I’ve been a Roger Waters fan for years–I always believed he was the soul of Pink Floyd, and I’m one of the few souls who own and have regularly enjoyed listening to his solo records, particularly the universally panned Radio KAOS.
But I’ve seen him a bunch of times, and he’s getting old, and I don’t enjoy huge concerts like I used to. I saw him do The Wall on the spot of the former Berlin Wall in 1990 (horrible show with half a million Germans in a dust bowl, and they had to re-perform half the show for the TV/DVD because of sound problems, but it was a great reason to visit Berlin since I was already in Europe at the time). I saw him three times on his last tour: in Kansas City in 1999 (part of a road trip that began 6 months of travel), at The Gorge in the middle of Washington State in 2000 (incredible setting overlooking the Columbia River canyon, and the show started with Rog’s private 737 buzzing the arena–can’t top that), and in Paris in 2002 (great excuse for a week’s vacation with my wife, but a fairly boring show).
So when he announced earlier this year that he’d be playing Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety…and that tickets would go on sale early for American Express cardholders…and that decent seats would cost $125 plus fees…I smelled a cash-in attempt and was going to skip it. Fortunately, a friend talked me into going and had access to a corporate credit card, because this time he put on an absolutely amazing show, a solid 2 1/2 hours of exquisite sound with a 100-foot high-def video screen (where’d he get that?) that actually augmented the music rather than just being eye candy.
Although he did less solo stuff than on his last tour, it felt more like a Roger Waters show–very dark and political, with two full songs from his anti-war opus The Final Cut (a Floyd album in name only and one of the darkest records ever made) and a new song, “Leaving Beirut,” that was basically a 12-minute jeremiad against Bush and Blair and the Iraq war, with an associated a graphic-novelesque video depicting an incident from Rog’s 1961 trip to Lebanon, along with lyrics printed in cartoon-dialog balloons. (It was about two verses too long, and I got the message loud and clear, but at least he’s not hiding his beliefs.) Plus the expected songs, some of which sounded great (most of Dark Side, particularly “On the Run,” “Great Gig in the Sky,” and “Us & Them,” as well as “Set the Controls,” “Another Brick” and “Sheep”) and some of which I don’t care if I never hear again (most of Wish You Were Here).
But what really distinguishes Waters from Fake Floyd is the sense of theater, the combination of songs and video and effects that all work together in clever and sometimes funny ways. Before the show started, the huge high-def video screen behind the stage showed a radio and a bottle of whiskey (Johnny Walker with the label turned around so as not to appear to be an advertisement). At one point, cigarette smoke started rising, and a hand reached up and turned the radio dial to play “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn…a tie-in to the song “Vera” from The Wall, which starts with “does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?” and which he played at the end of the show. A few minutes later, the hand switched back to a rock and roll station, which played some Chuck Berry, then the beginning of Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” at which point everybody in the arena winced…as did the disembodied video narrator, who reached up and immediately switched it to something better! Huge arena-rattling missle-overhead noises and explosions added to the end of “In the Flesh.” A giant flying inflatable pig that’s apparently hand-graffiti’d by Roger every night with slogans like “habeas corpus matters” and “Kafka rules,” not to mention “Impeach Bush Now” across its ass. Surprising added sound effects during “On the Run” that made me jump, like a train and race cars, with associated video in fluorescent super-saturated orange and green. The pills on the video screen during “Brain Damage” printed with the small text “Soma.” The flags of Israel and various Arab countries flashing by during “Bring the Boys Back Home” (it’s not just about America or England). The quick shot of him standing atop the Berlin Wall during “Another Brick.” The satellite from Radio KAOS circling the moon toward the end of Dark Side. The war-as-football-stadium-entertainment video during “Perfect Sense.” A long shot of an oil well pumping during “Us and Them”, sitting there just long enough for you to wonder “what the hell?”… until he sings “and who’ll deny it’s what the fighting’s all about?” A quick fadethrough montage featuring George W Bush in the Mission Accomplished flyer shot just as he sings the line “all you distrust” from “Eclipse.” And so forth and so on.
That said, the lead guitarist did a great job of imitating David Gilmour’s parts but wasn’t him, and a lot of Dark Side was sung by bandmembers who aren’t Gilmour or Rick Wright, making it sometimes seem like a Pink Floyd cover band. And Rog’s music occasionally feels plodding or a little bit cheesy (like the soprano saxophone, which has been ruined forever by Kenny G). His shows are much more meaningful and (I believe) heartfelt than the Fake Floyd tours were, but playing so many Floyd songs will inevitably draw comparisons, and Rog with a bunch of sidemen just isn’t the same as Pink Floyd and never can be.
It also became clear when he sang “Have a Cigar” that Syd was Pink.