In an age where pop artists like Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Adele dominate the charts, the spirit of rock was very much alive at Algonquin when Comfortably Numb entranced a sold-out crowd with the music of Pink Floyd at the Student Commons Theatre.
On March 4, the theatre was jammed with cheering, band shirt-clad Pink Floyd fans that spanned generations. And while American hip-hop artist Kanye West once famously tweeted “rap is the new rock ‘n’ roll,” the overwhelming enthusiasm from audience members – many of whom weren’t even born until after the “hey-day” of classic rock music – indicated otherwise.
“Pink Floyd’s music is timeless in nature,” said Azim Keshavjee, Comfortably Numb’s lead singer and guitarist in an interview with the Times before the show. “It’s still as prevalent as ever. Games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band have really brought this type of music back to the forefront for the younger generation.”
Keshavjee – known onstage as AK – was quick to point out that Pink Floyd’s newest album (The Endless River, released in 2014) outsold artists such as Beyonce and Katy Perry with a whopping 2.5 million copies sold worldwide.
“It’s universal music,” Keshavjee said. “It really boils down to the timeless nature of classic rock that transcends through the generations. People relate to that.”
Many in attendance were on the younger side of the scale, including those in their 20’s who still prefer classic artists like Pink Floyd over today’s pop music.
Alexei Ivanov, 21, was one of them. He thought the show was “great,” and finds classic rock easier to appreciate than pop music.
“With pop, there’s more drama. It’s showier,” Ivanov said. “This gives you a different edge. It’s all about the music.”
Some audience members, like William Ross, 21, had more pointed opinions about today’s music.
“Pop stuff seems more processed,” Ross said with a grimace. “It’s like processed cheese. It’s crap.”
Some audience members had a different experience.
Rohit Deep Singh, a first-year computer programming student, got his ticket by accident. He was studying alone in the Student Commons when a middle-aged couple approached him. They had an extra ticket to the show and didn’t want it to go to waste.
Deep Singh had never listened to rock music, and he certainly hadn’t heard of Pink Floyd, but Comfortably Numb had gained a new fan before they had even completed the first set.
“It’s a different concept,” he said during the intermission. “I really like rock music. It makes people want to shout. I’m glad I came; that lady made my day.”
Aside from being a rock star and a long-time Pink Floyd fan, Keshavjee also runs a music school called Trend Music. Many of his students study at Algonquin.
“As an educator, students from my music school who go to Algonquin have shown a lot of interest in rock music. We get tons of students at our shows,” he said.
When asked if their shows sell out often, Keshavjee chuckled.
“Pretty much always,” he said. “We put a lot of effort into these shows, and it shows when the house is full.”
Comfortably Numb has been playing shows across Canada for over 25 years, but Keshavjee says it’s always “amazing” to play in Ottawa, as a few of the band’s six members are from Ottawa. Keshavjee himself is an Algonquin College graduate.
When Comfortably Numb first got together, they didn’t have social media to get the word out and relied solely on word of mouth to gain popularity. And that they did.
Now, they’re playing sold-out shows across the country with an impressive multimedia video, laser and light show reminiscent of an authentic Pink Floyd live performance that kept audience members on the edges of their seats during Friday’s show.
“The music stands well on its own,” said Keshavjee, “but the visual experience is what ties the whole package together.”
But what made Keshavjee want to start a Pink Floyd tribute band in the first place? The answer is simple. It’s the same thing that continues to draw fans – young and old – to their shows to this day: the love of the music.
“I love it so much, I just wanted to share that feeling that I have with the public,” Keshavjee said. “The music has done so much for me over the years, my thank-you is to perform it.”