It was to be the concert of the year for me. Roger Waters. And without a doubt, not only was it the concert of the year - but it for sure was the concert of the decade for me. That sums it up. Period.
Without question, times have changed for Roger Waters. He’s changed with them. Perhaps even ahead of him. Some 32 years ago, the anemic-looking Pink Floyd singer and songwriter wrote a rock opera about a character named Pink, based on himself. It chronicled his journey into abandonment, and deep despair through the building of a now-iconic metaphorical wall which we know all know. That wall has been torn down, time and time again, but its legacy is taller than the wall ever was.
I remember being twelve years old at the time. My parents were out for the evening. I was alone in the house. I played the LP and I felt fear for the first time while listening to “Is there anybody out there?” It scared me – that was 34 years ago. It still scares me when I hear it.
Waters and his backing band performed the 1979 album in its entirety (the order of the songs were changed though, which I found weird- in a refreshing kind-of-way, actually) last weekend in Toronto - accompanied by dramatic visual effects that have given the music and lyrics an almost new meaning. After the concert’s intensity and before Waters left the stage, he reflected on who he was those many years ago. That brought closure for me. I loved that.
The Wall is a record (do I sound old fashioned by calling it a record?) that has grown up - but not aged. More than 30 years after its release, it’s evolved from a story of conflict, misery and alienation to an all-out assault on war, capitalism and poverty. (Reminds me of the Occupy Wall Street idiots). I would argue that it’s more relevant today than it ever was.
The faces of those who died in global conflicts were flashed onscreen throughout the show. Violent yellows, reds and greens were used to create uber-disturbing and thought-provoking visuals spelling out anti-government, anti-capitalist and anti-establishment messages splattered across the wall – a larger-than-life stack of giant bricks that would be built higher and the higher (and sometimes lower and lower) and form the backdrop for the entire musical extravaganza that was. To note - as a proud card-carrying, very pro-Israeli Jew, the harder I looked for supposed anti-Semitic and anti-Israel messages, the more I concluded that there is indeed none to be found.
Waters introduced himself with a bang during the opening track, “In the Flesh”. He came in strong – and I like that. The rich smell of pot smoke from the packed house - and vodka of the concert-goer next to me drifted gently into the air as the audience clapped along to the pounding, ever-recognizable disco drone of Pink Floyd’s school protest song, “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2.” You don’t get much more classic than that. Ever!
The wall was rebuilt until a solitary gap remained and Waters peered through, (bathed in a sensual blue light) to say goodbye to the cruel world and end the show’s first half. It was an awesome first half – if I am to critique anything, I’d say it was not loud enough for me. I like to be enveloped in sound, hugged. Almost sensually caressed.
He returned from intermission with Hey You, now hidden behind the fully built wall. Haunting!
Soon came Comfortably Numb with its wicked guitar solo, originally performed by Waters’ former bandmate, David Gilmour. I missed him, however the hired musicians excelled – hardly even missing David’s gentle finesse on those strings.
Waters pulled out all the stops in part two, as he shot a fake machine gun into the crowd (all part of his assault on war, capitalism and poverty) and unleashing a giant floating warthog (a more-menacing version of Pink Floyd’s classic flying pig). He played one classic song after another. Each one rising in intensity. A select few of The Wall’s songs featured scenes from the 1982 film adaptation. Included in this was the famous scene of the flowers simulating intercourse. Unforgettable – and unforgettably vivid.
Waters’ 2012 version of The Wall talked a lot about the ideas of war and state terror. He dedicated a song to a Brazilian man who was shot in the head when London police mistook him as a terrorist. He also spoke of a journalist and his assistant killed by an American airstrike in Baghdad. Yet with slivers of hope, the wall’s carefully choreographed animation also depicted moving scenes of returning soldiers hugging their loved ones. That was the good news after all the bad. It was like the audience needed that – I sure did!
Roger Waters’ The Wall Live is an old tale with a new agenda. While he may have torn down his own wall, he now he sees a bigger one behind it. And he’s lost none of his massive influence.
A spectacular light show. A spectacular music spectacle. Regrets? That Waters did not draw some materials from his two cultish solo albums, “The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking” and “Radio Kaos” – both of which (while not in the same league as The Wall) are awesome in their own right. Fitting that into the Wall theme may have been hard though.