Roger Waters brings his spectacular live performance of The Wall in its entirety to London's O2 Dome.
Pink Floyd's legendary ex-Bass player, principal songwriter and creative director Roger Waters had a rude awakening when he left the band nearly three decades ago. He assumed that a Pink Floyd without him was a non starter, and assumed the rest of the world would agree with him. He was wrong and history was about to teach him a somewhat humbling lesson; one of discovery, self realisation, protracted healing and a general dose of growing up, growing old, and seeing things through wiser more philosophical eyes. It seems he also learned to accept that in the great scheme of things, even he was just a part of a whole that was so much greater than the sum of all its parts (dare I say he was just another brick in that particular wall?...maybe not!). In any case it’s a truism that I find amazing more people in famous bands don't realise applies to them before it's too late.
Anyway, where am I going with this? Well, seeing Waters performing 'The Wall' at the O2 dome, and hearing what he had to say about it at certain points throughout the performance, I had the overwhelming sense that I was witnessing a master artist consummately aware not only of the lingering power and enduring relevance of this, his most famous (and infamous) and revered opus, but a renewed vigour also. There was a sense that a safe and respectful distance had been established between the work and the man. It was a joy to behold in fact, and allowed for some other benefits perhaps not obvious to all, but all too loud and clear to this fan. More about that in a moment though.
I have noticed that recent documentary interviews with Roger Waters have revealed a much warmer, funnier man than most would have ever given him credit for, and I felt a great deal of that energy apparent in this show. I do realise how odd that sounds by the way, considering the sometimes harrowing nature of The Wall's subject matter, but facts is facts, I felt it.
So what's the show exactly? Well it's a live performance along similar lines to the original 'The Wall' tour the Floyd did way back in the day. It features the still radical idea of gradually building a huge wall across the stage throughout act 1 completely obscuring the band. Act 2 then playing out with the wall itself acting as a giant screen for projected images and special effects, until finally coming crashing down in the finale. The music to my ears sounds like a distillation of the original 1979 album with the soundtrack from the 1982 film version Pink Floyd - The Wall for which several changes, remixes, omissions and new songs were undertaken. The show also uses much of the original Gerald Scarfe imagery and animations from the movie too. These animations work mostly to good effect but they are the basis of the only whinge I have with the show. More on that later.
So what of the venue? The O2 is an amazing place, I like it very much (although ’9.60 for a cheeseburger is taking the piss to levels never before seen!). I feel the dome is a worthy venue for the kind of acts that years ago would have chosen the old Wembley Stadium. In some ways the O2 seems better suited to highly controlled stage shows than the new Wembley. I had the pleasure of my very first big venue gig being the David Gilmour led 'post Roger' incarnation of Pink Floyd at the old Wembley stadium in 1988 (A Momentary Lapse of Reason world tour). Nothing has come close to that until now.
To say Waters' production is stunning would be to undersell it immensely. It's spellbinding and magical, and made me and my cousin Alex (two grown 40 year old men) giggle like schoolboys in places, and gawp in wonderment in others. Personally there were a few moments where I even welled up in tears at what I was experiencing. If there is one thing the Floyd in general and Waters in particular know how to do better than anyone else; it's tie the emotive power of music and visual effects together in a way that maximises the effectiveness of both. Timing is crucial and Waters' production is spot on. Personally I absolutely hate it when a stage show's lighting or pyrotechnic effects are timed badly. Nothing worse than the band hitting that giant final power-chord and then half a second later the pyros go off - lame lame lamer than lame! Waters' show is a shining example not only of how to do it, but how to do it and completely mesmerise at the same time.
I think the climax of Comfortably Numb is probably the most spectacular and visually arresting thing I've ever seen at a live event. I'm not going to describe it in detail as I don't wish to spoil it for those still planning to see the show, however I have watched it on YouTube and now Facebook about a thousand times since the gig and it is just proper fantastic.
Of course in the years since the original album tour, many of the songs from The Wall have been performed at both Gilmour's Floyd and Roger Waters' live shows. Waters of course also did the immense star studded Berlin production of the entire album in the early nineties. I've never been that keen on any of these, as I always felt that one way or another they took liberties with or deviated from the originals too much for real fans of the album to really dig. With that in mind, one of the most significant things in my opinion that rang out loud and proud with this production was this newfound honesty to the source material. It seems that finally the prevailing thought was that they should endeavour to present the material in as close a way to the original as possible. Key to this was Waters' choice of lead guitarist (the great Dave Kilminster) and the general approach to the reproduction of Gilmour's key guitar parts and sound. Kilminster has done an amazing job in understanding that so much of Gilmour's guitar work is way too lyrical and permanently imprinted in even the average fan's noodle to fuck around with, so he doesn't. Good move. Kilminster's work is so good and true to the originals where it matters in fact that it was interesting to note that when Gilmour himself turned up at the O2 to play Comfortably Numb on the 12th, he technically screwed the big end solo up. Now obviously if anyone is allowed to mess around with Gilmour's solos; it's Gilmour, but I did chuckle at the idea that Kilminster was nailing those iconic solos in a way that Gilmour most definitely didn't - lol. I will go as far as to say that at least in pure musical terms, I'm glad my experience was in the accurate hands of Mr Kilminster at that momentous point in the proceedings! (did I just say that?!), yes I think I did.
As briefly mentioned earlier, sadly the only element that didn't quite gel in the show for me were some (not all) of the animated scenes pulled from the 1982 movie. Although these animations were great back then and are still arresting and fascinating; there's something about them in this context and blown up to the size they are on stage that doesn't quite work. Waters has put together a show that uses some incredibly hi-tech, hi-def modern looking visual FX and sometimes the original animations are woven seamlessly into this tapestry. Other instances are less successful, and the age and sheer lo-tech nature of Scarfe's ink animations seem at odds with the overall clarity of the other visuals. It's a very minor gripe, but worth mentioning.
I have heard it said that this might be the last time Roger Waters tours like this, I hope not. I mean, surely I’m not the only one who wants our Roger to revisit Atom Heart Mother - lol. Ok maybe not, but what about the idea of the three surviving members getting together and touring The Dark Side Of The Moon! Pipe dream? Yeah, but what an amazing one huh?
If this does turn out to be the last hurrah, or even if not; I'm so happy I got to see this wonderful show.
Well done Rodge and Co. you have created a truly spectacular event I for one will never forget. So come on, get the bloody DVD out, I wanna see that Comfortably Numb bit again in Blu-Ray hi-def!!
Released: Mon 23rd May 2011