Waters’s ‘the Wall’ live cements theme with vivid production

November 18, 2010

After decades of familiarity with Pink Floyd’s the Wall my way of hearing the album has been changed forever thanks Floyd founding member Roger Waters’ new live show. I really want to be absorbed by the show, so I forwent any video recording or picture taking (Lourdes Herrero, a friend who sat next to me, shot all the pictures in this post). Experiencing the album’s key songwriter and his band reproduce the concept-album-to-end-all-concept-albums live over the weekend added much more to an album that I had thought I knew inside and out.

But indulge me one negative: I thought Waters’ attempt to socialize the themes of psychological Oedipal distress inconsistent, unnecessary and a bit heavy-handed. He seemed to have devised this reasoning in the announcement of the tour back in April. As Waters said in the post, he felt the need to tour behind this 1980 Pink Floyd album to “draw some comparisons, to illuminate our current predicament,” especially in this age of supposed higher avenues of communication thanks to the Internet, he continues. As great a work of art the original album is at inviting interpretation by the listener, to revise the meaning of the album without some re-writing, seems a stretch.

Not that I would have condoned changing a note of the original album, but Waters need not excuse himself from finally rendering the album live in its entirety when it is well known Pink Floyd had only performed a handful of live shows soon after the album’s release.* All Pink Floyd fans care about is that the main man behind the album is performing said album live, in its entirety, and he certainly did it justice on Saturday, Nov. 13, at the Bank Atlantic Center in Fort Lauderdale.

Let it be known, that I count myself among those who have stuck by Waters since he quit Pink Floyd and subsequently sued the remaining members after they decided to continue on as Pink Floyd without him. After former frontman Syd Barret lost his marbles and left the band, Waters, to me, was the leader of Floyd henceforth and forevermore. I would prefer to see him do the Wall live as a solo artist over the rest of the band members (listen to how cheesy the Wall tracks sound on the live album Pulse, for instance). Any other Pink Floyd work, after the Final Cut, never amounted to the masterpiece that was the Wall. None of it was even as adventurous, albeit as messy, as the Final Cut or as good as the albums that preceded the Wall.

With those biases in mind, the memory of the show this past Saturday, has grown warmer as the time has passed (those whistles from that asshole who kept shrilly peeping after every line of “Mother” have faded and the bloody ocean projected over the wall during “the Thin Ice,” has grown more vivid in my memory).** The only moment I recall Waters’ heavy-handedness in altering the original inspiration for the concept album becoming totally off-putting, was sucking the darker soul out of “Mother” by replacing the character of the mother with the idea of the government as oppressor.

Yes, the crowd certainly responded to the new metaphor, especially to the line “Mother, should I trust the government?” and the words “No fucking way” suddenly appeared projected on the wall. The audience roared and applauded like a Tea Party rally.  But what’s so dark about the original song is the intimate blood bond between son and mother, and her well-intentioned, albeit misguided, oppressiveness. Adding to the inconsistency of this attempt to fit this new metaphor into the story is the representation of the mother as a humanoid during “the Trial.”

This did not haunt me throughout the show in the least, however. The show had so much going on visually and the sound and the performance was so immaculate, I was mostly left in awe. I was experiencing an undeniable piece of rock ‘n’ roll canon by the man who wrote it. I am certain bands will even keep this album alive long after Waters has passed away (a la the Australian Pink Floyd‘s recent rendition of the Wall at the Miami Beach Fillmore, not too long ago).

Just as in the old days of Pink Floyd’s live version of the Wall, the titular object would grow on stage as the songs progressed. Stagehands would fill in spaces in the Wall with large white (most likely foam) rectangular bricks, as the band progressed through the piece. By the end of the first half, the Wall had completely sealed the band away from the audience.

Once the Wall completely hid the band, I had feared how exciting the show might be. During “Hey You” spotlights overhead would shine on unseen persons behind the wall, in time to the parts. This only provided an establishment of the idea of the protagonist, of course played by Waters, behind a wall. Soon enough Waters would engage with the wall in full view of the audience while projections on the wall, would warp the perception of the massive set piece. Some bricks would sometimes disappear, and during “Comfortably Numb” the wall would even swirl and twist into darkness, capturing the feeling of being inside the wall. The outside of the wall had transformed into the inside.

As I said at the beginning, the live show certainly sealed the themes of album powerfully. No more so than solidifying the flow of the more chaotic second part of the album. Then there were the worms, seemingly eating at the wall by actually winding through the virtual bricks.

After all these years, I never noticed how key the 30 second track “Stop” was to the transition from the fascist concert to the trial. After all the bombast of “In the Flesh,” when even a giant remote controlled black pig with raging red, glowing eyes floated from beyond the Wall, right next to our seats, the stage was reduced to a tiny spotlight focused on a small, pink dummy sitting on top of the Wall.

All the anger directed at humanity during “In the Flesh” is of course a channel for the anger inside our hero. It is when he sings “Stop,” that the scared little self makes a true appearance, and then “the Trial” begins with the famous lines:

“The prisoner who now stands before you
Was caught red-handed showing feelings
Showing feelings of an almost human nature;
This will not do.”

It was an ingenious moment during the show that certainly highlighted the album’s themes well. I had often felt “the Trial” felt too literal a theatrical bit on the album, the Alan Parker-directed film, and even in Waters’ live version with an all-star cast in Berlin back in 1990. But its rendition during this live show, finally sold the song to me. Waters stalked the stage, dressed in black, singing the parts of the players: the teacher, the mother, the girlfriend and judge to various affect, as all the massive puppets hovered over him. I never noticed him look out at the audience during this number. He would just sing hunched over, holding the microphone in his two clenched fists. It all vividly brought to life the schizophrenia of perceptions that haunted the protagonist to shutting himself off from the world.

As important as the stage show was, and I am not going to complain about the seats I got during the pre-sale,*** I have mixed feelings about maybe seeing a little more of what the musicians were doing. Even when the wall was partially built, at the start of the show, I could not see the drummer. The band was also all dressed in black, clearly keeping a lower profile to the stage show, but adding a fitting color scheme when they donned the red arm bands for the fascist rock numbers.

There is something also to be said further about the projections on the wall. Gerald Scarfe’s artwork for both the album and the film version, were a key component to this live show. All the animations from the film were here, projected onto the giant wall and also on the circular screen above the band. If anyone ever wondered what was going on below the flowers’ eerie dance during “Empty Spaces” in the film, you’ll see that in the digitally added roots projected along the wall. Also, the marching hammers have grown in menacing number for this show. Then there were the moments Waters interacted with the Wall and allowed the projections to do the “talking,” which often brought cheers from the audience, especially during the anti-war messages. Waters– as is the hero of the Wall– is a product of growing up fatherless due to war, after all.

Finally, there were also some great moments with the props: the teacher and girlfriend/wife unfolded from the ceilings promptly and menacingly danced in their corners during their various numbers.****

All in all, it was all something much more than a rock show, truly bringing justice to one of Pink Floyd greatest works.

Update: Waters returned for a second Wall show on June 15, 2012 ar the same venue, and I reviewed it for “County Grind,” one of the blogs on the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times” website. This time, they secured a pair of tickets for me, and I got a view from the floor. You can read that review and see lots of close-up pictures through the logo below:

*The only live dates for the album as Floyd occurred Feb 7-13, 1980 in LA and Feb. 24-28 in NYC. Europe would not get the Wall live until a year later for several dates in Germany and a final series of dates in England ( p. 185 Pink Floyd: In the Flesh – the Complete Performance History by Glenn Povey and Ian Russell).

**To that douche bag who kept whistling throughout many of the songs and yapping with his entourage for practically half the show, though he may not be reading this: a big “F U.” Pardon my fascist tendencies, but there should be a contract signed by all attending concertgoers to be still and reverent to such a performance and have police at every door to drag them out should they not show the courtesy to give the show the attention it deserves. Maybe a kick to the mouth would be justified, too.

***I was practically above stage right, in the second level of seats, in the first row. Sometimes, I leaned on the rail and rested my chin on my crossed forearms in rapt attention. During his thanks to the crowd, Waters even turned and pointed up to me and said “especially you.” Or maybe it was my friend who started our side in the hammer salute or it might have been that whistling asshole.

****Though I heard that during the second show, which my friend who took the pics attended but I did not, a technical glitch prevented the girlfriend puppet from coming down from the rafters.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
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