Pink Floyd is one of the most enigmatic and prolific bands in the history of rock. With each passing decade, a new generation is captivated by this band’s music, leaving both new and old fans alike longing for the band’s live experience. There are a number of Pink Floyd tribute bands touring around the club circuit. However, few have been able to accurately duplicate the music of Pink Floyd like The Machine.
For 25 years, The Machine has traversed the globe with a Pink Floyd tribute that could be considered the closest thing the public will get to the actual band, both sonically and visually. Anyone familiar with Pink Floyd’s catalog knows that this is not an easy task. Lagniappe spoke with drummer Tahrah Cohen to see the challenges associated with taking on such as revered band’s material as well as get a preview of their upcoming show in the Azalea City.
SC: You personally have been with The Machine for 25 years. As a group that focuses on one band’s material, what keeps you from getting burned out?
TC: The band enjoys playing the music so much, and the music is so easy to play, and it’s so powerful, and accepted by the audience, it prevents us from getting burned out. It’s so inspiring to play this music.
SC: What opportunity, if any, do you or any of the other members of the band have to improvise your own take on Pink Floyd’s material?
TC: That’s a great question, because we are unique in that we play a lot of older material from Pink Floyd’s catalog. That early material is very improvisational. Take something like “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.” That song never plays the same way twice. So, there’s a lot of improvising with that. We know where to take liberties, and we know where to stick to the original recordings. We’ll extend “Young Lust” at the end and improvise it. Then, we’ll go back to the original arrangement. So, we have a very good feel on where it is to take liberties and where it is to stick to the exact recording.
SC: I caught you guys at the first Bonnaroo that I attended. Like everyone else, the one thing that I was most impressed with was the accuracy of your sound. To me, I think about all the instrumentation that went into Floyd’s music, as far as synth and electronic elements. That had to be difficult to work into your live show. Did you guys have to shop around for vintage equipment? What was it like trying to achieve that side of Pink Floyd?
TC: Around the Bonnaroo era, vintage equipment started to get very trendy. I’d say in the early 2000s, vintage keyboards got very popular again. Specifically, we’re talking about Fender Rhodes, Hammond Organs and analog synthesizers. These weren’t digital. They were monophonic analog synthesizers, where you can play one note at a time just like the ones in ‘70s. Eventually, it became popular again in the year 2000, or maybe a little before. So, they became available. Those were the instruments that Pink Floyd recorded with. You didn’t see our current keyboard player (Scott Chasolen). You saw Neil (Alexander). He was a keyboard fanatic. He didn’t have the analog equipment that our present keyboard player has now. Keyboard players are, in general, fanatics about sound. They will go through extremes to get the right sound. It’s part of their mentality, I think.
SC: As far as your material for your live show, how do you guys decide on what you’ll be performing that night? Do you have a set list for each tour, or is it more spontaneous?
TC: We make a set list about two hours before the show every night. We never know what we’re going to play. Unless there’s something specific that we’ve been working on, and we know we want to try it, we make a unique set list for every venue. People want to hear “Comfortably Numb” and “Wish You Were Here” and music from “Dark Side” and “The Wall.” You know that we’re going to play a certain amount of songs to please the audience, because that’s why they came there. Where we’ll vary is what we’ll play from “Animals” and what we’ll play from “Atom Heart Mother” and what older material that we’ll play. There’s a certain group of songs that will be there at every show, but there’s also a lot of unknowns.
SC: We talked about the musical accuracy of The Machine, but you have also matched Pink Floyd with your stage show. What is your current stage show like?
TC: We keep expanding our lighting. That’s something we try to do just for the enjoyment of the fans. We want to give the fans something new to look at. Since the show has never focused on the individual people, it’s more focused on the lighting and the video and the effects. So, we try to expand the light show all the time. We have some new things that we’re bringing out that should be enjoyable to the crowd.
SC: The Machine has had a very rich performance history. Being a founding member, what would you say has been your most memorable show so far?
TC: Bonnaroo, specifically, was incredible. We played either two or three times, but the first show started a little before. I think we played the Thursday before with the main festival starting on Friday. So, we started playing on Thursday evening, and people just started swarming us. Right from the start, the crowd was so receptive to us improvising that I think we played “Echoes” for 30 minutes. That was so much fun just to know that the crowd was on your side. In that instance, they wanted to hear us jamming. That was incredible. When we played Artpark in Buffalo, N.Y., there were 20,000 people there, and it was so much fun. When we played Riverbend in Chattanooga, that was fabulous. We played with an orchestra, and there was a very large crowd. It was very inspiring.
The Machine: A Tribute to Pink Floyd
Sat., Jan. 18 at 8:30 p.m.
Saenger Theatre, 6 S. Joachim St., www.mobilesaenger.com
Tickets: $17.50-$35.00 avail. through Ticketmaster and at the Saenger Box Office