Roger Waters – The Wall
Ever since I learned to operate a cd player, I’ve known about Pink Floyd. My father had “Meddle” laying around and the first song on it was “One of These Days,” a masterful piece written as an act of aggression towards an arrogant local radio show host. I would skip the voice part because it scared the life out of me and rewind the guitar solo’s until I could sing them along with high-pitched voice and previously undiscovered vowels.
Pink Floyd has been with me for as long as I can remember and my appreciation for their music came in phases, but it was pretty early when I realized that they were, objectively reasoned, the best band that ever walked the earth. I came to accept that the parts I didn’t like were just too complex for me to grasp and used them as a central axis to base my music taste around. It is no coincidence that my favorite band is Tool, who show many parallel influences in their music.
It broke my heart when I heard that Pink Floyd didn’t actually exist anymore, even though all band members were at the time still alive. They had separated and in a truly professional way, distributing the rights to their work amongst themselves. Pieces of epic art such as the “The Wall” tour however, were lost forever.
The Wall never really worked to begin with. They did four shows on that tour and then went bankrupt, because the logistics necessary just couldn’t be done without immense costs. Also, the band members couldn’t stand each other anymore so the whole thing was doomed from the start. They broke up and The Wall was buried.
However- those were the seventies, and this is the um, tenties? Science made life easy on us and egos had the time to deflate, just enough for Roger Waters, the old lead singer, to give it another try- albeit with hired musicians. As an all-time fan, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when I was told The Wall would be touring again. In Belgium, even. Under Live Nation and thus, with us as their local crew.
I’ll be honest: My expectations were high. Not just for the show, but also for the production. When they called for volunteers to climb and build the actual “wall” itself, I jumped forward and into climbing gear 4 sizes too big. I was about to build Pink Floyd’s wall.
Six hours later, I had build Pink Floyd’s wall. And, I didn’t really feel any different. I was still excited about the whole idea but the immense release of satisfaction didn’t come. It might have been because I had to get up at 3 fucking 30 in the morning and was too tired to get very excited about anything, combined with the suicidal trickery we had to pull to install the scaffolding on a 45° slope, unique to the Antwerp Sportpaleis. Quoting our American colleague:
“You guys are crazy, you know that? In any other country they’d be like, “Fuck this shit” but you just carry on.”
I did some research and the show was indeed almost an exact copy of what they did 35 years ago, with modern technology. What was absolutely groundbreaking back then, was still mind blowing: During the show the wall is slowly built with white cardboard blocks (SPOILER ALERT by the way) and used as a projection screen for some of the most insane images I have ever seen. Every single song had its own gimmick and adding all the costs, I was amazed to think they even made it to the break-even point this time around.
To give you an idea: The show opened with a fucking airplane flying through the room and crashing into the wall. Lights, both automatic and human operated, were swung through the venue like they didn’t give a fuck, and no less than 15 of the largest projectors available (the size of a vintage Mini) made the whole thing light up with projections everywhere. Monstrous puppets, 20 meters tall, suddenly emerge where you least expect them, inflate, and shoot fucking light from their eyes. I wondered if they could have made it any more bombastic and snickered to myself. “Yeah. When pigs fly.” And then a pig flew by.
It’s a well-known gimmick by now: The flying pig. They stuff it with the right cocktail of helium gas and normal air so that it’s stationary, and then tie a set of propellers to it and the next thing you know, you’ve got a gigantic pig merrily floating around like a boss.
The sound was… flawless. It’s yet another thing Pink Floyd turned into an art: Surround sound. Subwoofers in the front and back of the venue, and holy shit, 5 stacks of speakers divided above the crowd. While so many speakers generally lead to a complete saturation of frequencies and intelligible music, the sound tech, using no less than three different, enormous mixing desks, mixed that shit like a pro and served it to us on a silver platter. It blew me away how good he got it, through superior equipment and skill.
The light too was true to the original show and handled well. It’s much more difficult for me still to find flaws there so I guess I’ll stick with “nobody stood in the dark needlessly”. Through I must say, the mirror-type spots were a good choice (they don’t have heavy rotating heads so they don’t make the truss wobble) and making them fly all over stage? Magnificent.
So here I stood, hanging on for dear life while an explosion of awesome took place before my very eyes: History repeating its most epic moments. And I felt… Disappointed.
Like I said before, my expectations were perhaps unreasonably high. But I am convinced that, along with everything awesome that they adopted from the original gig, they also copied the bad parts. The things that are simply no longer done today because they fuck the show up.
Hiding the band. Okay, I get it: The wall is The Wall. It needs to be there. But hiding the entire band behind for 2/3rds of the show is just rude, in my humble opinion. The stack was high enough to hide the second projection screen and great portion of the light show, and I feel like we’ve only seen a small part of the actual show. The band never even left the stage: just continued to play for what was for them, a white façade. Kind of painful to watch.
On top of that, Sir Waters, dressed in black (black!), didn’t have the charisma to fill the stage. Blah blah sacrilege, I know, but I really do think that. Despite all his grand moves and lots of running, he still had the whole stage Plus the empty wall behind him to fill, and he couldn’t do it. The special effects sent him right home and I personally would have preferred him behind the wall and the band in front of it, because the music was a hell of a lot more interesting than the visual interpretation of it that he gave in the form of what seemed greatly exaggerated sign language. It was embarrassing and distracting to watch. I’m talking air guitar, literally depicting the lyrics, pointing at grey faces in the crowd… He looked like a clown.
When David Gilmour performs (fuck you, I’ll compare you to who ever I like, Roger) he does it with an actual guitar, with the whole band. “Pink Floyd”, not “David and Co.” And “that’s what the original show was like” doesn’t count as a valid excuse to like it, in my book. Let’s see how you like the original Shakespeare. Not to mention David sings a hell of a lot better than Roger. It’s painful but do a quick comparison and tell me I’m wrong.
I’m not finished. What bothered me most of all were the countless empty slogans and icons tossed around. If one side of your pig is saying “Capitalism doesn’t work,” don’t write on the other side “Communism doesn’t work” without providing an alternative. Anyone can use and abuse icons like the Christian cross, Soviet flag, and too many Nazi references to count (I’m seriously getting sick of those). It’s old.
I’ll be honest however: These are details that fade to nothing in comparison to the amount of genius that was channeled into this performance. It reminds me a of a story of an emperor who told Mozart he had “too many notes” in his newest composition. Mozart nodded and asked, “Which ones should I take out, then?”
I enjoyed the gig immensely. Because it played my childhood, because I recognized the amazing when I saw it, but not because of the points I mentioned earlier. Combined with my high expectations… Disappointment was inevitable. Next time, let David have the rights to The Wall, instead?
Ohhhh I went there.