Roger WatersEcho Arena 2/7/18
Over half a century since Pink Floyd arguably invented the concept of ‘immersive experiences’ where the gig goer enters into the band’s private world, ROGER WATERS is still pursuing the vision of providing more than just a standard concert. With the city’s love of Pink Floyd stretching back decades and showing no sign of waning any time soon, after a near-interminable queue outside the Arena (kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown, eh?) a full capacity crowd assembles for the former Floyd man’s latest venture, the Us + Them Tour.
Where Waters’ most famous brainchild The Wall Tour investigated the divide between performer and audience, Us + Them – rumoured to be his last – tackles the divisions in society. Returning to the sense of injustice that fired up many of his lyrics both Floyd and solo, the show primarily hinges on the gap between the one per-cent and the rest of the planet.
It’s the standard set up for a Floyd-related gig – all seated, two sets, stunning optics and minimal crowd interaction, after all mosh pits, crowd surfing and tiresome Dave Grohl-style ‘Do you guys wanna fuckin’ rock?’ shouting has never been part of Waters’ lexicon. The lights dim and Speak To Me/Breathe blossoms from the PA, succeeded by the space rock rush of One Of These Days tracing a direct line from Wooden Shjips back to their antecedents.
With his voice in remarkably good shape, an injection of new blood into Waters’ backing band sees acclaimed solo artist Jonathan Wilson on Dave Gilmour duties, reproducing the vocals and guitar parts of Waters’ collaborator/frenemy in superlative fashion. Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from US indie pop outfit Lucius are excellent vocal contributors, recreating Clare Torry’s wordless vocal from The Great Gig In the Sky brilliantly.
An excellent rendition of proto-industrial cut Welcome To The Machine is followed by a triple bill of tracks from Waters’ recent solo disc Is This The Life We Really Want?, which sees the audience begin to fidget slightly. In contrast the crackle of radio tuning that opens Wish You Were Here is greeted with elation and the floor area rising to its feet as the acoustic guitar riff is sung in unison.
A sequence from Waters’ high tide of inspiration The Wall sees the most incongruous Christmas Number One single ever, Another Brick In The Wall (Part II), assisted by a group of local schoolkids in Guantanamo Bay-style orange jumpsuits lined up across the stage. Removing the outfits to reveal T-shirts emblazoned with ‘Resist’, the kids and the entire room assist on the band’s most famous chorus.
Following the intermission, the second half shows where the tour’s £4 million budget was spent. Having set the bar for live visuals vertiginously high with The Wall Tour in 1980-81 (a concert so arduous to set up it only visited four cites), to Waters’ immense credit the current show bears comparison to it. As a rectangular structure descends from the lighting rig in the arena, it becomes apparent the set of screens are a scale model of Giles Gilbert Scott’s iconic Battersea Power Station, as featured on the cover of Animals, complete with belching smoke and floating pig.
Effectively the heart of the show, Dogs and Pigs (Three Different Ones) from Animals plus Money and Us And Them from The Dark Side Of The Moon, revisit the band’s scathing attacks on capitalism. Midway through Dogs the band, replete with animal masks, hold a drinks party onstage, after which Waters holds up a series of cue cards which culminates in ‘Pigs Rule the World’ then ‘Fuck the Pigs’, which receives an appreciative roar from the crowd. Changing tack, the visuals that accompany Pigs (Three Different Ones) mercilessly criticise the current White House incumbent. Juxtaposing real and Photoshopped images reminiscent of Terry Gilliam animations, along with verbatim quotes, several of which provoke audible laughter, the “Ha ha, Charade you are” refrain is sung en masse.
The sound of cash registers ringing out signals a return to Dark Side, as the music video for Money is updated to include current global leaders. After a beautifully poised rendition of Us And Them and recent solo cut Smell The Roses, the final stretch of Brain Damage and Eclipse are genuinely spectacular, as a laser prism illuminates the front of the stage and a reflective sliver moon floats around the arena evoking Rover, the bubble that pursues Number 2 in The Prisoner before crossing the laser prism and creating the titular eclipse.
Returning for the encore – an elegiac Comfortably Numb where the audience drown out Wilson’s chorus vocals – is a brilliant valedictory flourish. If the tour represents Waters’ last global jaunt, his swansong ensures this ranks alongside Floyd’s mega tours, while still pushing the envelope for arena shows even further. That said, he’ll probably be back in three years’ time.