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The Camera Eye

They sent us along as a surrogate band

The Wall shows on DVD

The Wall live shows marked the first time that Pink Floyd toured was outnumbered onstage by its backing musicians. A 'surrogate band' of sidemen actually came on stage and played "In The Flesh" in place of the real Pink Floyd, making the point that the fans--as sheep--will accept virtually anything in place of an original as long as they are enjoying themselves.

In this installment of The Camera Eye, we will take a look at actual performances of the Surrogate Band from newly 'remastered' versions of The Wall performed live at both Earls Court in London and Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, New York.

The Wall as a concert film

High-generation tapes of The Wall shows from Nassau (above) and Earls Court have circulated among fans for years.

Originally intended as a concert film, performances of The Wall were recorded at both the Nassau Coliseum in New York and Earls Court in London. Unfortunately, the concerts didn't translate as well to film as the band would have liked, so the live recordings were shelved in favor of a cinematic interpretation under the direction of Alan Parker.

The live Wall videos have been circulating among collectors for quite a few years, but it seems that everybody has the same poor-quality, high-generation tape. I have personally traded for these shows on VHS at least five times hoping to get a better quality tape, but darned if every last one looks pretty much the same. A clue as to the best possible quality of these live films is found on the VH1 Behind the Music: Pink Floyd The Wall special. Brief cuts of the live films give us a glimpse of high quality video, presumably from the original tapes. The copies that have been in collectors' circles look far from this version.

The Wall - Live at Nassau Coliseum

The first of the recorded Wall shows, this performance occurred on February 27, 1980 in Uniondale, New York. This show has been in circulation and has always suffered from poor quality on VHS. But thankfully a decent 'remaster' has become available from Pigs On The Wing DVD. Having authored over a dozen titles, Pigs On The Wing is no stranger to the Pink Floyd bootleg DVD field.

This show comes as a two-disc set. I am not really sure why this could not have been done on one DVD. The DVD author probably used a very high bit rate to maintain the highest quality possible. In the case of a dark video with little fast motion, a high bit rate isn't necessarily needed, and the same results could be achieved with a lower encoding bit rate, allowing this concert to fit on one disc.

The opening splash screen gives the viewer a warning that the DVD is intended for sharing only and there is to be no sales. Following the warning comes a very clever video splash to give credit to Pigs On The Wing with a shot of a Pigs On The Wing-branded pig flying through the sky. What a great introduction! Unfortunately, the rest of this DVD doesn't have that extra production flair. There is a very simple menu screen to either play the video or go to a song selection menu. Both menus are a still picture of the marching hammers and have no background music. There are no bonus materials on the disc either. I would think that a two-DVD set of a two-hour show would have some bells and whistles built in, but unfortunately there are none to be had here.

The DVD of the Nassau show provides some improvement in picture quality.

The video quality is a big improvement over previous versions on videotape, but it still wouldn't rate very highly in overall grading. There are plenty of dropouts that interrupt the video, to the point of losing the entire picture to momentary blue screens. During "Run Like Hell" a VCR on-screen display comes on; evidently somebody was fiddling around with their VCR when they made the dub, and that version (or one after that) is the one to get put on DVD. Getting a low generation copy of a Wall show has been pretty much impossible. But I will take a marginal-looking video over no video at all every time, so I am thankful for the efforts by Pigs On The Wing in presenting this show. But I feel it could (and should) have been done much better, especially if it was going to be a two-DVD set.

The Wall - Live at Earls Court

The Earls Court film on DVD was introduced to the collectors' circles about two years ago. It was pretty much a transfer of a decent VHS copy to a disc created on a stand-alone burner, with no chapter stops except for the burner's 10-minute incremental chapters. The quality was a little better than that of most of the VHS I have seen, but it still suffered from dropouts, lack of color depth, and the general darkness of the stage production (although the darkness was more grainy gray than it was black). I was slightly disappointed in this version, hoping somebody out in the collectors' circles would finally liberate a good quality DVD.

Snowy White (at right) shadows David Gilmour in the Earls Court DVD.

Recently an independent DVD author under the name of Highest Hopes took the time and effort to remaster the Earls Court video by taking the DVD that was in circulation and tweaking the contrast, color saturation, and dark emphasis, as well as doing some audio enhancement. There is a marked improvement in this version. The close up shots are much more defined, resulting in detail that wasn't really seen before on VHS bootlegs. The dark areas and distant shots are still pretty much black, but overall it's a new look that is much more pleasing than any VHS or the initial DVD bootleg effort.

The DVD opens with a splash screen saying "Highest Hopes DVD" and carries a release number of HH-DVD-01. The picture background on the splash screen is that of the The Division Bell artwork, which suits "Highest Hopes" as the author--but I wonder why they didn't make some Wall-related splash screen. It then goes to a simple menu with a background of marching hammers from the cinema film. At this menu we have the choice of "Go To The Show!" or release information. Navigating to the release info yields two screens where the author explains the audio and video remastering effort. There are no menu screens to go directly to a specific song, but you can use chapter skip on your remote to access each song.

The concert begins with a brief message from Gary Yudman, and on comes the surrogate band for "In The Flesh?" and so begins the live presentation of The Wall. It is very refreshing though to be able to watch the video and actually see details that were lost in VHS tape degeneration. Highest Hopes did about as much as could be done outside of finding a better source. The video encoding bit rate is sufficient enough to avoid artifacts or stuttering, and still keeps the whole program on one DVD.

Surrogate band guitarist Snowy White and drummer Willie Wilson, as seen on the Earls Court DVD.

Overall, I would give Highest Hopes some high praise for their work and contribution to the Pink Floyd community. Until the band releases the film from the vault or a much lower generation tape source surfaces in the bootleg community, this DVD should rightfully be considered the best available. It would have been nice to have a little more DVD authoring, such as a song selection menu or some bonus material. But the bottom line is that this as good as its going to get, so if you don't have it already, start looking around for it!

Of the two versions of The Wall on DVD, I definitely prefer the Earls Court version. It looks and sounds much better than the Nassau set. A big advantage also goes to Earls Court because it comes on one DVD instead of two--nobody wants to get up and change a disc when they really don't have to. What a buzzkill!

John Waters is a staff writer for Spare Bricks.