Roger Waters Presents The Wall
Saturday, October 30, 2010
The Sprint Center
It all began with a homeless man.
Roger Waters' magnum opus, The Wall, was unveiled in live form at the Sprint Center on Saturday night. The Pink Floyd masterpiece -- one of the most commercially successful albums ever, and an irrefutable piece of pop culture history -- would claim the stage with searchlights, fireworks, gigantic disturbing puppets and mind-boggling projections. But first, the audience snapped pictures of a guy pushing a shopping cart around the arena's floor, with a sign: HOMELESS NEED MONEY FOR BOOZE AND HOOKERS.
The Wall -- and Pink Floyd itself -- has a long, troubled history that's nearly as epic as the scope of the album itself. For brevity's sake, let's put it this way: The Wall is a large chunk of Waters' life, complete with oedipal underpinnings, post-war paranoia, and anti-government, anarchist sentiments, boiled into one simmering, delusional consciousness that reflects Waters and a war-ravaged England. It's a bombastic, uncompromising album, and it's also the soundtrack to many, many moments in peoples' personal histories. The Sprint Center was packed with fans that haven't updated their shirts (or their 'staches) since 1980's original tour, couples on dates, kids in costumes, and a bunch of regular joes who miss their stoner days. (I even saw a set of 40-something guys in sweater vests, Dockers, loafers and faceless student masks from the film.)
As the Sprint Center darkened, a warbling horn solo filled the arena. A spotlight illuminated the homeless guy, who mumbled, paced, and grabbed a doll out of a trashcan (it's Pink!) and flung it at the feet of a shadowy figure on stage. Someone in the crowd screamed, "Fuck yeah." Suddenly, the stage erupted in fireworks and red sparks as "In the Flesh?" hit its proggy, sinewy stride. Waters emerged, and slipped on a jacket (complete with Nazi-reminiscent red armband) and sunglasses. Of course, everyone knew the words, which were all too appropriate: So ya thought ya might like to / go to the show.
Stage hands plunked brick after brick onto the stage set, slowly erecting -- what else? -- a wall between the band and the audience. Waters was clever in his stage design, though, offering little inroads into the set by keeping a brick out of place, or later, opening a mini-set in the wall that looked like a hotel room.
Searchlights swept over the audience, implying the plight of a fugitive living in the trenches beneath the government's gaze. "The Thin Ice" projected a huge portrait of Waters' father before dissolving into pictures of people who died in the crossfire of war. The Wall was a terse portrait of a mind plagued by war and paranoia; but now, it seems, it's not just Waters' -- it's America's, too.
Waters relentlessly pushed on cultural memories that weren't exactly comfortable: a plane crashed through part of the wall; pictures of fallen soldiers and activists flashed on screen, along with starving children and clearly anti-religious images. (At one point, crosses, Stars of David and crescent moons dropped from B52's -- along with Mercedes signs and dollar signs.) Waters' live show emphasized how radical The Wall's message actually was; but, it seemed like a wave of nostalgia deadened the sting of many of these indictments of American life. After all, it's easy to say "Fuck the man" when you're 17. Saying it convincingly when you're 45 with kids to put through college is a bit tougher. (It's hard to justify when you're a hugely successful musician rolling out a mind-bogglingly expensive stage show in one of the country's most successful arenas, too, but that's a whole different story.)
Either way, for all the paranoia invoked on stage, the Sprint Center was just as smoky as a high-schoolers' bedroom. Helicopters whirred overhead while a kid dressed as a hippie stood up and noodled in an air guitar solo on "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)," pumping his fist as local kids marched and sang in English accents, We don't need no education."It's almost my favorite part of the show," Waters said, referring to the kids between numbers.
"I first did this piece with Pink Floyd 30 years ago. We've just got a snippet of the film with us this evening singing 'Mother' in 1980. Though it will seem somewhat narcissistic, I will attempt to sing a double-track with the young Roger from all those years ago." Black-and-white footage of a younger (though no less spry) Waters flashed on a screen above the stage, while Waters asked questions that the crowd knew all too well: Mother, should I trust the government? ("No fucking way!" flashed across the wall, in red.)
The operatic grandeur of The Wall's live presence demonstrated that show wasn't about Roger Waters performing; it was a celebration of the piece itself. The relationship between Waters and his circus of paranoid rhetoric was much like that of a symphony and its soloist. Many times, as the guitarist erupted in a fiery solo, Waters paced about the stage, shading his eyes to see people in the crowd, waving his hands back and forth and pumping his fists in the air. Isn't this cool? His grin seemed to ask. He had good reason to.
Waters and his crew placed the final brick in the wall during "Goodbye Cruel World," serenading the crowd with a short, stripped-down goodbye before walling up the band for intermission. A thirty-minute break offered time to grab beers (or, in the case of the cast of Alice In Wonderland in front of me, light up a slew of weed).
The second half of the show began where the first half ended: with a big, white wall facing the audience. For a show that was meant to be about restoring humanity, there were remarkably few onstage for most of the presentation. "Hey You" was sung entirely behind the wall, which, though neat in concept, was almost irritating in person. Thankfully, Waters found his way back out to the audience again for some of the heavier cuts on the album. "Bring the Boys Back Home" was one of the most dramatic numbers of the night, which found Waters spreading his arms in a Christ-like motion -- or, like an orchestra director.
Though Waters treated his album like a sacred text, some of the tracks were reworked in a way that was a little unsavory. The most glaring error was when Waters gave his chorus for "Comfortably Numb" to a backup singer -- Robbie Wyckoff -- who bore a little too close of a resemblance to Rob Thomas for my taste. (Also, if we're going to talk about opiates to the masses -- I don't need no drugs to calm me, for example -- there's a lot of irony in a packed house chanting the lyrics to "Comfortably Numb" while they're cataclysmically stoned.)
"Are there any paranoids in Kansas City tonight?" Waters yelled. The crowd screamed furiously. "I'll take that as a yes. This is for you. It's called 'Run Like Hell.'" The Mad Hatter in front of me bent backwards blissfully, covering his face with a joint in his fingers. A big, black, graffiti'd pig with glowing red eyes dangled over the crowd, which people alternately flipped off, pointed at, and flashed peace signs toward.
When the wall finally exploded in the last act of Waters' show, it felt as though the audience had accomplished something, too. (Given the cultural consciousness the spectacle was drawing on, it makes sense.) The crowd passed its last joint as confetti floated down toward the floor during the sentimental, horn-driven "Outside the Wall." Waters' band lined up on stage facing the audience, abandoning the fancy artifice that accompanied the night's set thus far. It was a glimpse of bittersweet humanity that the rest of the stage show could only approximate.
Critics' Bias: I respect The Wall; but I like Dark Side of the Moon better.
Random Notebook Dump: Waters solos behind the kids, looking oddly similar to a friendly, grizzled Richard Gere.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Look at that guy's eyes. Let's stare at him, and make him paranoid."
Set List: Duh.