This November marks the 25th anniversary for Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder. Loved by some and hated by others the live album is a great testimonial of a strong comeback and David’s late 80s tones. Let’s dig into the history and sound of this album!
Delicate Sound of Thunder was recorded over five nights in August 1988 at Nassau Coliseum (NY, USA). The album was released on CD, LP and cassette (remember those?) November 22 1988. As live albums mostly go it was no huge success but rather a nice souvenir for the fans. The release also saw Pink Floydâ€™s first filmed (not counting Live at Pompeii) concert being released on VHS.
The initial plans were to release the live album and film a year earlier. In early November 1987, a show in Atlanta, USA was recorded and filmed but after seeing the result the band decided they needed more time to find their old form. It was a vice decision as the bootleg version of the show reveals a band that was clearly out of shape and sounded rather bad. Some of the songs however, ended up as official B-sides and single versions, including On the Turning Away and One Slip. Watch the concert here.
The setlist at the time featured the whole Momentary Lapse of Reason album but A New Machine (part 1 & 2) and Terminal Frost was omitted completely due to time constrictions. Signs of Life and One Slip was included on the VHS version but not the album.
Delicate Sound of Thunder is very much a statement and a clear message that Pink Floyd is alive and well without Roger Waters. Prior to the tour, Gilmour and Mason won the rights to carry on with the band and name and while Waters toured smaller venues with his Radio Kaos, Pink Floyd played the stadium next door. Gilmour and Mason had a lot at stake, including their houses, and the success with Momentary and the tour was a matter of to be or not to be.
Some of the old Floyd tunes, including Comfortably Numb, was performed similar to how they sounded during the 1984 About Face tour. David was now in charge and he was free to do whatever he wanted with the material. They also featured additional musicians on stage, which again was very much in line with Davidâ€™s 1984 tour but also because Nick and Rick was too much out of shape to handle their own parts. They soon got comfortable with performing live again though and by 1988 and the recording of Delicate Sound of Thunder, they was very much in charge of the drums and keyboards respectively.
Delicate Sound of Thunder was one of my first encounters with Pink Floyd. I was twelve at the time and a die hard Kiss fan. I knew some of their songs from before but this was my first full length album. I remember thinking “this can’t possibly be a live recordingâ€¦ it’s just too perfect!” An experienced observation by a twelve year old perhaps but I was already used to shitty Kiss bootlegs and new how bad a band could sound.
Delicate Sound of Thunder is no doubt a dated recording. Itâ€™s got the 80s sound all over it and the reverb drenched and gated drums sound a bit silly. Still, thereâ€™s something haunting and mysterious about it. Perhaps Iâ€™m a bit biased and still that twelve year old every time I listen to it but itâ€™s something more than just a live recording. Itâ€™s an illusion of a larger than life show and band.
But isnâ€™t Pulse a way better live album? Well, if you ask me, I have to answer both yes and no. The sound on Pulse is better â€“ itâ€™s not nearly as dated â€“ and itâ€™s also a better performance. They sound more relaxed and comfortable with being on stage and with the material. Davidâ€™s guitar tones and playing is overall better. Still, I think songs like On the Turning Away from Delicate feature one of Davidâ€™s finest solos and tones. Yet Another Movie sounds insanely huge (one of my all time favourite Floyd tunes) and Us and Them is perhaps one of the most beautiful versions Iâ€™ve heard. Sure, PULSE is an overall better album but Delicate has some very special moments.
A lot of fans really hate Davidâ€™s 80s tones and Delicate in particular. Perhaps itâ€™s because theyâ€™re the ones that resemble his 70s tones the least. The whole 1987-90 tour was a transition period in terms of his rig from being typically 80s to a more vintage approach, perhaps to better replicate his old tones.
The initial 1987 setup was surprisingly basic, consisting of only a handful of pedals and the Fender Twin heads. There are few reliable sources from this era but David used the Boss HM2 and Mesa Boogie MkIII head combo which was the main setup for the Momentary album and Big Muff ram’s head for lead tones. All of the overdrive tones were done with just the Mesa – possibly boosted by a TC booster.
By 1988, the Fender Twin heads were replaced by Hiwatt DR103s although these had the preamp stage bypassed and the old Alembic F2b preamp, which was based on a Fender Dual Showman circuit, acted as the main preamp for the rig. The tones were still based on the 1987 setup but a few more pedals were added to expand the tonal variety. See the full list of pedals, guitars and amps in the David Gilmour Gear Guide.
The essence of David’s Delicate tones is reallty the Fender Strat, with the EMG SA pickups featuring the SPC and EXG active tone controls. During the first months of the tour in 1987 David preferred the cream coloured 1983 â€™57 reissue that heâ€™d used for most of the About Face tour. However and apparently because he didnâ€™t care for the colour, by 1988 he favoured the red â€“ a relationship that would last for two decades. Like most guitarists in the 80s David also based all his sounds heavily on chorus and the Boss CE2. This however was the only modulation he used for the tour.
Davidâ€™s 1988 stage rig was fairly simple and he only used a couple of effects for each song (most of the pedals were duplicates set up for different applications). Although any guitar would do the job itâ€™s difficult to get authentic tones without a Stratocaster and the EMG DG20 pickups. That slightly processed tone and mid range boost is all over the album. See the Buyer’s Gear Guide – Guitars for some tips on suitable models. Amp wise, you could go with a clean and bright sounding Fender like the Twin or Deluxe but a Hiwatt or something similar, like the Laney Cub series for your bedroom, hits the mark.
Effectswise you would need a Big Muff for most of the lead tones. You could go for a RAT, especially if your amp’s having a hard time dealing with Muffs, but only a Big Muff will get you those smooth and sustained tones on On the Turning Away, Sorrow, Comfortably Numb etc. David used the ram’s head and a Pete Cornish P2 and I recommend either a ram’s head, like the Electronic Pig Hoof or a P2/Sovtek-ish one like the TopTone DG1, Blackout Effectors Musket or, for the tight budget, the stock EHX Bass Muff.
For overdrives I recommend something transparent, yet fairly bright and aggressive, like the Boss BD2 or the Fulltone OCD. Pedals like the Powerboost (and similar clones) would sound too vintage and the Tube Driver a bit too soft and tube-ish, although it does do the job.
To top it off for the right flavour, you really need to drench everything with analog chorus. If you can’t get your hands on the original Boss CE2, then check out the BYOC Analog Chorus, CostaLab Chorus Lab or, for the tight budget, the Mooer Chorus Ensemble.
Youâ€™ll need a digital delay for those pristine and accurate repeats. David used the TC Electronics TC-2290 system for most of the songs and the current TC Nova Delay allows you cover all the settings you need with multiple presets. Check out the budget version, the TC Repeater and the Boss DD20 as well. If you want something a bit more basic and pedal board friendly, then check out the excellent TC Flashback or simply a Boss DD3/7.
Last, a compressor is optional but David did employ the Boss CS2 for most of his tones. Its smooth and transparent compression adds sustain to your leads and warmth to the cleans.
It’s always fun to look back at these albums and realize that they’ve become a huge part of your life. That’s the beauty of music and it’s incredibly inspiring. Please feel free to share your thoughts about Delicate Sound of Thunder with us!