My anticipation for Roger Waters’ Us + Them tour had been building for quite some time. Those of us who had been paying attention to Roger’s set at the Desert Trip concert last year in California had seen video of his new treatment of “Pigs (3 Different Ones”. He had turned it into a full on attack against then-nominee Donald Trump. This surprisingly made some quick enemies of some fans who apparently had never actually read or taken into consideration a very large portion of Roger’s lyrical content. On top of this, Roger was readying a brand new album, his first in 25 years, titled Is This The Life We Really Want?. Flash forward, my email from Nationwide Arena made special note of extra security at the door. It was clear that they would be making sure that if any protesters or troublemakers were to try to ruin the show, they would be dealt with. Happy to say, this was not an issue. The email noted the show would start promptly at 8:00 with no support act, as has been Floydian tradition since… I’m pretty sure as long as Pink Floyd has been doing their own shows in the early 70s. We got in early, I bought my t-shirt (bonus points that they carry 3X!) and a tour program (I have one from every Pink Floyd and solo tour I’ve attended since 1994), and we found our seats. I wedged myself into mine, as the seats keep getting smaller and smaller to pack in more people. At 8:00, sound effects started and the back screen lit up with a scene from a beach, with someone facing away from the crowd. For twenty minutes, which people filtered slowly into their seats, many with their two beers each in hand. The sound effects increased from a couple birds and waves to a very chaotic amount of birds that didn’t match the screen, as the woman on the screen moved slightly every couple minutes. I’m picturing Roger was backstage (in reference to a mixup on the Early Years box set fans complained about) laughing “Seabirds? You want Seabirds? I’ve got your Seabirds! Twenty minutes of seabirds!” It started to feel like we were at a day spa or something. Soft music, nature sounds, surely they didn’t want to lull us to sleep before the show! As soon as it started feeling like “man, this is getting annoying, just start the show”, I realize it was a setup. Pink Floyd used similar annoyance tactics as part of the theatricality of the original The Wall shows. At about 8:20, the lights went down, and the sounds, now joined by middle-eastern singing all did a sudden nightmarish audio and video hallucinatory distortion like it was being sucked into the screen into a big ball… in space. Familiar voices started popping out of different surround speakers. Some familiar, some not, but one of them was our old friend. “I’ve been mad for fucking years… absolutely years…” And… liftoff!
Roger’s band this tour, which is a mix of alumni and members new to the fold but not to the stage, really shone brightly at this show. “Breathe” kicked off the show, with some new visuals that included a shiny chrome ball/moon/globe thing amidst a huge visual wall. The ball worked in a symbolic way to reflect the past (the circular screen, also sometimes used as a mirror ball), a reflection of the crowd (more on that later), and also to represent a drone, which was a thread that ran throughout the show. The new films being used reflected many beautiful sights of the world as seen by a drone or satellite. The good side of our technology perhaps. The band did a wonderful job on this song, highlighted by Jon Carin on keyboards. He has been with Roger since 1999 excluding the Wall tour, and was a David Gilmour-led Pink Floyd alumni since 1986. Most importantly, he was Richard Wright’s understudy. I have heard no keyboard player play with the delicateness and phrasing quite like Rick and Jon gets it. Drew Ericson handled the Hammond parts wonderfully. Jonathon Wilson handled lead guitar and David Gilmour’s vocal parts beautifully. The closing notes of “…race towards an early grave” echoed off into sinister wind sounds and… “One Of These Days”! I immediately had my doubts about Roger tackling instrumentals and songs that are more Gilmour than Waters. Even though, yes Roger was the bassist. The band did a brilliant job. The visuals were something completely different. A series of doors and creepy hallways, then… grocery store isles? A woman with her head and face covered slowly going down the isle, more doorways, shots of the frozen section, worried looks from shoppers, doorways, the woman again, then someone in the back with an axe butchering something too dark to see, more doorways, a door to a home, and a woman staring back at the crowd. It was quite a surreal bit of art film and quite different than the Ian Emes animation from the 70s used by David Gilmour on his tour, which was great from a historical aspect but hardly does justice to the menacing bite of the music. Being confronted with our first “how does this make you feel?” moment, we’ve now started stepping into the theme of this show, titled Us + Them. Excellent slide guitar from Jonathan Wilson!
As the songs fades, the familiar Ian Emes clocks animation came into view and the alarms from every angle of the arena sprang to life announcing “Time”. Drummer Joey Waronker started out faithful to Nick Mason’s Rototom intro, then in the last stretch doubled up and went almost tribal. I actually kind of liked the surprise. “Time” segued into “Breathe Reprise”, which faded off at the tail like a different song than expected might come in, but slowly the piano of “The Great Gig In The Sky” started, as it follows on The Dark Side Of The Moon. This one is always a test. His backing vocals were being handled by the two vocalists from a group called Lucius. I am fairly new to Lucius. I just heard their album Good Grief for the first time last week and was impressed. They took a different approach to the classic. It was obvious from a few seconds in that neither of them had the wailing power to hit the loudest of the high notes. So at first they dodged around those notes and I started to get disappointed. But then the two started harmonizing on some of the heavier louder points and it was a totally new and powerful element that I loved. Lucius are both great vocalists, but their voices are obviously different from Clare Torry or some of the vocalists that have served as “the woo-woo girls” since the 70s. The last notes fade and that shiny orb rises to the middle of the screen, but this time I knew why. It was the start to the film for “Welcome To The Machine”! This is by far the best version I’ve heard Roger perform solo. It stayed true to the album for about half of the song, hitting all the right electronic accents. When the drums kicked in, they accented the song rather than burying it. In past tours, I wasn’t a fan of how the drums overtook the electronic throbbing rhythm of the original. And the girls over-wooed. Lucius gave just the right about of “woah-woahhh” without being annoying. At the end of the track, during the the part of the film where river of blood turning to hands, praising the monolithic slab in the film (early Gerald Scarfe animation pre-The Wall), the speakers were feeding in crowd chants of “Hammer!” like in The Wall. The monolith re-enters the orb, but the orb launches and becomes a drone again, and we see in a Google-earth-like manner the streets and various places during a mix of what seems to be incidental music, which actually was part of “When We Were Young”, the intro to Is This The Life We Really Want?. Finally the strum of a guitar, going to a black screen with just Roger being show on stage playing guitar.
“If I’d been God…” Now starts a trilogy of songs from the start of the new album. The band was top-notch here, as they should be, considering they were the band on the album. “Déjà Vu” continues on “If I were a drone”. The screen now shows us a drone zooming in on various things until dropping bombs. The song ends with a radio knob change to a broadcaster speaking and a great version of “The Last Refugee”. Both songs are beautiful, thought provoking songs that either reeled you in, or sent you to get more beer. I always shake my head when people skip the new songs. To think in 1974 people were going for beer during “Raving and Drooling” which became “Sheep”, or “You’ve Gotta Be Crazy” which became “Dogs”, because those weren’t on The Dark Side of The Moon. Ah well. These quiet songs were followed by very colorful screen patterns and an ominous bass line that signaled my favorite of the album “Picture That”. I won’t re-review the song, but it was the first song of the night with real stabs at the current government situation and the chaotic state of the world. The song is the right mix of dark undertones from the Animals era and now.
More radio knob changing and “Wish You Were Here” was the ray of light to break the paranoid vibe. Always a great singalong, though I must say that the crowd sang far louder for David Gilmour’s show last year. But Roger doesn’t have the chops to sing it like David, so his more blunt phrasing throws off the melody of the audience a bit. Still a heartfelt rendition, without the bizarre modifications of some of his previous tours. Not once did the guitars make me cringe, and that’s a lot to say, as nobody can perfectly replicate Gilmour. The sweet melody of the ending was interrupted from the back of the audience by increasingly louder helicopter noises. The searchlight races around the crowd. “You! Yes, you! Stand still laddie!!”
We see the stage again with character animation of the teacher from The Wall and the start of “The Happiest Days of Our Lives”. We are quite far back but I could make out that there were children positioned around the stage standing perfectly still. We were all getting pumped up singing along to the sort of intro to one of Floyd’s biggest hits, and on the dramatic “Ahhhhh..” parts there were thunderous noises to make us all jump that were quite different from what we were used to, and that blood curdling scream raced from one end of the area to the other. And then it happened. There’s always one. Drunk-off-her-butt lady in from of us gets up and starts doing the bounce with her hands up in the air. Like it was a 2 Chainz concert. I seriously thought she was going to tumble 30 flights of steeply seated people. At least she kept her “WWWWEEOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!WHOOOEOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOO!” to a minimum. It’s that moment that a certain section of the audience comes to life, as “Another Brick In The Wall Part II” is one of those 5 to 10 songs classic rock radio plays by Pink Floyd. We all sang loudly “We don’t need no education!”, then the kids joined in on the second verse as was done on Roger’s previous The Wall tour. This far into the show I felt a glimmer of hope that most of the people at this show had the intelligence to “get it” about Roger’s songs. I didn’t see too many drunken crazy people as is normally the standard at this point. The kids, who were all locals as Roger said after the song, were having a blast onstage. One of them, the smallest boy, is destined to be an entertainer. When they all swayed to the beat he was in his own zone happy as can be. After singing to their part they all tore away their sort of cover-all clothes on top to reveal underneath they had shirts that all said “RESIST”. And they all jumped around chaotically to the rest of the song. The guitarists were tasteful and didn’t overdo it (ehem… The Wall in Berlin 1990).
I felt like the musicians had actual respect for Pink Floyd’s legend rather than just Roger as their boss. That made all the difference in the world. Then as I thought the song would end it revved up into “I don’t need no arms around me!”. I got super excited! He tacked all of “Another Brick In the Wall Part III” on the end, giving it a much darker sinister ending. Roger stopped to address the audience for a moment and to thank the children on stage, then said there would be a short intermission. We didn’t leave our seats. I know from the past, both factions of the band love to toy with the audience a bit. As I was chatting to my partner Terry during the break and people watching, Terry’s attention darted to some loud intercom talking and starts getting curious, thinking it was from the venue. Of course I knew it was part of the fun. As the pause went, different unintelligible voices would announce things out of various points of the full surround speaker system. At one point we then heard sirens whizzing past what sounded like the full side of the arena. Many people not realizing you’d never hear emergency vehicles outside while inside this packed venue. Lots of audio illusion trickery continued, got weirder and built up until about the 20 minute mark of the break. By then it sounded like a mass shooting crime scene mixed with a war zone.
The lights went out, and part of the ceiling lights started whirring around like emergency lights. They started lowering closer and closer to the ground stopping just overhead of the people seated in the middle of the floor. Then to our delight, Battersea Power Station (from the Animals album cover) started to rise up out of nothing, working smokestacks and all! I had assumed from previous teasers it was just a screen, but it was far more complicated than that. Within a couple minutes, the crowd was now “a crowd divided”. Us, and Them. Divided by this quite old English symbol of “the machine”. Complete with a pig flying above it. This… this is the part of the show I came for.
The opening guitar of “Dogs” started up and so did the goosebumps. Animals is my go-to-underdog Pink Floyd album. It’s a real treat to get to hear songs performed from it since it didn’t have songs short enough to be classic rock radio staples. Old and new screen imagery, coupled with Jonathan Wilson doing a great job tackling Gilmour’s vocals, brought the song to life. At one point the projection showed Battersea Station floating in space. The spacey section in the middle was once again handled wonderfully by Jon Carin as he did on the 1999 tour. Meanwhile the other band members had pig, dog and sheep masks on and were having drinks. Roger sort of toasted the audience and chugged down one himself, then threw the glass into the crowd (I sure hope that was plasticware!). Extra stand-up drums were also played by Lucius, giving just a little bit more thunder to the heavy parts. After the dramatic ending, the imagery pointed at what was coming next. ”
Pigs (Three Different Ones)” didn’t need a subtitle. The performance was aimed at one man in particular, Donald Trump. Cartoonish images of Trump’s head on a baby body, amongst many other images all taking a stab at him in the same way he has publicly mocked others during his campaign and presidency. I expected a few people to somehow be upset and not understand, because yes some people exist that do not actually listen to lyrics or get the underlying points to what the songs are about. But no to my surprise, the crowd had some of the loudest applause during this part of the show and shouted the loudest along to “Ha ha! Charade you are!”. Keep in mind, the lyrics were not changed to fit. Only the imagery. It didn’t matter. If the shoe fits. Not only was it one of the biggest statements of the night, it was one of the band’s strongest moments. Roger sounded like “old Roger”. Pre-Xanax and therapy, venomous 1977 Roger. The guitar solo cut through like audio lightning. And then we got to see the pig! The inflatable fat, ugly disgusting pig, actually making its flight during “Pigs” as originally intended. This time it took its time to make the way around both sides of the Battersea Tower wall and back. Instead of the inflatable of old, the one appeared to be a drone. As the song came to an end the familiar sounds of cash registers were coming out of some speakers while others had Trump ranting ecstatically “I won! I won!”. It was a bit unsettling having “Money” also become a song about Trump. Until you realize all Roger had to do was take the original footage from the 70s films of several politicians and find the same type of footage but with Trump in them. The tower, the hotels, the women, the private jets. It’s something that should make one who thought “Money” was just an overplayed generic song go, “OH! Oh wait! Oh that’s what he meant!”. The sax solo by Ian Ritchie (who played on Radio KAOS), was quite good and not overdone. Solid musicianship from everyone involved. The screen pieces making up the center Battersea wall became a projection screen for more visuals and to see the band. The pieces started to grow and shrink and “dance” to the music. Quite a cool trick.
“Money” came to its end and more familiar voices popped out of speakers from different directions. “I certainly was in the right!”. “He was crusin’ for a bruisin’!”. “I don’t know, I was really drunk at the time!”. Then followed a gorgeous rendition of “Us and Them” bringing the film footage of 70s and footage of similar issues today all together. The eventual point of all of this being that we should address our own fears. The fears that make it an “us and them” world and not just a universal “us”. The piano in the middle of the song got me teary-eyed. I always remember that as a moment that Richard Wright, who has since passed, really got to shine the way he did best. And knowing Jon Carin was the guy there to play it, who was a close friend of Rick and has worked so hard to learn his style and carry it on, well it was overpowering for a moment. That coupled with images of people standing in solidarity in recent demonstrations for equality and seeing the crowd cheer happily at these sights. The screen folded down smaller at first just to show us Roger singing. Roger then launched into a new song the fiery “Small The Roses”, which tied the themes of new and old together, bringing everything current. A big silver ball drone was hovering about above the audience as the pig had earlier. Ooh, a cool shiny inflatable. The moon? Oh… no a mirror this time. The silver orb hovered back towards the stage again as one of the biggest highlights started, “Brain Damage”. There’s something about the sentiment of this song that is amplified when it is played in front of a crowd. And then the laser goodies started. A full laser pyramid arched over the front of the crowd as we all sang along. If that wasn’t enough, as the song became “Eclipse”, rainbow lasers passed through in many different patterns illuminating the crowd in a gorgeous color spectacle. Roger even started the lyrics over again, even more powerful the second time around.
Oddly, I don’t remember Roger and the band being offstage very long. But I remember that he spoke to the crowd, telling us how this was about the 20th show so far, and that he sees a lot of hope in this crowd and the shows so far.
“Okay, I have one question…”, he pauses for silence. He sings, “Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?”. The audience gets excited and starts singing along as Roger along with Lucius sing an acoustic yet powerful version of “Vera”, followed by a stripped down “Bring The Boys Back Home”. Roger has always put emphasis on this song that most consider just a connective track on The Wall. He extended it and got the audience to sing it also, and then as musically promised by doing these, starts up the sound effects of “Time to go-oooo!” “Are you feeling okay” *knock-knock-knock* “Time to go-ooo!”. The climax, “Comfortably Numb”. Point one, it is always a treat to hear Roger’s part the way it should sound. David Gilmour simply isn’t able to replicate it without being Roger. Point two, Roger’s solo versions usually lose me at David’s part “There is no pain..”. Jonathan Wilson did a hell of a job on David’s vocal parts. Now the test… the solo. I’ve heard some cringe-worthy, “No you can’t do Gilmour! Just stop trying!” solos. But Dave Kilminster did a great job on The Wall tour of 2010 and was present so my hopes were up. Because of our seating I sometimes lost track of who was playing lead, but I believe it was Jonathan Wilson this time. I will say he about the best anyone is going to do without actually being David Gilmour. Though I must still give major credit to tribute band Brit Floyd for nailing it as well. Jonathan nailed the spirit of the solo and didn’t get all show-offy. But he still had the chops to play a wonderful solo. The next probably 8 minutes of so were filled with musical beauty, dazzling lasers and emotional intensity. Then for the finale, confetti erupted into the laser field, which alternately looked like stars twinkling and glitter lasers at the same time. Spent, the band took their bows and that was a night.
What a show! If this is Roger’s last tour, as he has hinted at, then he ended on a high note. He was able to put together a show that was full of classics, had something for the longtime fanatics, weaved in a nice helping of the new material, and made it all one cohesive show with a message, and yet kept it enjoyable. I remarked on the way out and still feel strongly today that this is the strongest live band he has had on a solo tour. I feel lucky that in a time when so many of my heroes have been passing away, that Roger Waters is still around and still has something to say. When he’s on that stage he is both the wise 73 year old that has seen the world both change and yet stay the same, and is at the same time the young man that wants the world to get better. It is inspiring and quite moving. Thank you Roger for refusing to go quietly.
One of These Days
The Great Gig in the Sky
Welcome to the Machine
When We Were Young
The Last Refugee
Wish You Were Here
The Happiest Days of Our Lives
Another Brick in the Wall Part 2
Another Brick in the Wall Part 3
Pigs (Three Different Ones)
Us and Them
Smell the Roses
Bring the Boys Back Home