Sound-wise, the purveyors of New Haven’s College Street Music Hall, once the site of the Palace Theatre, challenged themselves. On opening night, the Machine, a four-piece New York-based Pink Floyd tribute band, performed with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, led by music director Carolyn Kuan. Under normal circumstances, balancing a rock band and an orchestra is difficult; it’s probably twice as hard on opening night.
If the orchestra was occasionally submerged under the volume of the Machine, not too many in the crowd -- mostly white, middle-aged Pink Floyd fans -- seemed to care. (There was a harp on the stage, for example, behind keyboardist Scott Chasolen’s rig; it looked extremely cool, someone next to me said, even if you couldn't hear it.)
The hall, located across the street from the Shubert Theater, seats up to 2,000 patrons, with fixed balcony seats and a looser-flowing configuration on the floor. From the street, parts of the building facade were still unpainted, and employees were visibly scrambling as patrons filed into the hall. Inside, section numbers were hand-written on white pieces of paper that were taped to railings along the aisles. There were no assigned seats, only sections; audience members sat wherever there was room.
Before the music began, Premier Concerts president Keith Mahler greeted the crowd warmly from the stage. The audio improved as the musicians ran through a short first set of Floyd classics: “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I–V)” and “Welcome to the Machine,” from the 1975 Wish You Were Here album; “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” an early Pink Floyd song and a set highlight, with a Middle Eastern-sounding, “Kashmir”-type orchestral arrangement; the new wave-ish “One Slip,” a Pink Floyd 2.0 song from 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason; and suitable set-closer “Comfortably Numb.”
The second set, a performance of the entire 1973 "Dark Side of the Moon" album, had a few pockets of improvisation -- a regular feature of Machine shows that’s hard to pull off when the program is so tightly controlled -- but otherwise sounded like the recording. (You could tell they wanted to stretch out: bassist Adam Minkoff even teased John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” during the coda of “Money.”)
There was plenty of opening-night charm. Fire-exit instructions were given through the P.A., after the band had already finished two songs. (“We have to do this by law,” said an announcer. “Is everyone have a good time?”) Listeners sat down through the show, as though watching an orchestral performance, but with more chair-dancing and between-song applause. Behind the Machine, Kuan, dressed in a black T-shirt, oscillated between conducting and grooving out.
The owners of College Street haven’t skimped on amenities. Once you pass through ticketing, there’s an ample bar, with many bartenders and large video screens set up to let you see what’s happening on stage as you pay for your drink. (The draft beer selection, ranging from microbrewed stouts to Bud Light, was impressive, if you’re into that sort of thing.) Most employees wore collared, dark-blue short-sleeved shirts with “College Street Music Hall” written on them. They were enjoying the night, but they were working hard.
Tasha Caswell and Damon Blanchette, both 33, came down from Westfield, Mass. for the show. “This is awesome,” Caswell said during the set break. “The sound is good. I'm not a sound expert, so I don’t know technically, but as someone who enjoys music, I think it sounds great. It seems like they're going through some opening-night pains, but it's super fun.” “They played a lot of the big hits, really,” Blanchette added. “It’s like hearing a greatest hits album played live with some more obscure stuff too.”
Perry, a long-haired musician from Wallingford, performed at the same venue with rock bands several decades ago, when it was still the Palace.
“A couple of friends said, ‘You love Pink Floyd, you gotta come down,’” Perry said. “It’s good to see this place back up and running.”