Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters has been touring behind The Wall going on two years now, but the live version of one of rock’s most influential albums makes for such an epic spectacle that it only seems right to keep it going. This is especially true since it makes an ever timely artistic statement. With the world drifting dangerously closer to George Orwell’s 1984 every day, Waters goes the extra mile to emphasize the album’s strong anti-war and anti-authoritarian themes to make a true statement.
The mood is set early on this Sunday evening at the San Diego Sports Arena (none of the locals ever refer to the venue by its hideous new name, Valley View Casino Center), with classic tunes like Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” and John Lennon’s “Imagine” playing over the PA as the crowd settles in. It may be a Sunday, but the vibe in the arena most definitely feels like a Saturday night.
A spark shoots through the crowd as the lights go down and the band opens up with “In the Flesh”. The first big peak occurs with “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2,” a song that defines the concept of classic rock radio. Everyone’s heard it a zillion times, but when Waters and company lay it down here, the classic riffs are spine-tingling. A giant puppet teacher figure appears with scary purple eyes and a kids choir joins the proceedings to help out on the vocals, while Waters rocks out on the bass. The Wall is one of the most ambitious concept albums ever recorded, but Pink Floyd only performed it a handful of times back in the day. Seeing the album brought to life with a giant white brick wall being built up piece by piece throughout the first set is a dramatic theatrical event rarely rivaled in the annals of rock history. And in a world of ever increasing media matrix propaganda, the chorus of “We don’t need no mind control” rings as true as ever.
Waters performs the ever-poignant “Mother” by harmonizing with a projected version of himself from the 1980 tour, which creates another unique moment. He also takes a moment to note that he’s much happier now that he’s not the miserable person he was back then, and it’s nice to hear a genuine rock star revel in his good fortune to be taking such a monumental show on the road in his sixties. When he sings the line, “Mother, should I trust the government?”, a projection appears on the wall saying “No fucking way!” Rock ‘n’ roll master class is in session and it’s only too bad that more younger musicians aren’t bold enough to speak truth to power in their music. The fate of the world may depend on whether or not the masses can generate the collective consciousness to rise up against the dark forces of greed and war in this critical era. Waters is certainly doing his part to support the spiritual efforts of the Occupy Wall Street movement with this tour.
“Goodbye Blue Sky” features imagery of war planes dropping bombs in the shape of religious symbols and corporate logos, calling into question the “humanitarian” packaging of so many wars. “Young Lust” on the other hand delivers a classic blast of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, with Waters and company electrify the arena once again. “Goodbye Cruel World” closes the set as the final brick in the wall is put into place, with the stage now completely blocked out.
The spectacle continues in the second set with Waters pulling out a variety of tricks to keep the show flowing. “Hey You”>”Is Anybody Out There” feature a haunting vibe, before Waters then appears in a living room setting for “Nobody Home”. Waters literally sits on a couch watching TV as he plays and sings, creating a dynamic contrast to the grander stage props.
“Bring the Boys Back Home” emphasizes the anti-war theme, with projections on the wall of a classic quote from President Dwight D. Eisenhower – “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 are not clothed”. San Diego may be known as a military town, but the cheers from the crowd indicate solidarity with this message. The spectacle level is cranked up once more with“Comfortably Numb”, which receives a truly epic performance highlighted by the classic lead guitar solo being delivered from the top of the wall.
“In the Flesh” provides a great interlude with Pink Floyd’s classic giant black pig with red glowing eyes floating across the arena, adorned with graffiti slogans like “Everything will be OK”. The electrifying arena rock of “Run Like Hell” then brings the house down, with the lights, props and musical grandeur providing a shot of adrenaline that amounts to one of the great psychedelic trips in rock history. Waters continues to emphasize the deeper theme during the jam though, with the disturbing footage that Wikileaks brought to light of an American helicopter in Iraq shooting down what turned out to be innocent civilians in 2007.
Waters could easily coast along without adding such extra anti-war sentiments to the show. But he clearly still believes that rock ‘n’ roll has the power to change the way people think. “In some quarters, among the chattering classes, there exists a cynical view that human beings as a collective are incapable of developing more ‘humane’ ie, kinder, more generous, more cooperative, more empathetic relationships with one another. I disagree,” says Waters at his website on a page about why he decided to stage The Wall once again.
The show is akin to using music as a weapon of higher consciousness in the culture wars, making Waters one of the planet’s boldest humanitarians at a time when too few are willing to speak out.