Those who saw “The Wall” tour in 2010 left the venue with their jaws scraping the parking garage floor.
How not to be impressed by the technical masterpiece that Waters re-invigorated for the 30th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s seminal album?
How could fans do anything but bow at Waters’ feet for revisiting the 1980 tour, but this time with a 240-foot-wide “wall” doing double duty as a video screen and updated illustrations by the legendary Gerald Scarfe?
The 2010 tour was such a success – it grossed almost $90 million from 56 concerts in North America on its first leg – that Waters decided to trek overseas in January and head back to the U.S. for this current run through July.
On Wednesday night, “The Wall” returned to Philips Arena. And it was no less stunning.
The opening “In the Flesh?”, with its criss-crossing red flares, curtains of pyro and dive bomber plane tearing across the arena ceiling to crash into the wall in a fireball, was more exciting than most concerts in their entirety.
What makes “The Wall” such a marvel, though, is that all of the mechanical awesomeness isn’t an empty façade designed to distract from an otherwise hollow show.
These songs hold up both in meaning and musicality, and their retelling in this format is a stark, sad reminder of the potency of a well-crafted concept album – a dying, if not already dead, art.
Regardless of your opinion of his politics, Waters proudly declares an anti-authoritarianism stance (he even pokes a little fun at Apple’s Kool-Aid-drinking methods) and dedication to peace.
Those values are smeared all over this live version of Floyd’s rock opera, notably in an addition to the show – an acoustic coda to “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2),” that he dedicates to Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian man mistakenly shot eight times by London police after the 2005 subway bombings – and later during a heartfelt “Bring the Boys Back Home.”
There is little difference between this version of “The Wall” and its predecessor, including his intro of “Mother,” when he told the sold-out crowd of his plan to sing along with a black and white video of himself when he was “miserable, f-ing Roger” from years ago.
But Waters did break character, if you will, to greet the audience and thank the group of local children who joined him onstage for “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2).”
Those kids, donning black T-shirts reading “Fear Builds Walls,” came from the Atlanta Music Project, and followed Waters’ minimal direction to sing, clap and defiantly shake their fingers at the hideous schoolmaster puppet, a leering tower of bulging eyes and scaly fingers, hovering onstage.
Throughout the show, a group of stagehands unobtrusively stacked the “bricks,” made of corrugated cardboard, to build the symbolic wall, a stately monster that completely obscured the stage by the end of the first set and remained that way through its implosion during “The Trial.”
But Waters and his band, an impeccable team who played so clean and crisp that every thump of the bass resounded during “Young Lust” and each smack of the snare drum could be heard during the various parts of “Another Brick,” found ways to circumvent the wall.
The hazy “Hey You” was performed with the band and Waters completely obstructed (anyone else wonder if they were really playing and singing back there?), but for “Nobody Home,” Waters, sounding pleasantly gravelly all night, appeared in a small living room setting in a space that folded out of the wall.
For the aching “Comfortably Numb,” a song that causes involuntary body swaying, Robbie Wyckoff, a tremendous singer who handled David Gilmour’s parts throughout the show, and guitarist Dave Kilminster, stood atop the wall to perform. The way that Waters, parading the stage below, thrust his arms in the air to lead the crowd through the soaring chorus made you feel as if these songs are more than a continuous cash machine to him; he actually seems to feel the material.
The appearance of the black floating pig – a remote controlled fellow with sayings such as “Trust Us” and “Them Not Us” painted on his side – floated above the crowd (via remote control) as Waters and the band, donning their black fascist attire with marching hammer armbands, tore through “Run Like Hell.”
All these years later, it remains a tense, thrilling piece of music – and automatic air guitar song – and its relevance hasn’t diminished with age.
By the end of “The Wall” live, it becomes obvious that while Waters is the ringleader and messenger, the real heavy lifting in the show comes from the superior technology and array of props.
At 68, Waters is still a vibrant presence. Let’s hope he has the stamina to keep this beautiful beast of a show on the road indefinitely.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene