I have been a Pink Floyd fan for almost 20 years. I’ve attended four of the “new” Floyd shows, one David Gilmour solo show (1984), and four Roger Waters solo shows. I own most of the band’s records, as well as several Floyd-related solo projects (including the Syd Barrett box set).
Over the past 20 years, I sat by helplessly as the band dissolved and then re-emerged as an almost soulless spectacle – a ghost of its former self, serving essentially as David Gilmour’s backup band. I witnessed Roger Waters try to re-invent such Floyd classics as “Wish You Were Here” and “Bran Damage” on-stage with little success. I lived through Waters’ first two solo records, which must be two of the worst records ever released by an artist of Waters’ caliber – records that were mostly silly and embarrassing.
I had virtually given up hope of seeing any Pink Floyd-related performance even approach the quality of the band’s former self…that is, until Roger Waters’ Tuesday, July 27 show at Cleveland’s Gund Arena. Waters’ July 27 show was, to me, the most enjoyable of any of the Pink Floyd band or solo shows I have yet seen.
The Cleveland show was slated to begin at 8:30 p.m. At 8:32, the lights went out and the Pink pig stage backdrop turned into a wall, complete with marching hammers. Roger and his band then hit the stage. The band consisted of a drummer (Graham Broad, “not Nick Mason”, as Roger would point out at the end of the show); two keyboardists (one of whom, Jon Carin, appeared in Gilmour’s Floyd touring band); three guitarists (Snowy White, Andy Fairweather-Lowe, and, the main guitarist, Doyle Bramlett from Texas); and two female backup singers.
After a few seconds, Waters shouted the familiar “Eins, Zwei, Drei” intro to “In the Flesh”. Waters and band did not appear to play this song with their usual intensity. (On past tours, “In the Flesh” was a showstopper.) However, any fears that Waters had lost his “edge” were quickly quelled when Roger began to sing his part of “The Thin Ice”. It was nice to hear this song to begin with, but it was made nicer as the concert sound began to improve and Waters’ band began to find their “groove”. Particular mention should be made of Doyle Bramlett, who performed most of Gilmour’s guitar solos and vocals admirably. Bramlett’s Texas accent and guitar style would come shining through on only a few numbers. However, he’s such a great singer/musician that I seldom seemed to mind.
And thus it went. “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1)” and “Mother” were played admirably (and were crowd favorites). “Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert” and “Southampton Dock” (from “The Final Cut”) followed. Both were disappointing, and “Filthy Hands” is a bit dated (although its sentiments are not). Waters should have played “The Gunner’s Dream”, like on previous tours. By why nit-pick, especially with such stunning visuals.
I should note that Waters had slides projected on a large screen behind the stage, no moving images like last time out. The good news, however, is that the slides were remarkable. Most appeared to be newly created for this tour, and nearly all were appropriate. Waters lights were also minimalistic by Floyd standards. However, they were all that was needed. The focus of this concert was on Roger Waters and his band, which is exactly where the focus should have been.
After the obligatory “Pigs on the Wing” came a real surprise: “Dogs”. The band performed this song exceptionally well and very faithful to the original version. During the long sound-effects section in the middle of “Dogs”, Roger and his three guitarists sat down on a sofa on stage and began to play cards on a small table in front of the sofa. (The female backup singers had their own sofa on the opposite side of the stage.) This was a nice touch, reminiscent of Pink Floyd in the late 60s/early 70s. By the way, the quadraphonic sound on “Dogs” was magnificent.
Waters’ soliloquy at the end of “Dogs” was moving, particularly when paired with the balloon businessman figure projected on the screen behind the stage. The businessman looked so sad. He made me think of the businessmen (including myself) who were attending Waters’ show: What will come of us? Will we lose ourselves to our businesses like the man portrayed in “Dogs”? Will we only be a “stranger at home”? We need to take heed of Waters’ warning.
“Welcome to the Machine” was next, with the familiar mechanical machine backdrop from previous tours. “Machine” was followed by “Wish You Were Here”. Thankfully, Waters abandoned his previous arrangement of this song in favor of the more familiar acoustic guitar arrangement. With slides of Syd Barrett peaking out behind him, Waters sang the lead vocal on this song admirably (although not as deeply and richly as Gilmour). Still, it was a nice performance.
“Shine On You Crazy Diamond” ended the first set. I cannot tell you how pleasantly surprised I was when I learned a few days before the Cleveland show that Waters would be performing this song. I was not disappointed, either. Roger and band played the first and last vocal sections of shine on with some fine musicianship, particularly from Doyle Bramlett. Waters sand the lead on this paean to Syd Barrett, while slides of Barrett were projected behind the band. One slide, in particular, moved me: the front cover of the double “Madcap Laughs”/”Barrett” collection, with Barrett sitting on the floor of his former apartment. I have seen this photo many times, but I never noticed the sad look in Barrett’s eyes. This was almost enough to make one cry, particularly when the image of Barrett’s face became magnified greater and greater. I used to think the Syd Barrett story was basically sad, with amusing moments interspersed. Now, I just feel that it’s sad and tragic.
At the end of “Shine On”, a circular disk appeared behind the stage, emitting white beams of light throughout the arena. This was a nice finishing touch to the first set. I was already extremely impressed, and Waters and company hadn’t even played “Dark Side of the Moon” yet.
After about a 10-15-minute break, the familiar strains of a heart beat echoed through the arena, along with the cheers of thousands of Pink Floyd fans. Doyle Bramlett sang lead vocals on “Breathe”, while Jon Carin (the keyboardist) replicated David Gilmour’s slide guitar part. If this wasn’t remarkable enough, what followed certainly was: “Time”, with Waters performing most of Gilmour’s lead vocal, particularly the beginning part. Waters sang this song admirably but, again, not quite as good as Gilmour. Still, Waters pulled off “Time” (and the “Breathe” reprise). What a treat!
The obligatory “Money” followed, with Jon Carin’s keyboard solo replacing the usual saxophone solo. And that was it for “Dark Side of the Moon”, at least for the time being.
Roger Waters then turned to what I consider to be the only decent song off of his “Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking” solo record: “Every Stranger’s Eyes”. This song actually got quite an ovation from the crowd, and I liked the country twang that the band inserted into some of the music. A funky version of “Powers That Be” followed and seemed totally out of place with the rest of the show. (Of course, “Radio KAOS”, the record from which “The Powers That Be” is taken, is out of place with the rest of the Pink Floyd/Roger Waters catalog. But, what else could Waters play from “Radio KAOS”? The record isn’t very good to begin with and, at times, borders on juvenile.)
After the Hitchhiking/KAOS debacle, Waters and band debuted selections from his latest offering, “Amused to Death”. This record, to say the least, is thought provoking, although I do not agree with Waters’ anti-Christian stance. There are two sides to every story, and each side should be thoroughly examined. From “Amused to Death”, Waters and company played “What God Wants”, “Perfect Sense”, “It’s a Miracle”, and “Amused to Death”. “Perfect Sense”, of all songs, was a showstopper, with Waters leading the crowd in a powerful chant of the song’s chorus. After about ten minutes of “Amused to Death”, Waters’ show (for the first and only time) began to drag a bit. Waters should have dropped one of these four songs, which I believe should have been “It’s a Miracle”.
After the “Amused to Death” selections, Waters and band ended their regular set with “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” and “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2”. These two popular songs got the crowd on their feet, with Waters leading the by-now famous “We don’t need no education” chant.
The encores were “Brain Damage”/”Eclipse” and “Comfortably Numb”. “Brain Damage” was slightly (and nicely) countrified, probably due to the presence of Doyle Bramlett. Bramlett should get a medal for his performance on guitar and vocals on July 27. However, “Comfortably Numb” is simply not the same without David Gilmour singing the chorus. But it was nice to hear the verses of this song restored to their original sound, as opposed to what Gilmour’s Floyd has done to these verses during recent tours.
All in all, I really loved this show. I would rate it a nine out of ten for the following reasons.
- Performance quality. Waters was in good voice. Bramlett can play David Gilmour better than most, including Eric Clapton. The remaining members of Waters’ band were above average, especially Carin, who produced some gorgeous keyboard solos. Waters mostly stuck to the “tried and true” arrangements of the Pink Floyd songs. He was faithful to the adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
- Stage set. The back projections were fresh, entertaining, and, at times, emotionally resonant and thought provoking. The sofas, on which various band members would sit when breaking during the show, were an interesting idea.
- Sound quality. The opener, “In the Flesh”, was a little too soft sound-wise, but this problem didn’t last long. For the most part, the in-concert sound was very good.
- Venue intimacy. It was so nice to hear Pink Floyd classics performed somewhere other than a baseball stadium.
- Waters personality. Roger Waters simply seemed to enjoy performing for his audience. He smiled and waved several times to his fans, and he even hugged Andy Fairweather-Lowe after introducing him towards the end of the show.
I think the question, “By the way, which one’s Pink?” has been answered.