Review: Roger Waters “This Is Not A Drill,” Live In Kansas City, Sept 3rd, 2022 – A Spectacle of Sight & Sound

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*Picture of Roger Waters performing “Wish You Were Here” taken by your intrepid blogger

I have to admit, it’s been so long since I’ve been to a big, arena-sized concert that I’d be hard pressed to even tell you the last band I saw in such a big venue. I did see Joan Jett and Cheap Trick about a year ago at an outdoor venue, commonly referred to in the music industry as “a shed”. A few weeks ago, I also saw Starcrawler at what’s basically a bar. But in an arena, I haven’t gone to a concert since before COVID. I was a bit surprised when I heard from an old buddy of mine who said he had tickets to see Roger Waters and asked if I wanted to go with he and his daughter. Naturally, I was in. While Waters’ split with his original band, Pink Floyd, was decades ago his setlists are still packed with classic Pink Floyd tunes. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself when I thought about Roger Waters last show in Kansas City, way back in 2017. I didn’t attend, but the Rock Chick and I went out for drinks with this “friend of a friend” of hers and the lady’s boyfriend. The boyfriend – who plays music and has groovy long hair – said of the Waters’ concert he’d attended that he’d walked out offended by Roger’s politics and anti-Trump commentary. To which I replied while laughing incredulously, “Have you not been paying f*cking attention to Pink Floyd’s lyrics all these years?” Oddly we never saw that couple again.

I will admit that I got into one of the boxes where I store my old concert t-shirts that have been retired for various reasons to dig out my shirt from the 1990 performance Roger did of The Wall at the Berlin Wall that I was lucky enough to attend. I figured he’d see me in the audience and be like, “Hey, man you were in Berlin, come on up on stage and play some tambourine…” But alas, there are reasons I’ve retired some of those old concert T’s… The shirt from the Berlin show is now yellowed and stained with age and perhaps sloppy eating habits. Even washing it didn’t perk that thing up. Oh, well.

It’s hard to describe the feeling I had as we drove down to see Waters. I knew that he was going to play mostly (80%) Pink Floyd tunes. I think for most of us who became fans of rock n roll in the 70s Pink Floyd, and maybe Led Zeppelin, were the zenith of our rock n roll worlds. They were certainly the two coolest bands on the planet. I have such a visceral connection to all of Floyd’s music I wondered if I’d feel emotional when hearing it again, played live. When those guys split – Waters the bassist and primary composer in the band was on one side and David Gilmour (guitar, vocals), Rick Wright (keyboards) and Nick Mason (drums) were on the other. In the end the Gilmour/Wright/Mason side won the rights to continue as Pink Floyd. Waters retained the rights to The Wall. Only he is allowed to perform that concept album in full. It was Waters’ magnum opus after all.

Waters certainly focuses on the music but he also puts a lot into the visual piece of the performance. Last night can only be described as a visual spectacle.  Everything he writes is typically built around a concept and I guess you could say his concerts are constructed similarly. He has this giant, X shaped video screen that lifted off the stage and up into the sky where he projected not only images of the band playing live, but short videos, political commentary and animation. He spoke lovingly of his “old band,” but only showed images that included himself, Syd Barrett (the late founder of Pink Floyd and their original vocalist/guitarist), Rick Wright (who is now sadly deceased as well) and Nick Mason (who is like Ringo, in that only he gets along with all the other members of the band… I guess drummers are the peacemakers). Gilmour was in exactly 0 photos projected on the screen. Grudges, can’t live with them, can’t live without them. There was also a flying pig with “Steal from the poor give to the rich,” and “Fuck the poor” written on the side. And for a while there was a giant sheep floating around the arena. You really feel like you’re part of the performance. And for the politically sensitive snowflakes out there, Waters did say before the show, “We’ll start in 5 minutes and for those of you who don’t like Roger’s political commentary, fuck off to the bar now.”

The band acquitted themselves quite well especially guitarists Johnathon Wilson and Dave Kilminster who admittedly have the biggest shoes to fill in recreating David Gilmour’s splendid, iconic guitar work. Waters played acoustic guitar and piano but many times just stood at the mic and sang. He’s a little awkward without an instrument but I was riveted. He held out playing bass guitar – the instrument he’s known for (and frankly I’ve always thought he was a criminally underrated bass player) – until the very end when they were doing tunes from Dark Side of the Moon. The stage was a big X or cross and the band performed in “the round.” I’m not a huge fan of that set up. When Waters went to the opposite side of the stage to play piano I couldn’t see him or the grand piano except on the big screen hanging precariously above us.

The show started with an ominous version of “Comfortably Numb,” sans the guitar solo at the end, set to acoustic guitar and synth. Then the screen rose up into the rafters and we were off and running. He started off with “The Happiest Days of Our Lives/Another Brick In The Wall Pt 2/Another Brick In the Wall Pt 3” and the crowd was into it. I did feel Roger’s vocals were a little low in the mix but I’m knit picking. He then played “The Powers That Be” from an album only I like, Radio K.A.O.S. There’s a moment in that song in the chorus where they sing, “You better run, you better run on home” that hits like a sledge hammer although it was little muted or muddled last night. It didn’t hit me as hard as usual. I will admit I was pretty blissed out for most of this show. Being so intimately familiar with the material really helps.

After Waters played a great new song, “The Bar,” he went into a muscular “Welcome To The Machine.” He closed out the first set with “Wish You Were Here,” where I snapped the photo above, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and finally “Sheep” from the album Animals, a personal favorite. Those four songs were worth the price of admission. The band was cooking. The keyboards on “Sheep” played by Jon Carin and Roger Walter were spot on.

To kick off the second set, Waters marched right past my chair dressed in his neo-fascist character from The Wall and played “In The Flesh.” The band captured all the menace in that song. That led us into a great version of “Run Like Hell,” which is the Rock Chick’s favorite… alas she was not with me… Never trust a woman whose really into Pink Floyd – trust me on this. One of the absolutely highlights for me last night was the tune “Deja Vu” from his last solo record Is This The Life We Really Want? He muses in the song, “If I had been God, with my staff and my rod, I think… I coulda done a better job.” That song is the one I woke up with still lodged in my brain. It was then that Roger finally picked up his bass and the band launched into a set of songs from Dark Side Of The Moon. Roger let the band members do most of the vocals during that part of the show – “Money,” “Us And Them,” “Any Colour You Like,” “Brain Damage,” and “Eclipse” – and call me crazy but that seemed to be when Waters was happiest. He just wandered around the stage, almost in the background playing bass with a huge grin on his face.

After explaining the “Doomsday Clock” to the audience he played the sole track of the night from The Final Cut, “Two Suns In The Sunset” which is an underrated gem. I was a little disappointed he didn’t play “The Gunner’s Dream,” but again I’m knit picking. He did a quick reprise of the new song, “The Bar” with his band gathered around him at the piano, doing what appeared to be shots and ended the night with “Outside The Wall.” And with that both Roger and I were off and racing through the night time streets on our way home.

It was really a great show. The music of Pink Floyd – and much of Rogers’ solo music (for me at least) – is so much a part of my rock n roll universe it was just sheer joy to hear it played live. I was so utterly present in the moment it was wonderful. You’re taken in by the great songs and all the amazing visual aspects of the show and it’s hard not get swept away. It was certainly a great way to spend an evening.

If Waters is headed your way, do yourself a favor, buy the ticket see the show. One has to wonder how long big spectacles like this are going to exist!

Cheers!

Review: A Surprise Return To Concerts, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts With Cheap Trick! August 29, 2021, Starlight Theater

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*Photo above of (L to R) Rick Nielsen, Daxx Nielsen and Robin Zander of Cheap Trick taken by your intrepid blogger at an actual live concert

I don’t care what your political persuasion is – I’m a lover not a fighter – but I think no matter what you believe we can all agree that one of the greatest losses during the depths of the pandemic and lockdown was the darkening of concert stages. Live music as an entertainment ceased to exist. It wasn’t safe to pack into a dark, sweaty room with other people and listen to rock n roll played live right in front of you…the way God intended it. I realize the actual loss of human lives was a toll incalculable but this is a rock n roll blog and I feel its necessary to at least acknowledge the cancellation of concerts as a thing. Believe me, I’m not of like mind with moron Eric Clapton… It does stun me, a huge music fan, to think that I hadn’t seen a live concert since Starcrawler on October 14th in 2019. That seems like it was lifetime ago… and it feels like we’ve lived a lifetime in those almost two years.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m fully vaccinated. I’ve actually started to travel for work again. My corporate masters want me out there on the road and frankly I had missed it. I’d be lying though if I didn’t admit to feeling quite a bit of anxiety that first time I masked up and walked into Kansas City’s somewhat crowded airport. I’d been hiding in my attic ala Boo Radley for two years. Suddenly I’m amongst a crowd of people. It wasn’t agoraphobia but more of a fear of large crowds, whatever that’s called. As they said in the movie Barfly, “People, I just sorta feel better when they’re not around.” I couldn’t imagine going to a concert and most the bands I know had been cancelling everything until 2022. I hadn’t been out to the Ticketmaster website in, well, two years. I did stick my toe into the live music water, so to speak, a few weekends ago when I drove to the Harley Davidson dealership up by the airport to see some friends of mine the Sunset Sinners do a gig. But it was an outside thing in the parking lot with plenty of space.

The Rock Chick celebrated her birthday recently. In truth we celebrated that for about a week which is our wont around here. There’s no such thing as a birth “day.” I like to refer to the week around my birthday as the Festival of Me. The Rock Chick informed me a couple of weeks ago she had something planned for Sunday night, the 29th. She was, as usual, her mysterious self. The only hint I got was that I should take Monday off. At first I thought perhaps we were going to a movie, another thing we haven’t done in two years. But she mentioned to me yesterday while we were at the Nelson Atkins Museum that it was likely we would be standing all night. Cryptic, indeed. That ruled out a movie.

Finally around six last night, we jumped in the car and headed east. It was pretty soon I realized we were headed to the venerable Starlight Theater in Swope Park. She had surprised me on my birthday one year with Jim Gaffigan tickets (a brilliant comic). It was her birthday but I thought maybe she was going to surprise me with another comedy show. It was then she revealed that we were seeing a fabulous rock n roll double-bill, Cheap Trick and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts! I almost screamed! Starlight is such a great old theater and a wonderful place to see a concert. They used to only have musical theater stuff out there, but when I was in high school they opened it up to rock n roll concerts. My first show out there was to see Elton John with my family. I’ve seen some really great shows out there: David Bowie, Rush, Greta Van Fleet and Soundgarden to merely name a few. I knew we were in for a great evening. I will admit I felt that same anxiety that I’d felt at the airport when I found myself crowded into the throng of the crowd but that soon passed. Although admittedly no one was wearing masks in the men’s room which irked me. It’s public safety people.

Cheap Trick, to my surprise, opened the show. I thought for certain they’d be the headliners, but then I’m more into Cheap Trick and am still listening to their latest LP, In Another World. It was great to see these guys stroll out on the stage: Rick Nielson on guitar, his son Daxx on the drums, and Robin Zander in shiny black pants with blue stars on them on lead vocals/rhythm guitar. Cheap Trick are old school rock stars and Zander stands out amongst them. I knew immediately it wasn’t longtime member Tom Petersson on bass. Sadly, he had a recent heart procedure and had to sit this one out. Zander’s son Robin Taylor Zander pinch hit on bass and backing vocals. Robin Taylor also took lead vocalist duties on, I believe, “Downed.” The kid sounds just like his father. Daxx doesn’t play the drums with the aggression of Bun E. Carlos but he gets the job done. As Keith Richards would ask, “He rocks but does he roll?” Not like Bun E, sadly.

Cheap Trick rocked with an attitude. Nielsen was giving people shit in the audience. They opened with the track that opens At Budokan, “Hello There.” They then proceeded to do 19 rocking tracks over the course of an hour and half. They hit all the highlights – “Surrender,” “Ain’t That A Shame,” and “I Want You To Want Me.” Nielsen is a beast on lead guitar. I will admit some of his gimmicky guitars get a little old. He had trouble holding the 5-neck custom guitar on the encore… but hey he shredded on lead guitar. Robin Zander’s voice is as strong as it ever was. He sounded fantastic. His voice was strong, loud and on key. His son Robin Taylor was there on backing vocals to help with the high notes – although Zander didn’t need much help. I loved, especially, the raucous versions of “California Man” and my all time favorite Cheap Trick tune, “She’s Tight.” I was screaming on the chorus, “So I got off the phone” like I was in high school. The only ballad was “The Flame” toward the end of the main set. My only complaint – and it’s a nit – is I’d have liked more from the new LP. They only did two new tracks, the great “Summer Looks Good On You,” and “Another World (Reprise).” I’d have loved to have heard “Light Up the Fire,” an incendiary new track. These guys are consistently excellent. They played with the gusto they did when I saw them when I was in college. I’ll always come out for Cheap Trick.

After that, I was pretty blissed out and yet we still had Joan Jett & the Blackhearts to go! I’ve searched and scoured the internet to find out the names of the guys that were on stage with her last night. She did intro’s but I missed it. They looked younger than the Blackhearts on Wikipedia… The lead guitar player really rocked. He was on fire. I thought she called him Johnny. I’m embarrassed I can’t find his name. My inability to get their names doesn’t take away from the great job the drummer and the lead guitarist did. They had a hard edged, punk rock vibe that I really liked. It was like they turned Starlight into CBGB’s… Joan opened the set with “Victim of Circumstance” and then went into the great Runaways track (one of several), “Cherry Bomb.” That was a real highlight for me, as I’ve always dug the Runaways. “Bad Reputation” was absolutely priceless. The Springsteen penned “Light of Day” was another rocking highlight. They played a song I had never heard, but immediately purchased when I got home last night, “Soulmates to Strangers” that was an absolutely gorgeous track. Everyone should check that out because, well, we’ve all been there. There are subtle vocal things that Jett does on her records and she replicated all of them last night. Whether its an “oo” or an “ah” or a moan Jett made sure it was part of the performance. The last three songs of the main set were all killers: “I Love Rock N Roll,” “Crimson And Clover” and one both the Rock Chick and I’d forgotten, “I Hate Myself For Loving You.” The encore wrapped up with “Everyday People,” another highlight. It was 21 songs of a hard edged rock over the course of almost an hour and forty minutes. Joan Jett really impressed me. I find myself listening to her quite a bit this morning. She’s a rock n roll survivor and icon.

I’m sitting here on a Monday both exhausted and happy. I’m usually exhausted on Mondays, but never happy. My ears have a slight ring and I feel a little ragged. It’s so wonderful to have seen a rocking concert again. To spend an evening grooving on Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Cheap Trick was such a great way to end the birthday Festival of the Rock Chick. If these guys come near you, if you need some rock n roll, try and see them!

Cheers!