Friday, September 17, 2010

Roger Waters: The Wall Live

Last weekend my husband and I were chatting and he mentioned something about Roger Waters doing a live version of The Wall. I said, "That sounds amazing, could you imagine?" and he looked at me with some surprise and said, "Why, do you want to go? I have 4 tickets and haven't figured out who the fourth person will be. You should come!" I then thought sure, before thinking no, I had a lot of work to do and I should really update the blog and I'm behind on TV and I'd really like to read a book... and then thought it would still be really cool to see The Wall. The next day he kept bugging me and I said nah, I'm sure someone else would like it more than I would. So he gave the ticket to my brother. I posted on Facebook that I'd turned down a ticket to The Wall and it might have been a mistake, and several people responded that it was historic and I HAD to get that ticket back. So I emailed my brother, who happily handed it back and even offered to babysit (best brother ever).

And boy, am I glad I changed my mind.

I've never been a huge fan of Pink Floyd. I've listened to a lot of their stuff, my husband is a Syd Barrett fan so he typically plays the early stuff a lot, but of their albums, The Wall is probably my favourite. In the late 80s, MuchMusic (the Canadian equivalent of MTV) used to play a lot of amazing music movies -- Tom Waits' Big Time seemed to air all the time, and The Wall was another one they showed on an endless loop. I think I saw it for the first time when I was 15, and thought it was absolutely insane, and I've seen it once since. I knew the gist of the album -- Waters had been fed up with the audiences at the Pink Floyd shows, going so far as to spit on an audience member at one show. After the incident he apologized, but said sometimes he was just so frustrated by the way the audience acted that he wished he could construct a wall between himself and them.

The Wall is about Pink (who is basically Waters himself), and through 4 sides of the record (in the olden days when it was on vinyl and cassette) you go through Pink's childhood and then teenage years, through to his marriage and the dissolution of that. Throughout his life he constructs a mental wall that separates himself from the rest of society, and at the end of side 2 the wall is complete. Side 3 is about how isolated he feels and how he realizes that he actually needs the people that he's just shut out, and through the end of the album he imagines himself a pseudo-dictator before putting himself on trial, demanding over and over, "Tear down the wall!!" before it comes crashing down and he begins to see a possible new life for himself.

The tour for The Wall was incredibly expensive, and the band only did a few shows to support it. It was revived in 1990 when the Berlin Wall fell, and that's the last anyone saw of it. On Wednesday night Roger Waters kicked off the new tour of The Wall, and the show was unbelievable.

When you walked into the stadium, the sides of the wall were constructed on the stage. Through the first couple of songs, Waters was on a riser behind the wall and the audience went nuts to see him. When the band moved into "Another Brick in the Wall," everyone in the audience was singing along. Suddenly an enormous puppet of the Teacher from the crazed movie, all bug-eyed and menacing, appeared on the side of the stage and began looming over the audience. The song switched to Part 2, and the now-familiar, "We don't need no education" rang out throughout the auditorium before a group of children from the Regent Park Children's Choir ran onto the stage and began singing the children's chorus part of the song. It was glorious (they even sang it in the British accents!!) Roger came around to the front to join them, and they all pointed at the teacher and yelled, "Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone!" Awesome. Here's a pretty good video of the song (this only picks up with Part 2):

You'll notice in the background of the video that as the song progressed, roadies came onto the stage and started building up the wall. This continued throughout the show, with various bricks being moved around and used in interesting ways, projecting images on it (some of fallen soldiers as he sang the song about losing his father in the war) and for "Mother," a huge inflatable puppet of the overprotective mom much like the Teacher came out of the side and again loomed over the proceedings.

By the end of the second side, the wall was almost complete except for one final block, and Waters stepped up to that block and sang "Goodbye Cruel World" through it before the wall was complete:

It was gorgeous. At that point there was an intermission, and then the band returned and did "Hey You" entirely behind the wall, before singing "Is Anybody Out There," which was poignant and effective when we were the people on the other side of the wall. They were hidden behind it and you could see nothing but this wall separating you and this desperate man hidden behind. It was very effective. There was darkness, before a square opened up on the one side of the wall and you could see Waters sitting in a lounge chair watching the television, and he sang "Nobody Home" before coming to the front of the stage and performing a few songs on his own with the band still behind the wall. One of those was Comfortably Numb, which was possibly my favourite song of the night (another singer came to the top of the wall to sing Gilmour's parts). It blew my mind. This video's a little bumpy, but it has great sound and you can hear how beautiful the song was:

From there we moved into Pink's bigger crisis, where he's the dictator, and at this point Waters and the band came out all wearing black hoodies and you couldn't see any of them. A friend of mine with me who is a huge Pink Floyd fan told me that the idea behind that number was to show that the audience would clap for anyone, and who's to say that's actually Roger Waters wearing that hoodie? (It was.) During this segment of the show there was a remote controlled giant inflated pig flying above the audience's heads with capitalist slogans all over it.

The most spectacular number was at the end, "The Trial." The band once again moved behind the stage (it could have been pre-recorded for all I know) and Waters sat on a riser on the edge of the stage singing while we watched the long section from the movie projected onto the front of the wall. By the end of it the audience was all on its feet, fists pumping in the air and shouting, "Tear down the wall! Tear down the wall!" and then... it came down. It was incredible.

In the midst of the rubble, Waters came out with his band and quietly sang "Outside the Wall," as one spotlight shone on him to show the hope of his future. He then thanked everyone for coming and left.

The show was epic; if you have a chance to see it, I can't recommend it enough. The only thing that no longer works in the context of this massive production (if it ever did, to be honest) is the anti-capitalist message throughout. It's hard to come down hard on capitalism when you're charging $250 a ticket. But that's a pretty small nitpick against an otherwise awesome show.


The Question Mark said...

I was never a huge Pink Floyd fan either, but I did do that Dark Sde of Oz thing:
According to myth, if you play the album Dark Side of the Moon while watcching the WIzard of Oz, the songs are supposed to echo what's happening onscreen. I tried it & it actually works!

Ralph C said...

I like Pink Floyd a lot and have read a book about them and one about Syd (Roger) Barrett. I like "The Wall" quite a bit but I think my favorite album by them is "Animals". I find Syd Barrett's solo work amazing, creepy and sad, sometimes all at the same time. The Syd Barrett book is called "Lost In The Woods: Syd Barrett and the Pink Floyd".

Danny Perschonok said...

I'm a huge Pink Floyd fan and I was able to get presale tickets for the show here in Anaheim, CA. After reading your review I'm even more excited for it. Too bad I have to wait until December!

Michele said...

I am so jealous!! I used to be a huge Pink Floyd fan (and still love their music). My favourite album was Dark Side of the Moon. I would have loved to see this show but I live in the boondocks - actually, I can just barely see the boondocks if I stand on my roof!