Am I allowed to say bugger on the Internet? Is it a cuss word? Oh, maybe it is considering the fate of that particular car advertisement in New Zealand. Ah well, it’s a quote anyway. This Tuesday gone I was fortunate enough to see Roger Waters perform The Wall Live at London’s O2 arena. Naturally, I’m gonna post about it, but when I started to write I found I wanted to write a ‘this concert was awesome, because of X,Y & Z’ post and I also wanted to delve into a ‘why this concert was awesome’ post. These two desires did not marry well and the end result was a messy divorce and me writing myself into a corner. A stomper of a head cold wasn’t helping the writing process either (dang, another head cold). In the end I settled on a compromise: one post (this one) reporting that this concert was awesome and another post later on delving into why it was awesome.
Pink Floyd. I love ’em. In all flavours – with Syd, without Syd, with Roger, without Roger. I don’t subscribe to the notion of only liking one variety of Pink Floyd. I’m a tutti frutti kinda gal, I’ll have them all. I am also the same with the flavours of Van Halen. Well right up till VHIII which just left me feeling like it could’ve been sooo much better…
But back to the ‘Floyd: The Wall was released in 1979, a tour followed in 1980/81 and a movie in 1982. Barring a 1990 staging of it in Berlin, it hasn’t been staged in my lifetime (even the movie came out just before I was born). So when Waters announced a series of UK shows, I thought ‘Blow me down, I’m going to that!’
The album had its origins in Pink Floyd’s 1977 In the Flesh tour, following an incident where Waters spat in fan’s face at a Canadian show and a subsequent discussion he had with Bob Erzin about how he would like to build a wall between himself and the audience. This led to some soul searching by Waters as he contemplated what could’ve led a musician to do such a thing. The end result was The Wall and the story of its central character, Pink, who was based partly on Roger himself. Considering the strain that was on the band leading up to and during the recording of this album, I think it’s pretty amazing that it even exists; that they could finish putting it together. Having said that, it was because of the strain that this album became what it is: without those pressures it could’ve lost its edge, its raw and veristic feel.
As an experience, The Wall Live is phenomenal. It is more than just a concert; it’s like a piece of theatre, an opera and considering the subject matter of its story that’s just how it should be. The sound of the opener reverberated around the arena, bouncing from speaker to speaker before the pyrotechnics of the first track (In the Flesh?) exploded into action – genuinely catching me by surprise. Later, while the sounds of a helicopter whirled around the arena during The Happiest Days of Our Lives I had to remind myself to not look for a chopper up in the sky.
Pink Floyd shows were known for a few things and amongst them were light displays, lasers and puppets. I was particularly looking forward to the puppets used during The Wall. The schoolmaster, mother and wife were resplendent in their puppet form, their supernatural size only being challenged by the size of the wall itself. On my side of the arena I could see what turned out to be the wife hiding in the ceiling before her appearance. During the intermission I spotted the schoolmaster hidden in a similar position but on the other side of the O2. It was quite a sight, seeing them hunched up, eying each other above the stage. Have I mentioned I like planes? Yes I have? Oh, good. The dive bombing scaled down Stuka was a welcomed sight during the end of In the Flesh? For some bizarre reason I didn’t think there would be one, but I’m glad there was. Finally, on the subject of puppets and props, one cannot forget the flying pig. All fans of the ‘Floyd know that pigs can, and have, flown. Though only over Battersea, and not so recently (I kept an eye out for them while I worked near Battersea Power Station but alas no sightings). No show is really complete without a pig and there was a Dictator Pink breed present for this show. It emerged from its sty behind the wall for In the Flesh, flew about for a bit and returned home, hidden and ready for the next show.
The centrepiece of the show was the wall itself, which was gradually built across the stage and by the end of Goodbye Cruel World was complete. It was used as a backdrop for various projections which ranged from scenes from the 1982 movie, to footage of Waters from a 1981 Earls Court performance of Mother, to images that demonstrated Pink’s mental state, to footage and photos of people killed in conflict. File cards of people (service personnel and civilians) killed in conflict that stretched across the wall during the intermission were particularly moving. One of them was especially noticeable within the context of The Wall: Eric Fletcher Waters, Roger’s father who was killed at Anzio during WWII, the man who became the basis for Pink’s father and consequently the first brick in The Wall. The contemporary footage of returned service men being reunited with their children during Bring the Boys Back Home was both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
The projections that demonstrated Pink’s metal state were particularly impressive. They turned what was an inanimate object into something that had its own personality. During Comfortably Numb the twisting and straining of the wall visually demonstrated Pink’s tortured mental state and the following explosion of shattered wall, which gave way to a kaleidoscope of colours, was absolutely stunning and beautifully illustrated Pink’s drugged, delusional state before it manifested itself into Dictator Pink. It made what is already an exceptional song just that little bit more exceptional.
Mulling over the performance it is difficult for me to cherry pick a handful of moments that were favourites of mine. In fact, I think that might be an impossible task, I liked the whole darn thing. Looking back, the strongest impression left by the show, is actually that of the man himself: Roger Waters. Waters has changed drastically in the years since 1977. He has evolved from a musician who was so uncomfortable with performing on a large stage that in a moment of frustration he spat on a fan, to a front man who is truly comfortable and happy to perform for large crowds. It is a transformation that is a pleasure to witness; oh golly golly gosh it is a pleasure indeed. Being born when I was, only being sentient for the twilight of the Pink Floyd years, I take all the live ‘Floyd I can. I was fortunate enough to see Waters’ The Dark Side of the Moon Tour when it came to New Zealand. Now I’ve been fortunate enough to see The Wall Live. Thank goodness that this mad bugger is still at it after all these years.