a Black Crowes shirt festooned with marijuana leaves, look more like the acid-dropping teens I’m looking to interview. Closer up, though, they seem to be the type to wear Spock ears at a Star Wars premiere, conflating Floyd with Phish.
“I’m not like a crazy fan or anything,” says Robert of Floyd, and when asked to compare the band to the Black Crowes, he offers the only acceptable explanation for owning a piece of Crowes merch: Robert admits that he didn’t know who the band is until after he bought the shirt. His favorite Floyd album is 1994’s The Division Bell, and Laser Spectacular will be the second concert he’s ever attended. There will be no live band, just pre-recorded Floyd albums and computer-generated images, but Robert is calling it a concert anyway.
And it’s John’s first. When asked to name a favorite Floyd record, John responds, “I don’t really know any of his albums.”
Pink Floyd — comprising bassist Roger Waters, guitarist David Gilmour, drummer Nick Mason, keyboardist Richard Wright, and though you wouldn’t know it from the Laser Spectacular’s song selection, originally fronted by human blotter paper Syd Barrett — used to be so much more dangerous.
Tonight, the crowd’s nothing but families, it seems. Lynn and Andrea Yates bought tickets as a Christmas present for their three kids. Lynn, who’s experienced laser Floyd before, says he’s been a fan since his days driving a truck to Dark Side of the Moon. Now teenage son James plays it on the guitar.
Before the show begins, stagehand Tiffany Alexa, 30, tries to explain Pink Floyd’s seemingly generation-less appeal. Though she’s only a casual listener (“What do you want me to say? My hallucinogenic days are far behind me,” she explains.), Tiffany says the band’s music “connects you to the universe.”
“I never was a fan until I saw this `show`,” Tiffany says. “What rocked me out was ‘Comfortably Numb.’ It came on, and I was holding a baby. It was one of those moments where you never forget it, and it changed me forever.”
The show’s typical audience, Tiffany informs me, is a “hallucinogenic crowd,” but she says she’s been clean and sober for eight years now. “You don’t need the drugs for this,” she says, and promises that the light refraction caused by the lenses of the provided “laser glasses” will cause the faces of other audience members to appear to be melting.
The glasses, the emcee informs us after the house lights go down, are there to enhance our experience in addition to “any amount of enhancing you did before the show.” The first faint beats of “Speak to Me” begin (Dark Side of the Moon will be played in its entirety before intermission) and laser-lined Spirograph designs throb in time across three vertical screens. A pair of computer-animated eyes blinks. Clip-artsy, vectorish outlines occasionally illustrate the song lyrics. With the kaleidoscopic glasses on, this stuff might pass for mildly trippy; take them off, and it looks like After Dark, that old Mac screen saver with the flying toasters.
Hyper-ventilating synth autopilot “Any Colour You Like” soundtracks a short film clip of a wheeled bed taking off from an airport runway. Clare Torry’s improvised vocal sorrowgasm on “Great Gig in the Sky” is mouthed by a model writhing in bed after reading a discouraging newspaper article, and the mental anguish of “Brain Damage” is experienced by a sexless moon-headed stencil creature. I feel unchanged. Maybe I’m a cynical asshole.
In the lobby at intermission, Joey Hernandez says the show is his 11th. “This is a celebration of Pink Floyd’s music,” he says. He’s wearing a shirt from the Roger Waters tour that came through Houston in May. He was born in ’73, the year Dark Side of the Moon came out, and he saw the David Gilmour-led Floyd play the Alamodome in 1994. Next year, he wants to bring his daughter to the Laser Spectacular. No hallucinogens are required to enjoy the show, Hernandez says, just a sophisticated musical palette. “The music they make is very intelligent,” he says, “for intelligent people.”
Back inside, a medley of songs from The Wall playing over clips from the film almost convinces me Hernandez is right: Floyd’s music is just too advanced and mature for the teenage stoners I’d always assumed come out to these shows. The Majestic’s sound system is incredible. The complex, haunting music sounds so good, I’m re-evaluating the visuals. With glasses on, the Wall clips are multiplied, and they swirl (if you tilt your head just right) in time with the music while twitching lasers obscure the scenes — very postmodern. Then “Young Lust” begins, and an outline of a woman’s body that looks like it was made on a Lite-Brite is met with more whoops and hollers than you’d expect at a men’s prison, and I decide that the high-school kids just can’t afford the $26 tickets.
But tickets to an actual Floyd concert, if and when the remaining members tour again (Waters went solo in 1985, and Wright died in September) will be much more expensive, and frontman Gilmour, who turns 63 in March, is probably past scaling a roadie-built wall for a guitar solo, the way his onscreen, laserized counterpoint can. Now more than ever, the Laser Spectacular’s visuals serve as a stand-in for the maybe no longer obtainable experience of seeing Floyd live, and the adults squeal with delight. God knows what their kids — who can’t remember life pre-internet, carry hundreds of albums worth of music inside their cell phones, and experience classic rock primarily by pretending to play it on plastic musical instruments — think of this rainbow-colored Asteroids-looking stuff.
1987’s “On the Turning Away” seems like an obscure late-career choice for the Spectacular’s second act, but with the accompanying 20-year-old video of the already worn-out-looking rockers playing the song live, it makes a painful amount of sense.
That’s one question answered: I’m definitely a cynical asshole.
But the more important question remains: Where do the youth of today drop their acid? My theory: They don’t. They play those damn video games and raid the medicine cabinet while their parents are out drinking $8 beers at laser Floyd.
All in all it’s just another, well, you know. •
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