Roger Waters Builds and Tears Down Pink Floyd’s The Wall
January 5, 2011
About a month ago, local renaissance man, Dan Linehan, witnessed one of last year's most talked about live shows. Here's his blow-by-blow account—including video—of the mind-bending experience.
Speechless is the only way to describe how I fumbled for words when first asked, “How was it?” I’m not alone.
The night before, on 7 December 2010, two of my writer friends separately went to see former frontman Roger Waters perform Pink Floyd’s double album The Wall in San Jose, California, at the HP Pavilion.
I had emailed them afterwards to get a heads-up. Kelly, a hardcore fan, could only muster a reply of, “F'ing incredible show!” And all that Mark replied was, “BIG, buddy. BIG.”
I will now try to find the words.
“Your lives are to be spared. Slaves you were and slaves you remain. But the terrible penalty of crucifixion has been set aside on the single condition that you identify the body or the living person of the slave called Spartacus.”
Flooding the arena, these lines from Spartacus by Stanley Kubrick were followed by slave after slave from the film proclaiming that he was Spartacus, the man who so boldly defied the old world order of the Romans and was so mercilessly hunted by them.
These other slaves were not protecting Spartacus from certain death in doing this but had finally come to realize that they all were Spartacus. This is how The Wall began.
Moments later the crushing “In the Flesh?” shook the stadium as Roger Waters sang the first line of the rock opera, “So ya thought ya might like to go to the show?”
Fireworks exploded everywhere as a giant World War II fighterplane streaked over the crowd, crashed behind the partially constructed wall, and burst into a ball of flames. Easily ten times more fantastic than most concert finales, this was just the first song.
Alice may have fallen down the rabbit hole to get to Wonderland, but it was the feelings of desperation and desolation that sunk Pink, the star of The Wall played by Waters, into a world where playing cards don't march but giant, goose-stepping hammers do.
I was a kid when The Wall first came out in 1979. I remember walking down the road and stopping in a driveway where two older boys were listening to it on a cassette. When I was old enough, I got the vinyl. Two years later, The Wall was made into a film.
Though I’ve seen Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason and Division Bell, solo Waters playing The Dark Side of the Moon, and even Laser Floyd in planetariums plenty of times, Waters’ performance of The Wall truly has no equal.
Performed in its entirety, the concept album chronicles the deterioration of Pink, whose father died in the war, from “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1”:
And his mother was way overprotective, from “Mother”:
They all drove him further into a downward spiral. Overcompensation lead Pink to become a rock star, but fame and broken relationships only fueled his alienation. The emotional wall he constructed to shield himself from everyone and everything only got higher and higher. And so did the physical wall. Spanning from one side to the stadium to the other, by time the 240-foot-long wall was fully erected at a height of 35 feet, it reached up to the nosebleed seats.
Brick by brick, the wall sealed off the band from the audience as Waters moved between openings to sing from.
Twisted characters from Pink’s warped imagination appeared as gigantic puppets throughout the show, such as a schoolmaster, standing taller than the wall itself and looking more suitable to preside over the torture at Gitmo than over the education of schoolkids. The sound systems and sound effects were state-of-the-art: As helicopters and airplanes raced across the screens, you felt the pulsation of the rotor blades and propellers vibrating throughout your body.
The wall also acted like an enormous screen for the leading-edge projection systems, which continually displayed intensely captivating and provocative images. And one soon realized, this show was not just about Pink. You weren’t just watching Pink’s isolation, fears, and delusions, you were riding shotgun with him. Midway through the first set, Waters made a poignant tribute. “It was thirty years ago today that John Lennon was killed,” he said before the stadium quieted into a moment of silence. “He was a crazy old bugger, but he brought a lot of light to all of our lives.” This all sounds like one great big downer—and it even gets worse for Pink before it gets better. However, the show was anything but.
Waters left Pink Floyd after The Final Cut, which released in 1983. No other original band members performed with him this night. With the North American tour now over, the European leg begins on 21 March 2011. The Wall is Pink Floyd’s second best-selling album behind The Dark Side of the Moon, both of which are among the top-selling albums of all time. Based on his life, Roger Waters wrote most of The Wall. His voice was strong and clear. Waters was also happy and having fun, which was a big contrast to how he was when The Wall first toured in 1980—“Poor, miserable, fucked-up Roger from all those years ago,” he described himself during the concert. On his website he said:
It took me a long time to get over my fears. Anyway, in the intervening years it has occurred to me that maybe the story of my fear and loss, with its concomitant inevitable residue of ridicule, shame, and punishment, provides an allegory for broader concerns: nationalism, racism, sexism, religion. Whatever! All these issues and ‘isms are driven by the same fears that drove my young life.
This new production of The Wall is an attempt to draw some comparisons, to illuminate our current predicament, and is dedicated to all the innocent lost in the intervening years.
In some quarters, among the chattering classes, there exists a cynical view that human beings as a collective are incapable of developing more ‘humane’ i.e. kinder, more generous, more cooperative, more empathetic relationships with one another.
In my view it is too early in our story to leap to such a conclusion, we are after all a very young species.
I believe we have at least a chance to aspire to something better than the dog eat dog ritual slaughter that is our current response to our institutionalized fear of each other.
I feel it is my responsibility as an artist to express my, albeit guarded, optimism, and encourage others to do the same. To quote the great man, “You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
True to his words, The Wall didn’t hold back—not for one second.
In “Goodbye Blue Sky”, Waters deftly protested the influence of religion, governments, and corporations on war. No stronger were the images of streams of dark-silhouetted jet bombers opening up their bomb bay doors and dropping vibrant red bombs shaped like religious symbols, dollar signs, and cooperate logos. These bombs annihilated everything below.
He even took shots at the overuse and addictive nature of technology, warning about being plugged-in, mindless sheep that fall in-line with what everybody else is doing just because it seems like it’s the thing to do.
At the height of Pink’s self-imposed ostracization, he became a fascist dictator. It was a frightening portrayal of how mobs and hordes can be sparked by zealous fervor. Pink had reached the deepest depths.
Waters sang the words of the beginnings of Pink’s self-realization: “Stop!/I want to go home/Take off this uniform and leave the show/And I’m waiting in this cell because I have to know/Have I been guilty all this time?”
Pink stood trial and was cross-examined by each of his ferocious fears. Found guilty, his sentence was to tear down the wall. Pink’s wall crumbled as the giant stadium wall toppled over with a thunderous roar.
Walking from the show, all I felt was that I wanted to do something that mattered. I didn't want to part of this insanity. What could I do to get outside my wall? I felt recharged and empowered, which had nothing to do with the second-hand effects of the pervasive herbal atmosphere.
If a feast of the senses could have its own feast of the senses, then The Wall was it.
Set List Set 1: 1. In The Flesh? 2. The Thin Ice 3. Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1 4. The Happiest Days of Our Lives 5. Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 6. Mother 7. Goodbye Blue Sky 8. Empty Spaces 9. Young Lust 10. One of My Turns 11. Don't Leave Me Now 12. Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3 13. Goodbye Cruel World Set 2: 14. Hey You 15. Is There Anybody Out There? 16. Nobody Home 17. Vera 18. Bring the Boys Back Home 19. Comfortably Numb 20. The Show Must Go On 21. In The Flesh 22. Run Like Hell 23. Waiting For The Worms 24. Stop 25. The Trial 26. Outside The Wall