October 1, 2010

Rock Over Boston: Roger Waters' The Wall | The Gahden | 9.30.2010

Roger Waters' The Wall
I could not betray my suburban classic rock upbringing by turning down a freebie for this one. Budding music nerds and other social outcasts of multiple generations have spent their afternoons with headphones on thinking Pink Floyd gets it, man - they think the world is as fucked up as I do! Though that really only explains a subset of the people that has given The Wall the staying power to fill arenas again 30 years later. Some people just like getting high, hearing big guitar solos, and having a night out.

The nostalgia factor is an inescapable part of this whole exercise, and it has the rather profound effect of undermining the larger messages that Roger Waters claims to be trying to get across. The part of the story about the division between him and his audience takes a bit of a back seat (he seems to be having too much fun, actually, to really get into that) so the anti-war message is front and center in this year's tour. And there are some truly moving moments of the show where fan-submitted pictures of loved ones lost in conflicts all over the world and throughout history were projected on the screen and on the wall, as well as the well-known viral clips of the daughter being surprised in class of her father's return home from Iraq and the leaked footage of the US helicopter attacks on innocents on the ground there. But that latter clip was shown at the end of a song (er, maybe it was "Goodbye Blue Sky?"), so it meant that it coincided with rousing cheers. "Mother," of course, has the leading line "Mother should I trust the government?" which probably didn't need the line "no fucking way" projected on the wall to get the cheers/jeers it got (in fall 2010, it was also not at all clear who people are jeering. Are they booing Obama? Are they tea partiers? Or just old-school anti-establishment hippies?).

But this is all taking place in an arena named for a bank and covered in corporate logos that people are paying upwards of hundreds of dollars to see. This Dwight D. Eisenhower quote got big play on the wall late in the show:
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.
...which is great and everything, but how about when water's four bucks a bottle and t-shirts are $60? This is the part where I try to resist saying "welcome to the machine, indeed." (oops.)

That aside (sorta), how was the show? A recent Rolling Stone cover story about the tour was headlined "Waters Reinvents The Wall." Well, not really. In fact, I was looking through the inserts in the live album released in 2000 of the original 1980-81 Wall shows, and was surprised at how closely the production seems to follow the original shows. Presumably the technology now allows for a somewhat easier execution of it, with better quality projections (and one wonders how much easier it is to get away with pre-recorded music as well).

So, you know the deal - if ever there was a genius ready-made arena rock concept, The Wall is certainly it. It was all there: the schoolmaster puppet (photo above), the Gerald Scarfe animations, the pig. They built the wall up in front of the band in the first half, the band played behind, above, and in front of it in the second half. Then it came tumbling down. It does make for neat and ambitious arena rock theater spectacle. That was more than enough for most people. There were soaring guitar solos and the occasional solid groove as the wall went up. The show's only misfire was when Waters addressed the crowd to introduce "Mother." With a show meant to be immersive, this sucked you right out.

So, yes, there were moments where I was able to forget all of the above and be the kid with headphones on again and appreciate the experience. Though that brings up another point: The Wall, for me at least, was always sort of an insular, claustrophobic/agoraphobic experience to some extent. So, while it lends itself so easily to the big stage, it is somewhat at odds with this too.

Cynical? Sure, but I'm judging it on its own terms and giving Waters the benefit of the doubt that he means it when he says this all still means something to him. Does it? Does it mean anything to the audience anymore?

-Michael Piantigini

Roger Waters: Intertubes

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