Roger Waters - The Wall
Thursday 12th May 2011
O2 Arena, London
“Good evening, it is 29 years and 328 days since we last played The Wall in London,” announced Roger Waters as black-clad minions constructed a barrier of giant cardboard bricks across the stage behind him, gradually obscuring his band of session men from view.
The Wall, as every rock fan knows, is the double concept album and groundbreaking live extravaganza that effectively destroyed the classic line-up of Pink Floyd. Now their 67-year-old bassist and primary songwriter has revived his most celebrated work for one last tour around arenas, including six nights at London’s O2. Six members of the Wrinkly Rockers crew were present on Thursday night which started with a few beers in the Slug and Lettuce of course. It would be rude not to would it???
You feel that there are some moments in musical history that are so legendary they could never be repeated. Was this one of them? Time would tell...
One thinks of The Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965, Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969, the Hyde Park dates by both the Rolling Stones in 69 and Queen in 76, the 1978 Anti-Nazi League gig by The Clash in Victoria Park a list of one-off musical moments. But all of those are outdoor events. The Wall at Earl’s Court in 1980 and 1981 was a landmark. The ultimate indoor arena concert. No production before had attempted to tackle live music on such a scale. Building a giant wall the height and width of the stage during the first half and then demolishing it in spectacular fashion as the finale was at the heart of the show, but other legendary moments enhanced the production. The sight of Dave Gilmour on the top of the wall playing the guitar solos in “Comfortably Numb” and the hotel room that folded out from the wall for Waters to sing “Nobody Home” were iconic images from 30 years ago.
The trouble with The Wall is, as a piece of work it’s so expensive to put on properly and although there are some very good tribute bands that have tried, none of them really capture the mood enough to show the despair and gradually decline of a rock star, burned out with drugs and too many memories. So the news that Waters was going to do it all again was treated with derision in some quarters and fear in others. Not by me, I must add. Such was the outpouring of fan surprise when Roger announced that for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, he would be performing the whole album, that ticket sales at each of the venues were bombarded like no other rock gig before it.
In its day, The Wall set new standards for the staging of a rock show. Three decades on, Waters employs all the technological advances he can to intensify the experience. You certainly get a lot of bang for your bucks (£37m to stage allegedly), as well as booms, crashes, machine-gun fire and helicopter noises. It is unarguably effective, although no longer unique or surprising in an entertainment environment where even pop acts such as Take That parade around on giant mechanical elephants. But who gives a toss about that!!!
The partially in situ wall began its show time construction as the kids sang to “Another Brick In The Wall Part 1”. They were joined by a new “Teacher” puppet with audience scanning eyes on his hammer shaped head. A highlight from the first set for me was Roger singing “Mother” as a duet with himself – via one of the very few pieces of film footage from the original concerts (yet released), which was projected onto the wall in black and white. He refers to his younger self, with a wry grin as ‘miserable f...d up little Roger’. Which he was in 1980. Meanwhile a watchful inflatable mother looks on, arms folded, from the back of the stage.
The show has been brought up to date with its anti-war message even stronger than the first time around. A scaled down Stuka dive bomber, suspended by a guide wire, flies into the wall and explodes in a fiery ball at the climax of “In The Flesh” .There are projections of airplanes dropping Latin crosses, hammer and sickles, stars and crescents, stars of David, dollar signs, and the logos of Shell, Mercedes-Benz and McDonalds during Goodbye Blue Sky. Most notably, during “Bring The Boys Back Home”, the famous anti-war statement made by US President Dwight D Eisenhower in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors is projected. “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed”, it reads.
Roger confessed to the audience that his well-documented torment before, during and after the original Pink Floyd album release and tour was long gone. It seemed he couldn’t be more delighted to be showing off this masterwork again.
Roger nailed it as the consummate front man, vocally commanding and enigmatic in his trademark air-punching gestures. He played each song perfectly and was accompanied by some great talent in his band in the shape of guitarist David Kilminster (also on Roger’s Dark Side tour), the exceptional guitarist Snowy White (exThin Lizzy) and drummer Graham Broad on stage. The wall was completed by the end of the first set and acted as a giant cinema screen for what can only be described as the most spectacular, emotional, jaw dropping concert animation and back drops I have ever seen. There were tearful children being reunited with their soldier fathers, the marching hammers and an apparent dig at Apple for taking over i-pay.
During the interval, a welcome break from emotion that of course required more beer, no one could stop talking about it…. and then the rumours gathered pace in the beer queue. Was he really here? Were they really going to play together? You know who I mean...
Back into the arena and back to that Wall and into the second set saw Roger alone in the hotel room, a small drop down hatch in the wall. Thirteen channels of shit on the TV don’t sound so bad given that we now have hundreds. He then moves to the front, at the bottom of the wall, to start singing “Comfortably Numb”, one of the greatest tracks ever written by anyone. A huge beam of white light shines on a loan figure carrying a guitar on the top of the wall. The place erupts, everyone on their feet, screaming and yelling. I hug the girl sitting next to me who I didn’t even know, realising we are both welling up. This is too much. David Gilmour is singing the chorus and playing the guitar solo!! The rumours were true. Floyd legend David Gilmour towered above the wall singing down to his ex-sidekick and old foe during the seminal “Comfortably Numb”!! I, my mates and the sell-out crowd were dumbstruck. I might wake up soon!! I will certainly never forget it. I heard grown men saying afterwards on the way home that if they died now then they would have been happy!!!
The Nazi propaganda and marching hammers are as powerful as ever and Scarfe’s animated sequence for “The Trial” is also used once more. Roger is genuinely chilling as a fascist demagogue: hand on hip, megaphone to mouth; he captures the horrible strutting arrogance you see in old footage ofOswald Mosley. Singing “In the Flesh”, in leather trench coat, dark glasses and gloves, he snarled lyrics about “Jews” and “coons” as fans in the audience whooped and mimicked his fascistic crossed arm salute. It was an extraordinary moment, linking mass entertainment and demagogy, the music slyly nodding at David Bowie – who infamously gave a Nazi salute outside Victoria Station in 1976 – punctuated by Waters pretending to mow down the audience with a machine gun !! Priceless !!!
The show climaxes with the breaking down of The Wall and in a true bridge building moment David Gilmour returns to the stage with his mandolin and Nick Mason comes on with a tambourine for the final song “Outside the Wall”. I still haven’t woken up yet !! The reunion marks only the second time the three surviving members have performed together on stage over the last 30 years. Unfortunately for fans, the reunited performance may have been a one-off. David Gilmour commented on his official fan blog: "I should also remind you that tonight is most definitely a one-off, David is not repeating his special guest performance at a later occasion, I’m sorry to disappoint those of you with fingers crossed and tickets for later shows."
The joy on Roger Waters face at the end of this epic performance of The Wall was remarkable. The whole show gave Waters the chance to restate his credentials as the supreme creator of an internal rock production.
This is undoubtedly the greatest piece of musical entertainment ever put together in my humble opinion. In one word: Perfect. But what do I know...
PS: Footballers – call yourselves entertainers? Think again.
Review by Dave Lock and Hugh
1. In the Flesh?
2. The Thin Ice .
3. Another Brick in the Wall Part 1
4. The Happiest Days of Our Lives
5. Another Brick in the Wall Part 2
7. Goodbye Blue Sky
8. Empty Spaces
9. What Shall We Do Now?
10. Young Lust
11. One of My Turns
12. Don't Leave Me Now
13. Another Brick in the Wall Part 3
14. The Last Few Bricks
15. Goodbye Cruel World
16. Hey You
17. Is There Anybody Out There?
18. Nobody Home
20. Bring the Boys Back Home
21. Comfortably Numb (with David Gilmour)
22. The Show Must Go On
23. In the Flesh
24. Run Like Hell
25. Waiting for the Worms
27. The Trial
28. Outside the Wall (with Nick Mason) (David Gilmour on mandolin). and Nick Mason on tambourine