Last weekend I revisited more of the music of my teenage and college years when I went to see Roger Waters at Nissan Pavillion in Bristow, Virginia. Waters treated the audience to a generous selection of songs from Pink Floyd, a few solo nuggets, and a complete run-through of The Dark Side Of The Moon.
The night was perfect for an outdoor concert: mild, with temperatures around 72 degrees, with clouds that cleared as the concert began. And it began right on time, at 8:00 pm. Of course, very few in the audience realized that it had began, as the first 12 minutes involved an image on the gian LED video screen behind the musicians.
The image comprised of an old valve radio, an ashtray with many butts and a lit cigarette, a glass of whisky and its companion bottle. The radio played songs – things like Chuck Berry, Elvis, a Bulgarian Womens’ Choir, and (briefly) ABBA – and the hand would change the station if a song didn’t meet “the man’s” liking. The hand would also ash the cigarette and drink (and refill) the whisky. After about 7 minutes of this, most people had caught onto the gag.
Arond 8:12, Waters and band took to the stage, with Rog waving to the crowd as he donned his black Fender Precision bass. With a pointed “eins, zwei, drei, hammer!,” Waters and band launched into “In The Flesh,” as the screen switched to the marching hammers from The Wall. He folowed this with the quiet, acoustic strum of “Mother.”
After such a powerful start, he continued through other Floyd gems, like “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun,” “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (parts I-V),” “Have A Cigar” and “Wish You Were Here,” as images of Syd Barrett, old Floyd footage and newly-filmed elements added visual contrast to the performance.
Waters then turned the show into a more politically-charged affair, as he launched into two selections from The Final Cut (“Southampton Dock” and “The Fletcher Memorial Home”), a selection from 1992’s Amused To Death (“Perfect Sense”), and a new song, “Leaving Beirut.” This last song was openly critical of George W. Bush – a risky performance in a red state:
Oh George! Oh George!
That Texas education must have fucked you up when you were very small….
Additionally, he took on the so-called “christian right” in the closing verse:
Is gentleness too much for us?
Should gentleness be filed along with empathy
We feel for someone else’s child?
Every time a smart bomb does its sums and gets it wrong
Someone else’s child dies and equities in defence rise
America, America, please hear us when we call
You got hip-hop, be-bop, hustle and bustle
You got Atticus Finch
You got Jane Russell
You got freedom of speech
You got great beaches, wildernesses and malls
Don’t let the might, the Christian right, fuck it all up
For you and the rest of the world….
Where I was sitting – in the middle of the lawn section – the lines went over well, with people cheering on Waters’ calls for reason.
But Rog had one more track up his sleeve to drive home the need for folks to vote out the theocons:
The band really rocked this song from Pink Floyd’s Animals album. A new film was shown behind the performers, showing a sheep farmer under surveillance, as well as footage of the famous pig from the cover of the album….
….which morphed into a large inflatable pig that was maneuvered throughout the audience. The pig was covered in graffiti that encouraged people to vote on November 7, along with a reminder that “habeus corpus matters” – great stuff. And near the end of the song, the pig was released into the sky, illuminated by a single spotlight.
After a brief intermission, the band returned to perform The Dark Side Of The Moon. This was done wonderfully, with great performances from all involved. Waters took the back-seat for most of this set, as he wasn’t the singer on many songs on the original album. Other band members took lead vocals on the songs, and while they didn’t have the same vocal qualities as David Gilmour and Rick Wright, they did an admirable job.
In fact, I can compare this performance with the Gilmour-Mason-Wright version of Pink Floyd’s own performance of Dark Side in 1994. Looking back on both performances, I’d say that the Gilmour-led Floyd did a more all-encompassing performance of the suite, with more special effects, a more effective use of surround sound, and better vocals. However, I give Waters and band the nod for making it more about the musicianship.
Case-in-point: Waters did the “tick-tock” at the beginning of “Time” the way he used to in the 1970s, by picking his bass strings onto his bridge pickup. As a bass player, I also appreciate the way Waters’ basslines fit the music – no slight to Guy Pratt (who played bass for the post-Waters Floyd and for Gilmour’s latest solo effort), but Waters’ bass style fits the music much, much better.
Also, Waters wasn’t afraid to tinker was aspects of the suite. He and Jon Carin (who has performed with both Waters and Gilmour this year) re-tooled “On The Run” to include some more modern noise: digital hiss, Formula 1 racing cars, etc., all used to great effect. And even though Waters now has full rights to use the full Floyd film library, he added some modern touches to the films shown on “Mr. Screen.”
(And a big tip ‘o the hat to Bob Geldof and Nick Mason for thawing out the cold war between Waters and Gilmour – it’s nice to see the members of the Floyd on speaking terms again.)
The encore opened with another classic (“Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)”), which segued into “Vera” and “Bring The Boys Back Home” – a classy summary to all of the political banter that dominated most of the show. Films of the Afghani, Iraqui, British and U.S. flags were superimposed with footage of marching soldiers as flash pots exploded in front of the screen – a sobering, effective presentation.
And what else could a Waters or Floyd show end with other than “Comfortably Numb?” The band played this one into the ground. Waters did the verses as he played the bass – something he’s only done since the Floyd reunion at Live 8 – and guitarists Dave Kilminster and Snowy White traded guitar solo runs (my nod for best guitarist of the night goes to White, by the way). Yes, Gilmour’s silky technique was missed, but it was still a great performance that I soaked in to the hilt.
Roger Waters may be 63, but he’s not slowing down one bit. This tour shows that he’s still every bit as relevant today as he was in the 1970s and 1980s, and I hope that his new album continues his tradition of turning a mirror on the powers that be.
(A quick note about the crowd in the lawn section: there were many people at the show who really had no interest in anything other than Dark Side, so they kept yammering, whooping and yelling through the performance. I saw many who had imbibed too much on pot and/or alcohol to function, which is simply crazy. Frankly, if you can’t enjoy music without chemical alteration, do you really enjoy the music? Next time, I’ll pony up the scratch for reserved seats.)
First Act: In The Flesh, Mother, Set The Controls For the Heart Of The Sun, Shine On You Crazy Diamond (parts I-V), Have A Cigar, Wish You Were Here, Southampton Dock, The Fletcher Memorial Home, Perfect Sense (parts 1 and 2), Leaving Beirut, Sheep
Second Act: Speak To Me, Breathe, On The Run, Time, Breathe (Reprise), The Great Gig In The Sky, Money, Us And Them, Any Colour You Like, Brain Damage, Eclispe
Encore: The Happiest Days Of Our Lives, Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2), Vera, Bring the Boys Back Home, Comfortably Numb