Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said that the opening scenes of The Wall were inspired by events that happened outside the Staples Center. That's impossible, since the Staples Center opened in 1999, and The Wall was released in 1982. The Weekly regrets the error, and will promise to pay closer attention next time we write a story instead of zoning out to "Comfortably Numb."
Rock titan Roger Waters is at it again. The former “creative genius of Pink Floyd” (as he is referred on his concert t-shirt) has put together an entertaining program for his Us + Them tour. The current tour features enough of Pink Floyd’s greatest hits to satisfy most Floyd fans and a handful of songs from his newly released album Is This The Life We Really Want? to satisfy Waters enthusiasts. Last night, Waters played the first of three dates at Staples Center, and it was good.
The outside of Staples Center was a bit of a mess. There was a metal and plastic wall that ran throughout the LA Live complex. No, this was not part of the theatrics of Waters’s show; it was a barrier to separate the crowd from the BET Awards (and whatever else they’ve got going on in there while the wall still stands). The existence of the wall created a bit of a bottleneck to get close to the Staples Center, especially since there was a general checkpoint there, at which the outermost tier of security was checking tickets or waiting to hear: “My tickets are at the will call!”
As the venue filled up with predominantly middle-aged fans, an image was projected on a large screen behind the stage. The image was of a girl sitting on the beach, staring out at the sea. She didn’t move, but it was not a still shot; the wind was blowing the grass next to her, and the waves ebbed and flowed. The effect was tranquilizing. At showtime, the image transitioned to some interesting graphics, which could have been pieces of coral or brain matter floating around. Then the band opened with the first half of “Breathe.”
Next came “One of These Days.” For the first half of the song, it was hard to tell what was being performed live and what was being played off of a tape, as the band was in silhouette, and the performance sounded exactly like it had on Meddle (including the recording of Floyd drummer Nick Mason’s distorted voice saying the one lyric in the song: “One of these days, I’m going to cut you into little pieces”). At the song’s peak, the lights went up on the band, and they began to play, visibly. After that came “Time,” “Breathe (Reprise),” “Great Gig in the Sky,” and “Welcome to the Machine.”
During most of these songs, the show was good, but the whole thing didn’t really gel. The images on the screen during the first several songs were sort of low-fidelity video images, some cartoons reminiscent of the work of Gerald Scarfe (Scarfe illustrated The Wall, and these may have been his designs) visually mixed with images of the band playing. The songs themselves are all classics, of course, but when Floyd tunes are performed, there is no real room for improvisation, and given that Waters plays bass and sings about half of the material, his live contribution seemed much like the tunes: pure nostalgia. The arrangement for “Great Gig in the Sky” was switched up a bit [at least since the last time this reviewer saw the Water-less Floyd perform the song in 1994]; here the virtuoso moaning portion of the song was performed by not one but two ladies with blonde Betty Page hairdos and matching black outfits that conjured the image of a dominatrix. The performance of the ladies came off like a duel, which was a nice twist. Another audience member reported that this feature had been used during Roger Waters’s sets at last year’s Desert Trip music festival.
Then came the handful of new tunes. As per most anything that Waters has produced since The Wall (with the notable exception of his opera, Ça Ira), his solo work is more focused on telling un-nuanced stories, which illustrate his passionate feelings on various social and political issues, than it is on creating catchy numbers. It’s a bit jarring, and probably a buzzkill for the folks just there to get high and listen to a live performance of “Comfortably Numb,” however given his new work is a scathing indictment of the Trump administration, lyrics like: “Picture a leader with no fucking brains, no fucking brains, no fucking brains, no fucking brains” went over fairly well. It is likely that some of the other lyrics from the song “Picture That” didn’t resonate their irony with the crowd — lyrics like: “Follow me filming myself at the show / On a phone from a seat in the very front row.” During these songs, the backing film depicted a homeless hippy girl dancing to herself and taking her daughter to the seashore; this image was juxtaposed with a well-to-do woman dancing in posh dress.
Waters finished the first set with “Wish You Were Here” and a suite from The Wall, for which a dozen or so local children, dressed in jailhouse jumpsuits, lined the front of the stage and marched in step with “Another Brick in The Wall Part 2.” When the song entered its final moments, the kids stripped off the jumpsuits to reveal that they were all wearing t-shirts which were printed starkly with the word “Resist.”
It might have been the copious amounts of pot in the air, it may have been the increased stage theatrics (a giant peninsula of screens which jutted out from the stage like a catwalk, a flying pig, a flying orb, more interactive arena lights, lasers), or maybe it was the tunes themselves, but the second set really cooked. Images of Donald Trump (natural and manipulated to satirize him), Vladimir Putin, warmachines, poverty, minorities, and Trump quotes dominated the screens during “Dogs,” “Pigs,” and “Money.”
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After that, Waters squeezed one more new song into the mix: “Smell the Roses.” The song poses one more blatant cry for awareness of the squalid state of the world. Following that, fittingly, was “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse.” Waters then introduced his band, and they closed the show with, first, the haunting “Vera,” then a beautiful “Bring the Boys Back Home” (which featured the ladies), and, of course, “Comfortably Numb.”
The biting satire of Waters’s work is not a dish that most people can swallow. Thus, even in the form of the stuff he did with Floyd, it is lost on most people in lieu of the music. Waters makes a smart move by cushioning the new stuff with the Floyd that people remember listening to when they smoked their first joint, and the unsubtle political imagery he uses during the show likely connects more strongly with modern audiences than much of the stuff he did during the Reagan or Bush years. So, whether you’re just wanting to relive some good ol’ memories of some good ol’ tunes, or interested in waking up / keeping awake in an era of increased political and social hardship, this show is just what the doctor ordered.