Last Night: Roger Waters at Toyota Center

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Roger Waters Toyota Center May 1, 2012

It really is true what they say: You don't appreciate a performer until he's fired a machine gun at you.

They were blanks Roger Waters was firing during "Run Like Hell" Tuesday at Toyota Center. That's why this review isn't being filed from the Harris County morgue.

But it's almost overwhelming to imagine the kind of frustration and animosity both towards the audience and himself it must take for an artist to pantomime blowing us all away, so meticulously and realistically, as part of his performance. And that was probably the least overwhelming part of a production that requires 25 semis to ferry from city to city.

Some of the moral, social and political undercurrents of this version of The Wall -- everything from a photo collage of soldiers and civilians killed in various armed conflicts to the ad slogans and anticapitalist graffiti scrawled on the inflatable pigs floating overhead during the second act -- were even heavier than the music. And we're talking about a show that includes such towering, sinister symphonic-rock creations as "Empty Spaces" and "Bring the Boys Back Home."

Waters doesn't hate his fans, of course. He was quite genial Tuesday, in fact, breaking character for a moment to thank the audience and especially Ruth Verell of Houston's Meals on Wheels for Kids program. After some promoter dropped the ball, Waters said, she helped arrange the children in "Fear Builds Walls" T-shirts who had just assailed the insectoid 21-foot-high "Teacher" puppet during "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2."

It was almost too much. Sometimes I had to tune out what was going on on the wall -- bombers dropping everything from the McDonald's arches to symbols of the world's major religions, actual footage of two men gunned down in the Middle East, large swatches of Gerald Scarfe's animation from Pink Floyd The Wall -- and pay attention to the music.

Waters has the mind of a composer, the soul of a minstrel and the heart of a man who has felt a boot on his neck. Expertly played by his 11-piece ensemble (including former Saturday Night Live bandleader G.E. Smith), the songs amounted to almost two hours of music.

They were assembled like a master draftsman would draw up a set of plans, down to the last detail: The curlicue of funk guitar in "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2," the swelling Beatles/Beach Boys harmonies of "The Show Must Go On," the sneering '70s sleaze of "Young Lust."

The Wall did not leave me with a lot of faith in humanity. Not because I feel like I am about to be hauled out of my office by jackbooted thugs and forced to report for duty in Big Brother's army, and the whole "dictator" sequence between the second "In the Flesh" and "Waiting for the Worms" did make me wonder. And the demented Gilbert & Sullivan operetta of "The Trial" was about as gripping an account of someone trying to hold onto his sanity as I've ever heard.

But several moments Tuesday -- the sweeping, tender "Comfortably Numb" most of all, but also "Hey You," "Mother" and "One of My Turns" -- radiated such an acute loneliness that the music's alienation and despair was almost palpable. That is the part of The Wall I related to most, and that is what made me sad.

Personal Bias: I may be the only American or British male between the ages of 35 and 65 who had underestimated Pink Floyd (Waters, really) until Tuesday. Color me impressed.

The Crowd: The light side of the moon, including one man in an "I'd rather be waterboarding" T-shirt who made me weep for humanity and think about delivering him up to Waters's hammer-man.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Fuck no!" -- a gentleman near me answering the lyrical question "mother should I trust the government?"

Random Notebook Dump (during "Mother"): This is fucking creepy.

By the Way: Here are a few morsels of information about The Wall's production, according to an April 2011 article in Issue 140 of the journal of TPI (Total Production International):

  • Built of cardboard, the wall is 35 feet high and ranges from 210 to 240 feet wide.
  • Each brick is 5 feet wide by 2.5 feet high. Each show uses nearly 400.
  • It takes until the end of Act 1 (almost an hour) to completely build the wall, using five lifts connected to a roving hydraulic platform 100 feet wide.
  • The "Teacher" puppet used in "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" is 21 feet high and uses 60 different motion cues in almost six minutes.
  • The one thing the article didn't mention was a price tag, but the Teacher, Wife and Mother puppets (each about the same size) cost $2 million all by themselves.

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