Might like to go to the show.
To feel the warm thrill of confusion
That space cadet glow.
Tell me is something eluding you, sunshine?
Is this not what you expected to see?
If you wanna find out what’s behind these cold eyes
You’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise.”
In The Flesh? – Pink Floyd
From as far back as I can remember, my father has been a Pink Floyd fan. I inherited my obsessive love of music, and my penchant for collecting hundreds of CDs whilst attending dozens of concerts in a year, from him; in fact, I remember being maybe 11 or so, thumbing through a photo album my mother has of concert ticket stubs from shows they saw in the early years of their relationship, in awe of this plethoa of souvenirs and the hours of music they represented. Only three years later, I began venturing to shows on my own, and immediately developed an addiction. For me, concerts were a safe haven, a place to not only rejoice in art, but to also find solace and empathy. In a concert, you are surrounded by others who have their own connections with the music, varying in intensity and meaning – but you are all connected. The greatest artists successfully engage their audience in an exchange of energy, leaving the attendees feeling that the artist spoke to them directly, in melodic conversation.
Ironic, then, that one of the greatest albums ever made stemmed from an incidence of disconnection during live performance.
As avid fans of the band know well, but perhaps others do not, The Wall is the end product of Roger Waters’ reflections on an increasingly exasperating experience touring in 1977, which found him frustrated with disruptive crowds and lighting issues to the point where, at the final date, it reached a boiling point. Exasperated with Montreal fans setting off fireworks and being generally disruptive, when one particular fan irritated Waters beyond others, he spat in said fan’s face. Upon reflection later, Waters admitted the reaction to be inappropriate, although the incident did spur in him the concept of alienation, and in turn, how he wished he could create a wall between himself and the insatiable and often rowdy fans. Blending this, in turn, with autobiographical elements, Waters presented the concept to the band. After an expansion into a rock opera centred around the character Pink, the double disc album was recorded, released, and became one of the best selling albums of all time.
“Shall we buy a new guitar?
Shall we drive a more powerful car?
Shall we work straight through the night?
Shall we get into fights?
Leave the lights on?
Do tours of the east?
Break up homes? Send flowers by phone?
Take to drink?
Go to shrinks?
Give up meat?
Rarely sleep? Keep people as pets?
What Shall We Do Now? – Pink Floyd
Live performances of the album were theatrical, with the construction of a 40 foot wall and its eventual destruction at the show’s conclusion embodying the story, with projections upon the developing wall adding to the visual effect. One of the most memorable outings of The Wall in live format is the 1990 performance in Berlin, where one year prior, the wall dividing east and west had been brought down. Roger Waters, now a solo artist, pulled together an eclectic and astonishing collection of artists including Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Cyndi Lauper and Bryan Adams to put on a particularly powerful staging of the concept, complete with Waters destroying a mock ‘hotel room’ during One Of My Turns. Available on DVD, it had been, until this year, the only way an 80s child could witness the spectacle, and has always been a favoured choice of mine when watching performance DVDs with my dad.
Waters opted this year to remount a somewhat different version of The Wall live, originally announcing a smattering of dates that grew, through vorcaious demand, into a year-long tour that he has indicated will be his last. In explaining himself and this choice, as well as the choice of projections and staging, Roger explains:
I recently came across this quote of mine from 22 years ago:
” What it comes down to for me is this: Will the technologies of communication in our culture, serve to enlighten us and help us to understand one another better, or will they deceive us and keep us apart?”
I believe this is still a supremely relevant question and the jury is out. There is a lot of commercial clutter on the net, and a lot of propaganda, but I have a sense that just beneath the surface understanding is gaining ground. We just have to keep blogging, keep twittering, keep communicating, keep sharing ideas.
30 Years ago when I wrote The Wall I was a frightened young man. Well not that young, I was 36 years old.
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 it’s 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….
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.”
– Roger Waters, 2010
In watching the spectacle unfold at the Air Canada Centre, it is crystal clear as the enormous wall ever-expanding upon the stage that he has succeeded. Marshall McLuhan would, were he alive today, certainly declare that in this case more than many others, the medium is the message: the show begins with elaborate lighting and simulated gunfire from a plane that then descends and crashes into the wall itself in a orange-yellow fiery display. It takes with it the rock show lights, leaving us with the beginning of projections of the fallen loved ones of fans, submitted at request, along with that of Waters’s own father and Neda Agha-Soltan, the young Iranian woman who became a martyr of the Iranian protests in 2009, who was applauded loudly, much to my happy surprise at the mass recognition.
Another particularly poignant touch is the last-minute addition of a local children’s choir from Regent Park to accompany Waters et al. during classic track Another Brick In The Wall Pt 2, their wagging fingers and voices driving the looming schoolteacher puppet into retreat. In a brief moment that breaks the character of ‘Pink’ as held down by Waters, he beams while coaching them through the choreography, clearly thrilled to have them as part of the legacy he wishes to leave behind.
I say legacy because the concert is clearly no longer about Waters and his disconnection from the audience and his own grief; it is its own entity, one that he is imparting to us, urging us to carry forward to the next generation to come. When Goodbye Blue Skies plays, the audience is bombarded with animations of fighter planes destroying the land by raining down not only bloody crosses, but the Star of David, dollar signs and the Shell company’s logo, shifting the opera’s allegory to our present, where we are equally driven by oil and greed as we are by religious conflicts to go to war, leaving a trail of bodies in our wake. Frequently, messages flash across the wall such as ‘Trust Us” and “Big Brother Is Watching”, the inflated pig floating above the masses now ever more Orwellian in nature. News footage clips, ‘smashed’ as the music cues up, accompany Another Brick in The Wall Pt 3, as Roger plaintively sings, “I have seen the writing on the wall/Don’t think I need anything at all.”
“You better make your face up in
Your favorite disguise.
With your button down lips and your
Roller blind eyes.
With your empty smile
And your hungry heart.
Feel the bile rising from your guilty past.
With your nerves in tatters
When the cockleshell shatters
And the hammers batter
Down the door.
You’d better run…”
Run Like Hell – Pink Floyd
The pinnacle of this ‘fight the status quo’ rallying cry is the projections accompanying Run Like Hell, which Waters dedicates to “anyone out there who is weak”. In a series of images spoofing the infamous iPod commercials, animals wearing the tell-tale white earbuds are depicted in varying scenes with the phrases “iLead” (pig in a suit), “iProtect” (German Shepherd), “iFollow” (hoodie-clad sheep), and “iResist” (bodies only, seen throwing bricks), fading away into the grafitti-like scrawl, “You better run!” It was at that moment I decided, hands down, that this was the best concert I had ever seen in my life, and would likely ever see, apart from the band reuniting and performing The Wall together. Although the album has always resonated strongly on a personal level for me, it was the powerful way in which Waters roused the crowds to their feet and commanded they, too, “iResist” that makes The Wall far more than a man’s fearful reaction to fame and isolation.
The Wall, simply put, is a battle cry for every level of our existence.
In his review of the show, Aaron Brophy of CHART wonders who will tear down the wall now, once Waters has left. For it is obvious that we are far from a world without walls, and we will need others who dare to speak up, dare to refuse to be the sheep. I can think of several artists who similarly challenge our perceptions on the political level with their own works (Matthew Good, Tori Amos and Tool being just a scant few), but has anyone created anything comparable to something this grand and ultimately relatable to a wide range of people? Will anyone ever manage to do so again? Trent Reznor certainly achieved something similar with the promotion of and songs in his disc Year Zero, but his music doesn’t reach across the same generational gaps.
I suppose that is the point of the tour, and it now reaching to so many corners of the world. We are being handed the hammers; it’s time we smashed the walls down for good.
Tour dates and more can be found at the official site for Roger Waters. Some great YouTube footage of the show can be seen at this channel here. For those who haven’t yet seen it, get thee to a store and own The Wall: Live In Berlin on DVD, damn it.
And, let me say it once more, for those who know how many hundreds of shows I have seen: yes, this was the best damn show I’ve ever seen.