*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!