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Roger Waters Presents The Wall, US Airways Center, 5/15/12

Roger Waters performs The Wall last night.
Roger Waters performs The Wall last night.
Maria Vassett

Roger Waters Performs The Wall US Airways Center Tuesday, May 15

The spectacle that is Roger Waters' The Wall tour deserves more than a cursorily run-through. The concert is as much theater and cutting-edge theatrics as it is a musical production, and each aspect deserves -- requires -- equal respect, as the masterful merging of sound, imagery, and imagination went off without a hitch. See our full Roger Waters Presents The Wall slideshow. For those not familiar with Pink Floyd's double album The Wall, released in 1979, the story chronicles a fading, troubled rock star dealing with issues of childhood and authority, but with misguided visions of leading a fascist-styled authoritarian society. Pink, as he's known, builds a wall to hold it all in before eventually breaking out in a return to sanity.

Roger Waters, scaling The Wall last night.
Roger Waters, scaling The Wall last night.
Maria Vassett

Musically, the 11-piece band was pure professionalism. From the backup singers to three guitarists and two keyboardists, every song was tight and spot-on but still carried the power and emotion that made The Wall such a popular recording. Waters moved effortlessly about the stage all night, playing bass or singing -- sometimes standing, other times in more theatrical pose on a chair or couch. He opened the show wearing a military-styled leather jacket, standing at the front of the stage and in front of the partially built wall that extended across the entire arena -- as he sung "In the Flesh." But the jacket quickly came off as the band rolled through "The Thin Ice" and into a searing version of "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1)" as warplanes droned across the wall, which served as a giant projection screen.

"Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" featured 15 local schoolchildren singing the famous "We don't need no education" line and continuing chorus, while pointing at a giant teacher puppet bobbing on the stage. "They come in for the five o'clock soundcheck, then come out and do this. What a great job," Waters said. He was right, they sounded like pros.

Several bricks are added to the wall during all this.

One of the exciting aspects of the show was the use of technology. The viewer is bombarded with images that flash, float or drift in from one side -- they came from all angles, it seemed. Waters was occasionally broadcast live on the wall in such realistic fashion it was almost scary, but dazzling as well. Careful use of color added depth and shape to the wall. It was solid, but seemed to be alive.

"Mother" added a different technological aspect, with Waters singing and playing along with a pre-recorded version of the song captured on the 1979 tour. "I will attempt to double track with the fucked-up, miserable little Roger from all those years ago," Waters said as he synched his acoustic guitar with the vintage Roger, shown in shadowy form across the wall and backing screen. The "experiment" worked well.

More pieces of the wall went up unnoticed just before more images of fighter planes flowed into view signaling "Goodbye Blue Sky."

Be it the images of planes or symbols of wealth, big business (Shell, Mercedes) and religion (crosses) all falling like bombs from those passing planes, graffiti, political images, or shifting shapes, many of these masterful applications can be attributed to Waters' life before Pink Floyd, that of a design-school architecture student. In presenting The Wall, Waters borrows design elements from the likes of Sir Francis Bacon, French filmmaker Christian Boltanski, German expressionist George Grosz and Italy's Superstudios, a late 1960s design center of utopian ideals.

 

Roger Waters takes to the acoustic guitar.
Roger Waters takes to the acoustic guitar.
Maria Vassett

What was also interesting is the updated nature of Waters' current tour version and the images flashed of soldiers, civilians, activists and civil servants (firefighters and policemen) killed by war, terrorism or government -- including western government -- injustice. It is a little ironic given the album's main characters fascist vision, but Waters' political acumen is as strong and though he doesn't say it, he uses the tour as a platform for positive political change, or at least thoughtfulness.

Was the message lost on those who came for the music? Difficult to say. It was hard to push aside the constant and powerful images shown on the ever-growing wall. Then again, there was plenty to assimilate in the arena.

With the wall finished -- save for one brick -- Waters appeared back-lit to sing "Goodbye Cruel World." Done: the final brick was placed, and a brief and unnecessary intermission ensued.

"Hey You" began with the band playing behind the wall. Did the band turn things to 11 since they were behind the wall? Not sure, but the second half of the show was noticeably louder, which was welcomed, as it increased the intensity as well.

Occasionally, bricks were moved to see players perform. Other times, Waters appeared out front. Waters was in front of the wall for the haunting "Bring the Boys Back Home," which received a rousing ovation when the song title flashed on the wall.

"Comfortably Numb" brought everyone to their feet. The band was still behind the wall, now essentially a giant screen full of riveting images, but for the mesmerizing guitar solo, the guitarist appeared on top of the wall. And as well known and frequently heard as "Comfortably Numb" is, the creative combination of sustain, slashing, effects and individual notes -- and oh-so-good this evening -- remains an impressive piece of playing.

With the band moving in front of the wall and donning the military uniforms, the show headed toward the finale with searing intensity. After a scorching, threatening rendition of "The Show Must Go On" with helicopter spotlights searching the crowd, the band was soon churning through "Run Like Hell." The wall was now ablaze in cartoon imagery, legions of words moving at various speeds, and other images. Soon, worms moved across the bricks for "Waiting for the Worms" before "The Trial" began with the familiar grotesque cartoon characters from The Wall movie.

By the end of the trial, the wall had exploded, giant bricks crashing toward the audience and setting Waters -- because wasn't this really about him, at least to some degree his way of excising his demons of youth -- free.

But perhaps Waters' use of imagery also was an attempt to set us all free, or at least get us to pay more attention. How many noticed that every human figure flashed on the wall, including George W. Bush, Joseph Stalin and others, were all wearing white Apple earbuds? How many noticed the two female figures projected on the wall remove those buds as the wall fell? Maybe Waters is hinting that this closing-off of society via electronic devices could lead to characters like Pink and is the next wall to tear down.

Or maybe the overwhelming brilliance and sheer impact of The Wall has gone to my head.

You decide.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Ex-Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters presents The Wall.

Personal bias: I saw this tour in 1980, but being only 17 and partied out, I wanted to see now what I sadly missed then.

The crowd: It was mostly an older crowd of boomers, but some college students and teens, as well. Plus, it was great to see parents who saw Pink Floyd back in the day bringing their kids. Random notebook dump: "Roger Waters must have been in an incredibly dark place to write and conceptualized something like The Wall. Kind of scary to think about being around him then." Overheard: In the men's room after the concert: "There was a pig flying? Where? Dude, I couldn't take my eyes from the stage."

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US Airways Center

201 E. Jefferson St.
Phoenix, AZ 85004

602-379-2000


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