“Music to get stoned to.” This was a friend’s answer to my English teacher’s question when asked to describe Pink Floyd’s The Wall, way back in 1980. I have never been stoned, but if I was, I don’t know that the resulting “trip” from listening to this album would necessarily put me in a better place. Themes of control, isolation, anger, exhaustion, repression, infidelity, withdrawal, and insanity (I won’t pretend to have deciphered them all) are challenging enough with a clear mind, never mind any artificial sweeteners. In any case, The Wall, primarily an introspective outworking of singer/bassist Roger Waters’ mental breakdown, certainly invites interpretation.
And it has. First was the 1982 live action/animated film starring Bob Geldof, followed by a live performance in 1990 in Berlin featuring cameos by other notable musicians. Thirty years after its release, Roger Waters has determined that the time is right to reinterpret the work, again.
My first observation upon entering Philips Arena is that it’s unusual to see binoculars offered for rental ($10). As a relatively modern arena, coupled with the technological sophistication available to concert producers (ex. Backdrops for videos for zooming in on band members), the question would be, “Why?”
The second is that while the ticket says clearly “no cameras or recording devices,” the sign upon entering the seating area (long after passing “security”) were “no flash photography.” Aha! That is very much of a relief to those of us, and there were many, who brought their cameras anyway.
The third observation is one that I frequently ask: “Who chooses the pre-concert music?” In this case, I’d wager that Roger Waters had a hand in it, as John Lennon’s “Mother” and “Imagine” both have themes which relate to this music more than tangentially. Another inclusion, Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit,” I doubt would be risked by anyone without some authority, as the lyrics again relate but risk being politically incorrect anywhere, hopefully including Atlanta. Not that anyone was listening.
To say that I’ve seen “The Wall” in concert would be misleading. Rather, I have seen it performed live. There are minimal nods on Waters’ part towards playing the role of himself in the songs, but the artistic reinterpretation is literally on the wall itself.
Before the show begins, elements of the wall, large white bricks with presumably a lightweight plastic structure, form a foundation at the outer wings of the stage. As arenas are not duplicates, one wonders about the art and mechanics of making stage parts fit correctly from venue to venue.
The Wall is played in its entirety, with extended musical sections. The band opens standing behind the line formed by the bricks, with video projection on a circular screen above them. That circular screen does not, however, offer any views of band members. It is used solely for visual effects tied into the subject matter of each song. The wall, which is gradually completed through what is Disk 1 on either LP or CD, becomes the defacto backscreen for the creative elements of the entire performance.
Oh, except for the explosion.
This is quickly apparent on “Another brick in the wall (part 1),” where the lyrical focus on the loss of Waters’ father in the war is expanded to include a virtual wall of remembrance as pictures of combatant and civilian casualties are displayed. On Waters’ website, he invites people to send photos of “Fallen Loved Ones” to be exhibited during his performances. In addition to armed conflicts, this also includes the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
At this point and elsewhere, visuals are tweaked in an anti-war (but refreshingly non partisan) commentary that fit the lyrics, though not as originally intended. Waters moves beyond the war sentiment to social justice, reflecting on a quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.
Visually, still images of faces projected onto the bricks was impressive, but this was only the beginning as the wall took larger form, showcasing five synchronized video projectors on a “screen” extending an estimated 150’ wide by 25’ high. Amazing and wonderfully entertaining, to the point of you hardly notice the band. Performance, yes. Concert… not really.
The wall continues to be built during the songs, often providing just enough room for the intended graphic projections. At the end of “Goodbye Cruel World,” the wall is complete, the band is hidden from view, and Intermission is declared… just long enough for one to use the restroom, buy a drink, or buy a souvenir (choose one).
The opening of Disk 2, “Hey You” has to be one of the more ironic experiences in concertdom. Sure, the band is playing, and, yes, Waters is singing, but darned if you can’t see anything except a completed wall looking like a completed wall. Still, it’s louder than you can play the music at home, and that’s something.
Shortly thereafter, the band migrates to the front side of the wall, and we arrive at “Comfortably Numb,” a great song featuring what is likely the fan consensus for “Favorite Pink Floyd Guitar Solo.” The guitarist copied almost note for note the famous Gilmour licks, but… yeah. Those $10 binoculars might have been a good option. There were no frets to be seen from where I was sitting, or, as he played from atop the wall, likely anyone’s.
The last quarter of the performance included many graphics from “The Wall” movie. This is okay but was somewhat disappointing following the highly imaginative and fresh graphics for what preceded. Still, some of the Nazi-ish symbols remain relevant for oppressive elements, and The Wall wouldn’t be the Wall without some familiar icons. That said, the trial and insanity segments were a bit stale unless, of course, you’ve never seen them before.
It all builds to the deconstruction of the wall, which after some graphic trickery earlier in the show, literally collapses suddenly. Funny how I didn’t notice all the band members and their instruments disappearing from the stage, so I guess the “old” animations must still hold interest. It was another mechanical marvel as the tumbling bricks fell on both sides of the wall, but none appeared to even come close to falling forward of the stage. Well done.
After now having examined my many pictures, the ongoing filming of the performance by many cell phones, cameras, or video cameras is quite conspicuous by LCD screens scattered throughout the crowd… to which I contributed. However, given the enormity of the set, I’ll be interested to see how Waters chooses to capture the graphic backgrounds, which change very quickly at times, whilst keeping some attention on a band which really wasn’t to be seen, but heard. A tour Bluray/DVD is inevitable given the production costs involved (the local newspaper referenced $60 Million). Ouch.
Many additional photos can be viewed by Clicking Here.
If you have an opportunity to see Roger Waters perform The Wall…