How Pink Floyd’s Live in Venice Show Impacted the Government

(MANDATORY CREDIT Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images) Pink Floyd live at Hakone Aphrodite, Kanagawa, August 6, 1971. (Photo by Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images)

In 1965, Syd Barrett, Richard Wright, Roger Waters and Nick Mason came together to form the rock band Pink Floyd. Within two years, they had released their debut album, enabling them to make their mark in the world of rock. Unfortunately, in 1968, Barrett had to quit due to deteriorating mental health, and David Gilmour replaced him. In 1979, Wright left, and Waters followed suit in 1985, citing the band as a spent force creatively. The remaining members pursued solo careers, but they never quite achieved the fame and success enjoyed when Waters was with them. They, therefore, got back to producing music and holding concerts as a band. The one that remains most memorable in the entire history of the band was in 1989 in Venice, so let’s take you back to how Pink Floyd’s live in Venice impacted the city’s government.

How the Concert Came to Be

According to Open Culture, when Pink Floyd decided to record their album without Waters, the media reported the reception of the album would determine the band’s ability to record and tour without Waters. Since Gilmour was in charge of developing the material, Wright disregarded the album “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” as a band album, saying it was a platform to showcase Gilmour’s songs.

Regardless of the mixed feelings, the album did well and became the band’s biggest tour and companion live album for 1988. Soyuz TM-7 Russian crew loved the music so much that they took the disc when they traveled out of space. Consequently, Pink Floyd made history by becoming the first rock band whose music was played in outer space. Despite the success, they were still skeptical about the public’s reception, so they booked small shows. Much to their surprise, the fans had unfaltering loyalty; the arenas kept filling up; thus, the band had to extend the tour for another two years. For their 1989 tour, the rock band wanted to perform in a unique place. Therefore, as The Architect’s Newspaper published, Francesco Tomasi, Pink Floyd’s Italian promoter, came to the rescue with an idea. He suggested that the band hold their free concert in Venice to coincide with The Redentore (Feast of the Redeemer). The feast has been held on the third Sunday of July every year since 1578 to celebrate the end of the plague that had killed 50,000 people. Therefore, the band members knew the venue would be packed and could not resist the idea. Hence preparation began, with the event being dubbed the “Momentary Lapse of Reason” tour.

Concerns about the Concert

Before the event could be held, an architectural team already feared that the vibrations from the amplified music would cause damage to the structures. According to the Washington Post, the superintendent for cultural heritage was concerned that St. Mark’s basilica mosaic would be ruined thus vetoed the concert three days before July 15th, when the show was set to happen. Other concerned citizens were worried that given the weight of so many people who would attend the free concert, the chances of the piazza sinking were high.

However, the band was not going to give up so quickly, so instead of canceling the event, Tomasi said they would reduce the speakers’ volume and have the stage moved back 98 feet from the piazza. The city’s superintendent of cultural heritage did not barge until the band agreed to reduce their amplified rock music noise from 100 decibels to 60 decibels. They also said they would perform on a floating stage, 600 feet from St. Mark’s Square. The rock band still had some council members support the concert claiming that it was time for Venice to embrace new trends that included rock music. Therefore, it is no surprise that the council finally approved the concert at the end of the negotiations. However, some sources such as the Blog Venice reported that the band only got the venue because Tomasi, the Venetian Council Vice President Gianni De Michelis and Commissioner Nero Laroni bribed officials.

The Blame Game after the Aftermath

Pink Floyd’s concert attracted 200,000 people. It was filmed by RAI, the state-run television that had sold broadcasting rights to over 20 countries; thus, the band had an audience of nearly 100 million. They only performed for 90 minutes as per the agreement with RAI, but the effects of the concert have remained unforgettable. Media houses everywhere reported the “scandalous event”, highlighting the 300 tons of garbage the audience had left behind at the square.

The place was littered with 500 cubic meters of empty bottles and cans, and the stench emanating from the area was irritating to the residents. The attendees had not been provided with toilets; therefore, according to Ultimate Classic Rock, they relieved themselves on the monuments and walls. The day after the concert, politicians knew they had to distance themselves from the negative publicity. The mayor, Antonio Casellati, admitted to the public that the show was a mistake. He shifted blame to the RAI and other political groups, claiming they had pressured him to permit Pink Floyd to hold the concert. However, the public would not excuse him, and they wanted him to resign for turning Venice into a toilet. Seeing that he would not reason with them, he announced that he would resign if the coalition government passed a vote of no confidence in him.

De Michelis, on the other hand, perhaps out of guilt for also being at the forefront of permitting the concert, said that the public had no right to declare a holy war. He argued that Venice had always been a city of spectacles and added that since there was no death, they only had to deal with as little trash that could be forgotten in a matter of days. Their lack of accountability caused Italia Nostra, an environmentalist group, to file a formal complaint with the Venetian magistrate seeking the resignation of the public officials for alleged misconduct and corruption. Consequently, Casellati and his entire council stepped down. Unfortunately, the concert brought more harm to Venice besides impacting the government. The aftermath resulted in Italy being deemed unworthy of holding the Expo 2000. If 200,000 could leave a mess that had to be cleaned up by the army, then the projected 30 million tourists that would attend the Expo 2000 would destroy Venice’s fragile environment. As a result, the city had to be eliminated from the competition.

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