Tuesday 6th June 2023
O2 Arena, London
This was a memorable evening for multiple reasons and created some mixed emotions. Having never even seen as much as Pink Floyd tribute band before it was a real blast to see such a lavish theatrical performance and hear songs that have been listened to countless times over the years, and have become fully embedded into one’s musical consciousness, played by a majestically skilful group of musicians. The sound was amazing, I don’t think I’ve heard better. The stage set, a massive cross shaped monolithic structure in the middle of the auditorium was the backdrop for some stunning visuals. As a musical and visual presentation it couldn’t be faulted. What was less welcome were the lengthy rants during which the erstwhile Floyd bassist and songwriter aired his thoughts on politics.
In one sense you have to admire someone who is steadfast in their political convictions and is not afraid to speak out about controversial subjects. Do music fans really want to be lectured though when they have travelled long distances in many cases and forked out good money in anticipation of a good night out? It’s also a bit rich (pun intended) that one of the many messages that were pumped out in huge capitals on the night was one that read “f*ck capitalism”. You don’t have to study for a maths A level to work out the approximate income generated by 20,000 punters forking out for expensive tickets and then scratch your head a bit at the irony.
The scene was set for what was to follow by a plummy voice over that boomed out just before the start of the show which asked the audience to turn off their phones and then announced something like “if you’re one of those people that like Pink Floyd but don’t like Roger Water’s politics, then you can f*ck off to the bar”, which got a fairly big sycophantic cheer. I don’t really think that most people there endorsed the musician’s view in relation to events in the Ukraine, or his views on Israel for that matter. The song ‘Sheep’, played at the end of the first set came to mind. One of Water’s rants on the evening involved a letter from an MP in Birmingham, which was read out in reference to the musician’s claim that he was being cancelled. The letter of complaint was the sort of thing that you’d expect from an ill-informed MP, not such a big deal. We didn’t need to hear about it in great detail or the conspiracy theory that the MP had been commanded to write it allegedly at the behest of his Israeli masters.
One of the items referred to in the letter was about Waters dressing up in fascist style regalia, an action he repeated during one of the songs in the second half of the evening. The song was no doubt an attack on authoritarian leaders and the dressing up a little bit of clumsy theatre but it seemed to me all a little too 1930s night rally to be comfortable. In terms of cancel culture it was noticeable that when images of Floyd were shown on the big screens, Dave Gilmour was nowhere to be seen. No matter how much he went on about all global disputes being capable of being resolved if only leaders could gather in a bar and chat face to face, his personal bitterness towards an ex-band member meant he could not even extend a tiny olive branch in the form of a photo or two. Hypocritical, not to mention petty. It goes to show that it’s often best that we don’t get to find out the opinions of musicians whose music we like. Ignorance can be bliss.
Regardless of all this, it has to be said that Roger Waters has not only created an important musical legacy but that he, unexpectedly, is quite the charismatic showman. He only appeared after a stunning, guitar solo free, version of ‘Comfortably Numb’ opened proceedings (another attempt to ignore the contribution of Gilmour we ask?), which was accompanied by striking, dystopian visuals (very much a theme of the evening). Striding onto the stage he berated the crowd as a pretend teacher as the band went into ‘The Happiest Days of Our Lives’, followed of course by ‘Another Brick In the Wall’. Great, powerful versions, with Dave Kilminster on lead guitar recreating the Bluesy solo.
Thereafter we were treated to a host of Floyd numbers as well as solo songs, some of which Waters played piano on as well as switching to acoustic. He has a surprisingly effective vocal style, which was supported by two female backing vocalists who were outstandingly good. Highlights for me personally were, no surprises, ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ in the first set, which was preceded by a charming reminisce about Syd Barrett. The second set featured brilliant renditions of the songs on Side 2 of Dark Side Of The Moon, ‘Money’, ‘Us & Them’, ‘Any Colour You Like’, ‘Brain Damage’ and ‘Eclipse’, as well as many others. Musically, the evening was an absolute treat for the ears, shame that the price to be paid was a number of tirades that we could have well done without.