Saturday Night: Roger Waters' The Wall, Part 2

Note: A review of Waters' May 2012 show at Toyota Center is here.

Roger Waters Toyota Center November 20, 2010

Ed. note: The sold-out Roger Waters show was so highly anticipated, we sent two reviewers. Click here to see our write-up from Sunday morning.

What would make an aging rocker revisit one of the most nihilistic and angst-filled albums of his career? The album that laid bare every single open wound in his life, things you only tell therapists and (first) wives? What would make Roger Waters resurrect The Wall, 30 years after it's debut?

Because in 2010 it means more now than it ever has. We have more ways to build our own walls, and more reasons. Three decades later, its tale is being replayed each time a soldier comes home in a body bag, or someone walls themselves up behind false barriers and alienates themselves with technology.

The ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, corporate marauders and social media are all at fault this time around. Children are going through the same cataclysmic loss of parents due to war and conflict all over the world, repeating the same sad cycle that Waters endured after his father was killed in World War II.

You can build your own walls behind social media, alienate yourself from the physical world for the cozy comfort of a Twitter feed or a Facebook profile. Friends don't mean the same thing they did 30 years ago, and anyone can be a rock star at 140-character clips.

Before a sold-out Toyota Center crowd on Saturday night, Waters, a team of musicians, and some expert wall-builders recreated the pain and triumph of The Wall. It was wide-screen experience that you only see in rock and roll every few years. The material behind shows as astonishing as this rarely matches the pomp and circumstance, but The Wall isn't the usual album.

The show began before a note was played, as a "bum" with a shopping cart and a randy sign begging for cash for booze and hookers made his way through the floor seating taking pictures with fans. True to Waters' modus operandi, he put us inside the show before he even picked up his bass.

The bum threw a life-size rag doll on the stage next to a leather overcoat emblazoned with the hammer logo that the character of Pink would don later in the evening. Ladies and gentlemen, let's build the wall.

Speaking of the wall, as the show went on it would become a looming presence in the arena. Less a marvel of rock engineering and more of sounding board for all the ways that the material of The Wall still resounds today. Pictures of dead soldiers and civilians were projected on the wall, along with menacing slogans in graffiti, echoing the messages in the songs. Sometimes those messages went directly above the fans' heads.

"Goodbye Blue Sky" came with animated footage of a bomber dropping various religious and corporate icons on an imagined battlefield. The falling Christian cross was met with silence, while the traditional Muslim star and crescent, the Star Of David, and the Shell logo were all followed with cheers. Somehow the crowd didn't quite get the message that Waters formulated: For every supposed profit in war, there is a profound loss, no matter to whom you bow at the end of the day.

Waters used much of Gerald Scarfe's animation from the 1982 Alan Parker film, cleaned up and remastered, looking crisper than it could ever look at a midnight screening or on your plasma at home. This helped tie in the modern tour, the film and the album together as one body of work.

Looming, leering, puppet renditions of Pink's headmaster, mother and wife made appearances early in the show. The headmaster's red eyes glared at the crowd, and a group of Houston children danced around it as Waters played bass a few steps away.

Waters has had a reputation of being a priggish, stodgy rock star, but we didn't see any of that on Saturday. He looked agile and happy, even as the storm of the wall was being built around him. He's at home onstage telling stories, or peering back at the fully constructed wall.

Intermission came after "Goodbye World," and the wall was lit up with pictures and stories of people who died in terrorist attacks, political actions and wars. The year of birth and date of death were displayed, along with quick bios of each. Some were just glancing histories, while others were sad and touching.

Albums like The Wall don't exist anymore, because bands try too hard to attain what Waters and Pink Floyd achieved in 1979. It was one of the last stands of a monumental band, and some would argue that the album and the infighting it caused were reasons for Waters leaving the group.

Either way, it helped him exorcise his family demons while also speaking on the toll of war, a message that will never be lost. If it helps anyone deal with their own losses, while also warning against building your own wall, then that's testament of a true piece of art.

Personal Bias: The day of the show we were having some Pink moments ourselves so this helped ground us. We still have our eyebrows, thankfully.

The Crowd: A lot of people who probably still have pot seeds inside the sleeve of their copy of the double album.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Are they gonna play 'Money' or what?"

Random Notebook Dump: You don't see spectacles of this size or depth anymore. The Wall came from a time when you could still get away with something this engrossing and private.

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