10 Jun 2017: Oracle Arena Oakland, CA
Pink Floyd’s creative genius calls out Donald Trump and the Bay Area loves every minute
The socio-cultural musical revolution of the late 1960s advanced the idea that rock ‘n’ roll could be about more than just having a good time, that it could also provide a thought-provoking context for raising issues about society and raising consciousness amongst the audience. Pink Floyd wasn’t an overtly political band, but their psychedelic music and deeper existential musings on life in the rat race certainly did raise some consciousness. The band’s 1979 magnum opus The Wall had even deeper anti-war and anti-fascism themes, making it a touchstone for multiple generations of adolescents and young adults to come.
Largely written by bassist Roger Waters, The Wall remained such a classic that he was able to tour behind it for the better part of four years from 2010 to 2013. He cranked up the anti-war theme in a most admirable manner, using a variety of theatrics and revealing imagery to highlight themes that the corporate pundit class generally glosses over (such as the incestuous corruption involved with owners of the corporate media that carry water for war also profiteering off of war.) Such themes remain as topical as ever in 2017 with President Donald Trump pushing an agenda to crank up the U.S. defense budget by an additional $54 billion, as if that budget wasn’t already more than that of the next seven largest countries’ defense budgets combined.
Waters’ Us +Them Tour, therefore, comes as a most timely musical response to the global fascism that the Trump regime represents, with its undemocratic efforts to crank up the war machine as well continue the foul effort to transfer as much wealth from the middle class to the elite as it can. Waters is British of course, but he knows that the whole world hangs in the balance when the United States is run by Trump.
“In a nation run by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile, and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: not necessarily to win, but mainly to keep from losing completely,” wrote the late great political journalist Hunter S. Thompson in an all-too-prescient screed in the 1970s.
Thompson would love the way Waters is using Pink Floyd’s “Pigs” as a direct analogy for Trump on this tour. Is it too late to stop the likes of Trump from plundering the world for their ill-gotten gains? This remains to be seen, but this tour at least promises to call a swine a swine in the hope that civil society might recognize what’s happening in time to turn the tables before an irrevocable descent into the visionary nightmares of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.
There’s a decided buzz in the venue formerly known as the Oakland Coliseum Arena, now named after a local tech company. Jaded cynics can sit at home critiquing veteran rock stars like Waters for putting on big ticket tours that largely feature the classic material from decades ago, but it makes perfect sense when those songs remain as timely and relevant as so many of Pink Floyd’s do. Waters has also delivered his first new album in years and Is This the Life We Wanted? is a winner that taps deep into the angst-ridden zeitgeist of 2017. It’s got the classic Floyd sound along with some very topical lyrics, and so the Us + Them Tour offers some timely new tunes along with a fresh twist on some old classics.
Waters and his band get right down to business as they open the show with “Breathe” from 1973’s ultra-classic Dark Side of the Moon. With giant n-def video screens providing cutting edge visuals, the entire performance takes on a theatrical essence that transcends a mere rock concert (as was the case on The Wall tour.) Perhaps this is why most of the audience remains seated for most of the show, with the often mesmerizing psychedelic visuals providing a cinematic type of experience. “One of These Days” sends a charge through the arena, leading into the ever-existential psychedelia of “Time” with an array of clocks moving through the screens.
Few songs resonate across rock’s space-time continuum with the ongoing relevance of “Time”, one of the most universal tunes ever written as one can ever continue to ponder missing life’s starting gun while not knowing when to run. “Welcome to the Machine” rings with timely resonance as well here in the Trump era. “When We Were Young” and “Deja Vu” from the new album tap into similar existential ponderings, with Waters using clock effects once again as an intro to some personal musings regarding desires to improve life on Earth with a vibe that recalls the soul-searching nature of “Mother”. “Picture That” taps into some deeply Floydian sounds as well, as Waters utilizes familiar sonic themes as a platform for some new lyrical queries about what the heck is going on in the world such as “Picture a leader with no fucking brains”.
“Wish You Were Here” returns the set to classic rock territory, as the collective consciousness unites in affection for one the most beloved songs in rock history. “Another Brick in the Wall” provides a rousing climax to the first set as Waters brings some local youth onstage to dramatize the ever-ongoing conflict between children and an educational system that seeks to suppress them with “thought control”. The kids wear jumpsuits at first, stripping them off at the end to reveal t-shirts that say “RESIST”. The resistance message is blown up on the giant screens to make sure the point gets across as Waters cranks up the socio-political vibe heading into the set break.
He’s not kidding when he says the band will be back in 20 minutes, as it’s exactly 20 minutes later when the band returns with a “Dogs” to “Pigs” combo from 1977’s Animals album that electrifies the coliseum. Waters pushes the envelope on the concept of arena rock spectacle with a giant re-imagining of the Animals album cover, as screens and props form the cover’s industrial smokestack building with a giant pig to boot that expands the visual landscape across the arena. The pinnacle zeitgeist moment of the show occurs with “Pigs”, and who would have thought back in 1977 that the song would make such a fitting anthem for 2017 some 40 years later? Waters gives no quarter as multi-colored images of Trump appear alongside giant block letter words like “CHARADE”, “A LAUGH”, “FAT CHIN”, etc.
There’s an even an image of a pig with Trump’s head while the giant inflatable “Piggy Bank of War” floats around the arena, much to the delight of the audience who can’t get enough (as opposed to some at the tour opener in Kansas City who took offense.) The concept of any serious Pink Floyd fan taking umbrage at Waters for analogizing Trump with swine is downright laughable, but of course, Pink Floyd’s music has such cross-cultural reach that some muggles will inevitably be drawn in not realizing how much depth the music really has.
Certain critics might suggest that calling out Trump for being political swine is an all too easy slam dunk, but it still takes a fair amount of artistic courage to tour around the United States calling out the President for the greedy swine that he is. Waters drives the point home with projections of some of Trump’s more outrageous quotes, underscoring the insanity of such a person actually being the leader of the so-called free world. The crowd-pleasing performance is a triumph, as Waters does just about all that an aging rock ‘n’ roller can to speak truth to power in an artistic context while endeavoring to hold the metaphysical line against such depredation.
A fitting segue into “Money” drives the point home further, for there’s little that swine like Trump care for beyond the all holy dollar. As on Dark Side, the song segues into the ethereal bliss of “Us and Them”. The spectacle reaches another dimension during “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse”, as dry ice smoke is utilized to illuminate a giant awe-inspiring multi-dimensional laser pyramid that forms one of the coolest visual effects in rock history.
The epic “Comfortably Numb” serves as the show’s final song, with a rain of confetti during the ever scintillating outro guitar solo that conjures a triumphant conclusion. It’s not quite as epic a grand finale as when David Gilmour turned the Hollywood Bowl into a giant psychedelic sensorium during “Run Like Hell” at the end of his show there last year, but the laser pyramid was close and the higher level visual theatrics Pink Floyd have long been known for have certainly been present during this show. It’s too bad for Floyd fans that Waters and Gilmour don’t get along well enough to tour together anymore, but Waters is certainly doing his part to press the epic grandeur of Pink Floyd’s music into service for the rock resistance against the economic fascism represented by Trump and his corporatocracy minions of swine.