May 3, 2012
Frank Erwin Center
Austin, TX USA
Review by Justin Press
Photos by Vernon L. Gowdy, III
Roger Waters - Austin, TX
It's ironic that in recent years, the once scowl-faced Roger Waters' has found the joy in his earlier works of insanity, desperation and isolation. So much so that he's taken to recreating massive shows around the world in order to showcase his youthful confusion and unease, spectacles with even more spectacular receipts. The man who once exorcised the spoils of capitalism is now knee-deep in it. Adulthood and retirement plans are an ugly reality, as is the need to hide behind a wall from time to time.
The Wall Live is just what Waters' intended it to be, all the trappings and more in its Mark IV incarnation. The handful of legendary 1980 shows in LA and London, the movie featuring Bob Geldolf and even The Wall concert in Berlin cannot prepare one for the conceptual onslaught that The Wall 2012 provides - bombast, 21st century tech, off the chart visuals, stellar performances (note for note, so much for nuance) and memories of late 70's AOR radio - sweep over you. His 2006 Dark Side of the Moon Tour sold a gazillion tickets, proving to Waters that the four cornerstone albums of the Pink Floyd catalog (Dark Side, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall), are viable cash cows. It was only fitting that the bookends of the quartet were played out first. But where Dark Side opened you up, The Wall closes you in, literally.
Opening with the sheer pipe bomb melodies of "In the Flesh", Waters and his ten showmen delivered the goods in the first 2:04 finishing with a WW II RAF fighter blazing across the arena and crashing mid-way up the partially built wall. Speaking of staging, this was massive with a full arena floor width and half a soccer pitch length. But such a large conceptual piece like the Wall deserves such enormity to convey the very essence of the album's theme that the vast world around you can close you up and pin you in.
"Another Brick, Pt. 2" and its roaring chorus - complete with local school kids lending faux vocal support - chanted and rose their fists against the first of several inflatable incarnations, in this case the 50-foot school master. Going thru the first part of the show, which was broken into a proper play with two halves and an intermission, stage hands slowly and with a great deal of stealth, built the wall brick by brick towards completion. "Goodbye Blue Sky" was a brilliant use of the wall as a projection backdrop. It was especially powerful during said track as images of Luftwaffe bombers dropped crosses and symbols of a free democracy towards the cities below as symbolism for war and greed - a signature Waters specialty.`
"Young Lust" dove into graphic fetish images as the protagonist is lost in a cloud of self-indulgent destructiveness using sex as a deterrent. And as expected, 'Mother" drew the night's loudest roar to that point. "Mother should I run for president?" couldn't have been more poignant, especially in a politically driven town like Austin. As the music faded and rose into the next movement, the wall was merely a brick short as Waters poked his head thru a spotlight illuminated world to announce "Goodbye Cruel World, Goodbye".
After a 20-minute intermission, the capacity crowd came back to a full 70-foot high wall and "Hey You", the beginning of the subtlest part of this double album. It's here that you realize that The Wall is an album half-based on one-minute filler pieces and 'noise-scapes'. Floyd drummer Nick Mason has mentioned in past interviews that he felt this recording was two sides too long, and would have made for a better single recording. That analysis is rendered a moot point when you come to sides three and four. They are the 'crème de la crème' of this progressive masterpiece.
As the familiar and beautiful introductory notes of "Comfortably Numb" feel like the first breathes you've ever taken - it's just that intoxicating. As Waters works the front of the stage in front of the monolith built behind him, his band is behind the structure guiding him along. The huge chorus is handled by the audience as Roger stands before as The Wall illuminated with all kinds of fantastical images from a drug-induced dream. Guitarist Dave Kilminster, (one of three on tour that also includes ex-Thin Lizzy and original 1980 Wall second guitarist Snowy White, and ex-Saturday Night Live / Hall & Oates band leader G.E. Smith), has been hoisted above the wall to lay down Gilmour's legendary solo. Beams of light make the player unrecognizable but then again, it seems appropriate given the magnitude of "that solo".
And what Waters / Floyd show is complete without the obligatory Pig flying overhead scribbled with Marxist propaganda while "Run Like Hell" blazes on the stage. Again, the classic rock radio monster "Run", regardless of it's overplay, is so infectious that the visual bombardment aside the guitars and its subliminal message sell the track on it's own. With Waters, dressed as a mad dictator, and his band dressed in their fetish, storm-trooper gear, a lesser track would be buried underneath the bedlam. Not this one.
Of course, what goes up must come down. Automated chants of "tear down the wall" resonated throughout the Frank Irwin Center. With lasers, spotlights, flickering images and flash pods clashing in the air creating a chaotic scene on stage, the wall came tumbling down in all its glory (and quite quickly I may add), leaving carnage and ruin in its wake. What arose from the wreckage was a man reborn. As the band congregated amidst the rubble, they performed an acoustic, and mandolin rendition, of "Outside The Wall". In more ways than one, it was a fitting conclusion to the two-hours of high drama that led up to the humbling finale.
Many have listed this live performance of The Wall as one of the greatest concert of all-time. Is it an overdramatic reaction to a truly overdramatic production? It's a question best left to those who witness the event firsthand. Rest assured there was no expense spared creating the visuals behind this enormous body of work. Kudos also are in order for the director of this massive production, who expertly crafted this behemoth of a slideshow, to tell the story of Waters' haunting personal story of trauma. Given thought, it actually was the greatest live concert feat of all-time. Now let's see if Roger can get those 'Animals' out of the barn so the Pig can really take flight.