Fifty years after the release of the Pink Floyd classic “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” Roger Waters and Nick Mason reteamed to perform the mini-epic Thursday night at Mason’s show with his band Saucerful of Secrets at the Beacon in New York.
And to replace the question “Which one’s Pink?” with the query “Which one’s a better Pink?,” Waters had an answer for that.
“Oh, I’m enjoying the show, by the way, Nick,” Waters said, over the opening strains of “Sun.” “My considered opinion is that you sound a lot better than we did back in the day.”
Mason, the drummer for Pink Floyd from their founding in the mid-’60s until their dissolution in the ’90s, had teased the idea that it was possible his old bandmate might turn up for a tour date. He and the ensemble dubbed Saucerful of Secrets are well into a well-regarded tour where they perform material strictly from Floyd’s pre-1973, pre-“Dark Side Side of the Moon” period.
Mason introduced “Set the Controls” the same way he does every night on tour: by expressing a mock-resentment that when they used to do the psychedelic number back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Waters stingily always insisted on playing the gong part — and that this tour represented his chance to finally exercise that privilege. Mason had started in on his introductory gong licks when Waters emerged from the darkness, gave his partner a hug, and took to the microphone at center stage.
Then, true to form, late in the piece, Waters walked onto Mason’s drum riser for some extended gong play, wearing a big grin as he thrashed it more furiously in the crescendo. Waters’ gonging was so enthusiastic, in fact, that the head popped off the mallet, prompting a replacement. He then waved goodbye to the crowd, only to reemerge when (apparently) bassist Guy Pratt went back into the wings and reminded him that the song wasn’t over yet and he still had another verse to sing.
Waters spoke at some length over the opening riffs before “Sun” got properly underway. “It was called the Scene Club and its owner was Steve Paul, and it was 1969,” he said. “I remember it well. We had a gong in those days. As I remember, I used to, in the middle of the show, pound an empty whiskey glass at it, and the glass was empty because I’d drunk the whiskey, as we did, back in the old days. Anyway, I’m so happy to be here playing with Nick. We’re very, very close and old friends,” he continued. “And when I was doing ‘The Wall’ (on tour) he came and sang ‘Outside the Wall’ a couple of times, so here we are.”
Waters didn’t have to do any homework to remember the words to “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.” most likely. He had made it a staple of his 2002 and 2006-2008 tours, then revived it for his two Desert Trip shows in California in 2016 and three dates in Mexico that preceded the festival.
Pink Floyd, for its part, began playing the song in early 1967 and gave it up for good around the time “Dark Side” came out in ’73. It originally appeared on their second album, 1968’s “A Saucerful of Secrets,” the mono version of which was just reissued on limited-edition vinyl for Record Store Day last Saturday (and quickly sold out almost everywhere).
Mason has said in recent interviews promoting the tour — to absolutely no one’s surprise — that he considers a Pink Floyd reunion unlikely, given the decades-long strained between Waters and former fellow frontman David Gilmour.
In reviewing Mason’s tour stop at L.A.’s WIltern in March, Variety agreed with Waters’ assessment of the quality of the revival: “Mason has assembled a crew that has some fealty to the original arrangements, but not so much faithfulness that it doesn’t feel more like an actual bona fide rock band than the Floyd itself arguably did in its later years. This is a group that has the chops to carry off the chosen mission to the satisfaction of the heartiest prog and jam-band enthusiasts, but also brings some madcap laughs and (Syd) Barrett.”