The word legend gets overused all too often these days, but it certainly applies to Roger Waters. The legendary bassist is in town for three concerts on his “Us + Them” tour, and the first of three nights was memorable, with a setlist drawing from the four big Pink Floyd albums (“Dark Side of the Moon”, “Wish You Were Here”, “Animals” and “The Wall”) as well as his latest solo effort “Is This the Life We Really Want?”.
In the Floydian tradition, the visual side of the concert was quite elaborate with a giant video screen behind the stage and intricate lighting effects. Waters, dressed in black, alternated between the bass, acoustic and electric guitars throughout the show. As usual, he is backed by a fantastic band that reproduces the music with an amazing fidelity. Both guitar players (including long time collaborator Dave Kilminster) shared lead vocal duties with Waters, covering parts originally sung by David Gilmour to varying levels of success.
“Breathe” from “Dark Side of the Moon” opened the concert before cleverly segueing into “One of These Days” before weaving back into “Time”, with clock faces filling the giant screen. Going back to “Dark Side”, singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig provided high-flying female vocals on a goosebumps inspiring rendition of “Great Gig in the Sky”, followed by “Welcome to the Machine”. Waters’ cynical views on society are sadly still relevant 40 years later, and he hasn’t mellowed out with age. The intricate mood of the music makes the transition perfectly to the stage, and from my seat in the middle of the floor, the quadraphonic sound is just fantastic.
The night wasn’t all about nostalgia though, and Waters served up a trio of songs from his latest record “Is This the Life We Really Want?”. Understandably, the crowd reaction wasn’t as strong, but the material, with its “Animals” era Pink Floyd vibe, fit comfortably side by side with the classics. “Picture That”, with its biting, cynical lyrics, is classic Waters through and through. “Picture a shithouse, with no fucking drain. Picture a leader, with no fucking brain“.
Sung by Waters in his famous sarcastic tone, “Wish You Were Here” took on a more cynical edge that veered away from the melancholy that permeates the original. To finish the first set on a high note, “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” brought us to “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2 &3)”. The band was joined on stage by kids wearing prison uniforms, doing synchronized a choreography that seemed to draw inspiration from Nazi rallies. But as the word resist flashed on screen, the took off their uniforms and free styled the rest of the song in a powerful metaphor of individuality over conformity.
Waters took the gloves off for the second set, and really, if you expected Roger Waters to avoid mentioning Donald Trump, you haven’t been paying attention to his career. A long rectangular screen dropped over the center of the floor, and smokestacks popped up to represent the famous Battersea Power Station that features prominently on the cover of the “Animals” album. “Dogs” and “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” represented that album, while images of Trump and Putin played on screen. The famous flying pig took a turn around the arena, covered with anti-Trump slogans, and choice quotes from the current US president flashed on screen, ending on “Trump is a Pig”, in case you hadn’t clued in yet. But Waters still had something to say about Trump.
Images of Trump Tower and Trump’s lifestyle served as backdrop for a fantastic rendition of “Money”, before calming things down with “Us and Them” as an observation of our society’s bipolar fracture of people who embrace openness and acceptance versus those who embrace hate and intolerance. Another new song “Smell the Roses” fit in perfectly, and set the stage for the finale of “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse”, played before a pyramid made of lasers and multi-coloured lights to recall the “Dark Side” cover.
After a quick pause, Waters came out to thunderous applause for an encore. A tear could be seen on the big screen, coming down his wrinkled cheek as the roaring display of appreciation from the crowd stretched out for a while. He then launched into a poignant version of “Mother”. “Mother do you think they’ll drop the bomb? / Mother do you think they’ll light the sun? / Mother, do you think they’ll try to break my balls? / Ooh, aah, mother, should I build the wall?” A song that for all my life echoed the fears of my parents’ generation now encapsulates the shortcomings of the world we’re leaving to our children.
The band segued smoothly into “Comfortably Numb” with the Bell Centre singing along to close a memorable concert. The music of Pink Floyd seems more relevant now than ever, as much for its grandiose simplicity as for its social commentary. It was a throwback to a time when rock wanted to change the world, and could change the world. Thank you mister Waters.