“Overhead the albatross hangs motionless upon the air…” The majestic beauty of Pink Floyd’s music came alive this past weekend, as tribute act The Machine guided passengers up and down the Hudson River to the gentle strains of psychedelic rock’s finest songwriting.
The Machine has been playing New York for over two decades now, and seem to be only improving with age. Likewise, their annual Rocks Off Concert Cruise has become an NYC tradition for both hardcore Floyd fans and casual cityfolk alike, and Saturday’s outing might have been their best yet (read my review of their 2010 cruise here).
Aboard the West Side-docked Princess, the band mingled with the crowd as everyone filtered through the ship, sipping drinks on the three levels of decks and admiring sunset views of Midtown and Jersey City. When the ship pulled out into the waterway, The Machine kicked things off with the bouncy Have A Cigar, and another Pink Floyd rock cruise was underway.
Most concerts are a constant battle for that golden spot of personal space with a good view of the band, but The Machine’s rock cruises are a different story. Some fans packed right into the belly of the boat to admire guitarist Joe Pascarell, bassist Ryan Bell, keyboardist Scott Chasolen and drummer Tahrah Cohen deftly working their way through classic Floyd fare, including the first five tracks of The Wall just a few months after Roger Waters’ epic Yankee Stadium performances (read about The Wall live right here).
But others were content to relax on the couches and chairs sprawled across the open decks, enjoying the amplified music from below with stunning views of nighttime Manhattan. The band jumped around the Pink Floyd discography, with tracks off the Animals and Dark Side of the Moon albums smoothly matching the boat’s motion. Passengers drank and smoked in the cool summer air, waving to passing ships on the river and singing along to their favorite lyrics.
The Statue of Liberty is always a highlight of Hudson River cruises, and fans rushed to the sides of the ship to snap photos of the iconic landmark (see my photos in the slideshow at the top of this page). Even jaded New Yorkers tend to get excited when this close to Lady Liberty, and the boat took its time drifting around the island for maximum photo opportunities.
After an intermission, the band knocked out Wish You Were Here, and the boat literally rocked back and forth from from three decks of fans swaying back and forth to the timeless ballad. Wish You Were Here is a song typically saved for last, but on this night The Machine went on to treat fans to a stunning rendition of Echoes, the 23 minute epic that inspired full length concept albums like Dark Side and The Wall. Echoes’ airy passages and oceanic imagery beautifully complemented the views from the upper deck, but inside the boat something even more magical was happening.
Some 15 minutes into the songs lies a crunchy riff that could almost be called heavy metalesque. Couples danced and even grinded up against the walls to the furious guitarwork, as other fans headbanged and watched the band’s frenetic show as if hypnotized. Playing with a look of sheer glee on his face and locked in with his bandmates, Pascarell then began improvising on the already lengthy song, freely jamming in a style that was a bit more Phish than Floyd, and stretching the song out past the 30 minute mark in a dazzling display of musical prowess.
Echoes alone was well worth the entire experience, but the band still had more treats in store. They went back to The Wall for Hey You, then jumped to the Syd Barrett era for Arnold Layne. The night’s final song was begun with the marina already in sight and rapidly approaching, but that almost didn’t matter for those of us entranced in the audio/visual glow of The Machine’s multisensory production. You can hear Comfortably Numb a thousand times and still never tire of it, and searing guitar tones sliced through the Princess and her passengers as Pascarell tore through the greatest solo ever written with all the passion of David Gilmour himself.
Exiting the ship onto the 41st Street docks was a surreal moment, stepping back into the noisy, bustling city from the private musical world of the past three hours. Fans smiled and laughed as they strolled to the West Side highway, where the Saturday night was still young and bars and clubs beckoned, but the music of Pink Floyd would still be in our heads for the rest of the night.
There is nothing quite like The Machine and their shows, and while they regularly play local venues like B.B. Kings and the Brooklyn Bowl, those venues pale in comparison to the Hudson cruise experience. The 2012 boat season is wrapping up, but you can be sure that next summer The Machine will once again echo across New York City’s waterways with their boatful of delighted Pink Floyd fans on board.
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Additional photos from this and other concerts can also be seen on my tumblr: Heavy Metal NYC.