Concert Review – ROGER WATERS
Opposing tides flowed into each other in Las Vegas on Friday evening as the candy-colored festival goers heading north to the Electric Daisy Carnival walked through a mass of faded Pink Floyd t-shirts in the queue outside T-Mobile Arena. One group was about to experience the ecstasy of bass drops and physical contact while the other walked into Us + Them, a dystopian masterpiece led by a 73-year-old visionary who has found his best work validated by today’s political divide.
For the first time in 25 years, Roger Waters is touring to support a new album, Is This the Life We Really Want? – a timely effort with producer Nigel Godrich (Beck, Radiohead) at the helm. The new material holds up well live even while surrounded by some of the most elegant compositions in rock ‘n’ roll history. Opening with a slew of songs from Dark Side of the Moon, the video production and sound clarity (an arena gig in surround sound?!) were astounding for a show of this size. While most concerts often capture a few fleeting moments of the mystery and wonder that stir our fascination with rock music, this tour offers an entire night immersed in such emotion. It’s overwhelming, draining and cathartic.
Surrounded by a cast of musicians capable of treating each Floyd composition with the care it deserves, Waters wisely faded into the background at times and allowed the band to shine like crazy diamonds. Singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessing (both of indie band Lucius) were absolutely critical to the production and threatened to steal the night on a poignant “Vera” near the end of show. Dressed in matching gowns and blonde wigs, the were the musical personification of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian masterwork A Handmaid’s Tale and helped to reinforce the evening’s underlying message.
The first set ended with all three parts of “Another Brick in the Wall” as local school children lined the stage in prison garb before ripping them off to reveal “Resist” t-shirts while dancing gleefully. It was an uplifting moment; reminding us of the unbridled joy music offered to us as teens and the idealism of rock ‘n’ roll as a vehicle for social change. The rock ‘n’ roll canon overflows with powerful political and social commentary from Hendrix at Woodstock to the Sex Pistols demanding anarchy over monarchy. As the second set began, Waters launched into his most overtly political album – 1977’s Animals – and the multimedia experience took over.
Air raid alarms sounded, screens dropped from the ceiling to bisect the arena and the entire venue morphed into the Battersea power station depicted on the cover of Animals. Opening with “Dogs” and then launching into “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”, Waters wielded the music like a hammer and swung mightily at the walls built around us by unchecked capitalism. When he originally wrote these songs in the 1970s, there was no way to imagine that 2017 would mirror his lyrics so perfectly. He makes full use of Donald Trump as a symbol of the greed and divisiveness that eats away at good people. If some in attendance were uncomfortable, as far as Waters was concerned that was the point. This is the attitude that built rock ‘n’ roll and we must cherish and protect it.
As the band returned to Dark Side of the Moon to end the night, lasers recreated the famous prism pyramid in the arena (the EDC kids would have had their brains melted) and the delicate sound of The Wall’s “Comfortably Numb” wrapped itself around us. The Us + Them tour delivered a message of hope and reminded everyone that there is only US, one people united in music, while Them is the fear and weakness that disrupts human nature. Rather than risk hyperbole by calling it the “greatest concert ever”, I will only say that I’ve never witnessed a more engrossing live music experience where brilliant musicians and jaw dropping visuals came together to shake my soul.