Revisiting Pink Floyd’s iconic floating concert in Venice, 1989
Following the loss of Roger Waters from Pink Floyd after their LP The Final Cut in 1989, it was clear the dynamics of Pink Floyd may never return. David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright all pursued solo careers with middling success their highest reach. It was obvious at the time that they had to reignite Pink Floyd with or without Waters.
So Gilmour, after an agreement with Mason and Wright, got to work on developing new solo material he’d been working and transformed it into the 13th Pink Floyd studio album and their first without Waters, A Momentary Lapse of Reason.
Although the album lacked the richness of the Gilmour and Waters’ partnership, Richard Wright, who could only contribute unofficially for legal reasons, later admitted that “it’s not a band album at all,” the LP surpassed quadruple platinum status in the U.S., largely driven by their epic single ‘Learning To Fly’. The album also made the band ‘the first rock band in space’ after the Russian crew of the Soyuz TM-7 took the disc on their 1988 expedition.
The added impetus gave the band a host of opportunities to support the album with a tour. Although they started with a small route the arenas kept filling up night after night and expanded for years. The crowd were enthused by the band’s now-infamous stage show “a large disco ball which opens like a flower. Lasers and light effects. Flying hospital beds that crash in the stage, Telescan Pods and of course the 32-foot round screen.”
When the announcement for Pink Floyd’s date in Venice in 1989 was made, nobody could’ve predicted the impact of the gig—not only on the band’s infamy but on the government of Venice.
Arriving in the glamourous canal city, the band had planned to play a free concert in the middle of the famous St. Mark’s Square to coincide with the celebration known as ‘Feast of the Redeemer’. The council of the ancient city was not impressed by this flagrant disregard for precious architecture and tensions grew. “A number of the city’s municipal administrators,” writes Lea-Catherine Szacka at The Architects’ Newspaper, “viewed the concert as an assault against Venice, something akin to a barbarian invasion of urban space.”
In fact, the city’s superintendent for cultural heritage ‘vetoed the concert’ just days before its scheduled July 15th date, “on the grounds that the amplified sound would damage the mosaics of St. Mark’s Basilica, while the whole piazza could very well sink under the weight of so many people.”
However, the parties eventually reached an agreement when the band agreed to lower the decibels of their earth-shattering live show from 100 to 60. That wasn’t the only concession, however, as the band also agreed to play on a floating platform in a canal some 200 yards from the square, in the tradition of the city. The spectacle was filmed by the state-owned television RAI and was broadcast “in over 20 countries with an estimated audience of almost 100 million.”
The show was constantly splashed across the Venetian papers and became quite the scandal as traditionalists rallied against more progressive councillors. The more progressive members of the 1989 council believed Venice “must be open to new trends, including rock music”… in 1989. Despite the huge crowd of 200,000 (150,000 more than live within the city limits) arriving to see the show, the worries of those traditionalists were largely unfounded with most patrons on best behaviour. Unfortunately, a few minor damages occurred, including some monuments being urinated on which lead to a streak of rage to rip through the city.
The resulting anger left residents calling for the head of Mayor Antonio Casellati on a platter and demanding he resigns. They were reports of residents shouting him down with “resign, resign, you’ve turned Venice into a toilet.” Casellati and the entire city council who voted him into power resigned. Leaving this gig as one of the most interesting in the history of rock music.
The question remains, was this one show worthy of bringing down a city council? Although it may seem crass to hold something like the laws of government against a rock and roll show and compare them—and we wholeheartedly agree. Of course, rock music comes first. So when faced with the previous question it’s easy to answer; just look at the joyful faces of the fans at this historical moment and imagine the millions at home, all together in unity of appreciation for one of the best live bands the world has ever seen.
You can watch the moment Pink Floyd brought down a government with their Venice gig in 1989, below.