Let me just preface this review by saying that, usually, I find the whole concert-going experience pretty goddamned unappealing. Everything is overpriced, the sound is usually sub-par, and venue personnel do more to promote paranoia than they do to prevent people from hurting themselves or throwing up on each other. Fans have become unbearably boorish, rude, and selfish, and that's just the older ones. For their part, performers have reacted by putting on un-enthusiastic shows that recycle shit until it becomes compost, then they throw it at us ad infinitum on the annual "reunion tour."
As a fan, I've become near impossible to please. I pick and choose my concerts in such a persnickety manner, I could write a book on my economical approach to rock fandom called "Rock and Roll on 500 Dollars a Year." And the first chapter would be a rant in which I call out the performers and their fans for turning live concerts into such a phony enterprise. And that's because the relationship between band and fan has turned near ugly. They've become like a divorced couple now, forced to see each other once a year at a wedding or funeral. They smile when they need to, and every reaction seems forced, uncomfortable, and rehearsed before a mirror to make it look spontaneous. I'm the guy who doesn't react on cue. I'm the guy who refuses to shake my fist in the air because some 50 year old man hauls his wrinkled and rotting carcass across the stage and waves a guitar neck at me. I have my own guitar neck, thanks. I'll shake my fist when you play something interesting, and when you don't make me feel like a head of cattle penned in with the rest of the brood, transfixed on your wonderfullness and cheering at every lighting cue while we're waiting to have our heads cut off.
As a matter of fact, it has become a near Herculean task for me to harness enough mental plutonium to get a reading on my psychic reactor, much less pin the needle on the emotional Geiger counter, at any rock concert. For myself, all the elements have to be in place, good venue, good fans, good music, good mood. But, there are always exceptions.
PNC Bank Arts Center is a horrible place to see a concert. It's ugly, poorly constructed, and access to the seating area is limited to two entrances on the extreme east and west sides of the venue. Parking is a disgrace. They built an amphitheater for several thousand with parking for several hundred. If you're closed out of the main lots, it could mean up to a two mile walk through the woods in the dark to get back to your car after the euphoria (or dregs) long show, several beers, and maybe some smoky comestibles have taken hold. But don't worry, the large skunk population of Holmdel will sober you up quick.
That being said, let's assume that by the time I actually got to my seat after receiving bad directions to same from the motley bunch of acned South Jersey youth that pass for ushers, I was pretty pissed. Not to mention the fact that concert paranoia had already set in due to the fact that I was carrying several hundreds of dollars worth of mini recording equipment concealed about my person. Knowing I would be seated just behind the mixing desk was enough of a head's up to know that the sound would be perfect for such a caper. But that's another story.
Roger Waters began stalking the bridge across the back of the stage at 8:40p to the cheers and adulation of a sold-out audience. Early enthusiasm does not a great show make so I held off my judgement until something really great happened. Something did. If you've been to a Pink Floyd show over the last ten years you can usually predict what's going to happen. Basically, Dave Gilmour's Pink Floyd has become a live version of everybody's "Pink Floyd mix tape" with a bunch of new stuff thrown in. On his solo tours, Roger Waters has tried to reach a little higher, choosing his Floyd tunes with an eye not only towards the popular and well hewn, but also the real "fans music." The stuff that isn't on everyone's mix tape. The stuff familiar to people other than those who only know Pink Floyd through the local FM station. The people who don't just know the words to "Comfortably Numb." Waters has successfully created a divide between casual fan and fanatic. If you go to see Pink Floyd you're usually hip deep in casual fans, up to 100,000 of them. Waters basically mines the same gold, but because of his isolation from the Pink Floyd mythology the last few years, he seems to attract a higher order of fan. And from some of the material he chose for his "In The Flesh" tour, it's pretty obvious he wants it that way. He doesn't want people to react to what they see anymore, Pink Floyd can have the big pig and the laser show. But they won't dare risk boring their audience with semi-obscure album tracks and long forgotten solo material. Waters took those chances and won the crowd over by sheer perseverance and clever arrangement of a set list that, on paper, would seem impossible to race through even in a three hour show, and in hindsight must have had him scared shitless before he walked out on stage the first night in Milwaukee. What is everyone that came only wanted to hear "Another Brick…Part 2" and "Comfortably Numb?" Pretty fucking scary…
Waters sounded the call early on, opening the show with the entire first side of THE WALL album, this year celebrating it's twentieth anniversary. With some clever editing, a bit here and a bit there, he managed to whittle the section down to about 16 minutes, allowing for an expanded "Another Brick…Part 2." Yeah, he cowtowed a little on that one, but hey….it was a number one single over here and people just identify with it. And who knew that Waters vision of classroom revolution would become grim reality? THE WALL segment served a lot of purposes. For Waters, it allowed him to stretch his muscle on his most personal work without the trappings of a choreographed stage show. The only visual augmentation on the tour comprises simple slide projections on a rear backdrop, there are no puppets, brick walls, or model airplanes that need to be perfectly timed with the music. This show seemed to be all about the music. For the fans, it provided a rare relevatory moment to re-visit a piece of music that has become all but engraved in the stone of rock and roll, yet has only been performed live once in the last nineteen years. It also gave everyone a chance to cozy up to Waters' faceless band in the familiar surroundings of the Floyd's second most popular album. Some of the faces were familiar as well. Snowy White on stage right guitar is veteran of the Floyd's mid 70's tours. Jon Carin's keyboards have graced the 80's/90's Floyd records and stage shows. Katie Kissoon (vocals), Graham Broad (drums), and Andy Fairweather-Low (rhythm guitar and bass) are all returning Waters tour vets. Back-up keyboardist Andy Wallace and lead guitarist Doyle Bramhall were new faces, with Bramhall basically taking the Gilmour role in the show. Backing vocalist PP Arnold was also a new face but her voice was familiar to most of the crowd as the main backing vocalist on Waters' AMUSED TO DEATH album. Later in the evening, Ms. Arnold would provide that "moment of clarity" that so many of us look for at live shows. Fuck, she turned the show into a revival of religious proportions. But that's for later.
"In The Flesh" is one of those perfect concert openers, even outside the context of THE WALL. It's got a big overture like riff, the lyrics address the audience directly, and there's a big rock and roll ending. Curiously enough, even though he was performing the first side of the album, Waters opted to go with the "second" version of "In The Flesh" from the fourth side. Maybe he's clawed his way through his disguise long enough to be able to sing "That one looks jewish/and that one's a coon" without fear of being mistaken for Old Pink. Bramhall took the lead vocal on "The Thin Ice" and sounded enough like Dave Gilmour to gain immediate acceptance from the crowd. "Another Brick…Part 1", "Happiest Days of our Lives," and an extended "…Brick..Part 2" gave the band opportunity to stretch out a bit. Bramhall especially came to the fore during "ABITW 2," showcasing his unique upside-down lefty style, and staying as faithful to Gilmour's solos as he could without losing his soul. "Mother" was beautifully done, much in the style of the Berlin performance in 1992. Kissoon and Arnold lent an element of beauty to the "Mother" lyrics that had never been there before, indicating that Pink's mum may have been made of stone, but her heart was spun from gold.
Twenty minutes into a show that would stretch to three hours (including the break), and I knew I'd go home happy. The best thing about recording an event such as this is that the spontaneity of both band and crowd is captured for posterity. Of course, this is sometimes a bad thing, because you could end up with three hours of the guy behind you screaming "FREEBIRD" at the top of his Marlboro soaked lungs. But sometimes, you get a real moment. A moment that just sums up the overall euphoria one gets from experiencing something wonderful. It's easy for me to sit here and spew all this out and make it sound poignant, but at the moment of impact it's virtually impossible to put into a few words all the things going through your mind. As I reviewed the evidence of my crime last night, I came across my own voice in my right ear finding those few words.
As a voice from the PA system shouts in the distance "GET YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF MY DESERT" the phrase "Roger FUCKING Waters" could be heard floating with equal aplomb through section 302. Who WAS that masked man? Waters gave the band a breather and performed "GYFHOMD" and "South Hampton Dock" from the long forgotten Floyd album THE FINAL CUT on acoustic guitar with little backing. "SHD" is one of the few holdovers from previous Waters tours, having also been included in the RADIO KAOS set list. For the most part, Waters steered clear of repeating himself. And when he did, he usually made it worth your while, giving you something extra for sitting through a particular song that you may have been able to live without. This is further proof that the guy just knows his audience. He susses that most people seeing him on this tour saw his previous two tours, and he was careful not to repeat more than a few songs from those shows. This worked to the fans advantage because we all got to hear material that has rarely been performed live, and not for many many years. Case in point would be the next segment of the show.
Pink Floyd Mach 3 has religiously steered clear of the ANIMALS album on all of its post-Rog tours. Waters scratched the surface of ANIMALS on the KAOS tour by performing a truncated version of "Pigs (Three Different Ones)." But with an album that's only got three proper songs on it, the choices are slim. For the uninitiated, ANIMALS is the secret favorite album of all Floyd fans. It is the worst reviewed post-MEDDLE album, and its big claim to fame is that the tour that supported it ended up sowing the seed for THE WALL. Aside from that, its been a loss leader in the Floyd canon. After the acoustic "Pigs On the Wing Part 1," Waters and band breathed some new life into the old girl with a stellar performance of the 16 minute "Dogs," which had its last live airing in 1977. Again, Doyle Bramhall took the Gilmour part, and he and Snowy White (who did the same with Gilmour on the ANIMALS tour) duplicated the harmony leads perfectly. During the long synth break that divides the two sections, Waters and his guitarists sat around the coffee table at stage right rear, played cards, chatted, and drank beer. This was all part of the stage setting that was supposed to look like a run down rehearsal studio, with its bare walls adorned only by a WHO concert poster, and run down couches for the back up singers to relax on when not on the mic. Anyone who has ever been in a band or even hung out with one could have related. Nice touch. Further kudos to Rog and band for not dicking around too much with the arrangements. Again, a snip here and there to save some time and avoid redundancy kept the show moving but never compromised the songs and steered clear of confusing the audience.
Roger, by the way, was in splendid musical shape for a guy that hasn't played a concert in twelve years (I guess he spent all that time rehearsing). His voice isn't showing too much wear and tear and he can still hit the notes he needs to. He was never a great vocalist or bassist, but his skills haven't diminished and he still emotes as he sees fit in order to get his point across. At some point during "Dogs" I remember thinking that Rig has made the transition from cranky conceptualizer to performer of songs without too much damage to his image or his work. Certainly, the damage to his relationships with his former bandmates can never be repaired, but he has managed to hold up his end of the Floyd legend without cheapening the things about it that we fans hold so dear. I guess he's kind of a fan too.
After "Dogs," Waters dug a little deeper into the catalog for a lengthy chunk of WISH YOU WERE HERE. Actually, the only song he didn't do was "Have a Cigar." Opening the WYWH portion of the show with "Welcome to the Machine," Waters gave Ms. Arnold and Ms. Kissoon another chance to show off their gospel-ish pipes to an appreciative crowd. "Wish You Were Here" followed with Waters earnestly trying to sound as sincere as Gilmour but not quite hacking it, which didn't really matter because the PNC crowd was more than happy to sing along. Waters then announced that "that was for absent loved ones, and this if for Syd." As pictures of Syd Barrett were projected on the backdrop, the unmistakable strains of "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" filled the theater. Sticking to the album version like glue, the band went all the way through all nine parts of the song, stitching the two main sections together like they had always been that way. Jon Carin re-created Don Parry's sax solo on synth without being cutesy about it (no sampling). For the only time during the night, Rog actually broke out one of the old stand by visuals. During the tail end of "SOYCD" a huge mirror ball styled diamond rose from the back of the stage. When lit up, it made a regular old mirror ball look like a dim flashlight. The effect produced a curtain of white light to engulf the stage and send millions of reflections into the crowd. As the last keyboard patch faded, Roger thanked everyone and announced a twenty minute break. And I thought it was over!
Set number two was where all the surprises really were. Roger wasted no time tackling "the big one" as the sound effects rolled immediately after the lights went out. "Breathe", "Time/Breathe (reprise), and "Money" were flawlessly performed. Bramhall especially stood out here as he didn't try to make the songs his own, but instead interpreted Gilmour's solos and vocals. As always, the added personnel gave this music the added kick it needs to sound current. DARK SIDE can never sound bad, but Waters band didn't do it any less justice than Gilmour's Floyd. And can I just say "thank god we weren't subjected to "Great Gig In The Sky"" Instead of having to put PP Arnold through the Clare Torry impersonation seminar, Waters instead had Jon Carin play a few bars of the song on solo piano, which by the way was how the song was intended to be recorded in the first place. But Arnold's moment was to come, in a big fat way.
After short helpings from his first two solo albums, Waters fired the big gun. Fans have been pining for some sort of live representation of AMUSED TO DEATH for seven years. And while this fan thinks that representation could have been padded out a little bit, I wasn't disappointed with what I got. And I also found out that many of the people in the crowd shared the sentiment. I was thrilled to discover that I wasn't among slobs who only wanted to hear "Comfortably Numb." And those who did come to hear the hits found themselves entranced by unfamiliar music. "What God Wants" was punctuated by recorded chants of the chorus, which was soon joined by the crowd to create a sound the likes of which may have reached God himself. Snowy White and Doyle Bramhall made no attempt to cop Jeff Beck's original guitar leads, opting to riff on their own. After "WGW" Roger injected a little of his black humour into the proceedings. Throughout the evening, a television at the rear of the stage played 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY. During the intro to the next song, "Perfect Sense," HAL's death scene played on the television and the audio was piped into the theater ("…my mind is going…I can feel it….stop dave…"). When Rog was recording ATD, he asked Kubrick if he could use the audio portion of the scene on the album and Kubrick refused. I guess now that Kubrick is dead Rog doesn't need his permission, huh? I found that pretty amusing. "Perfect Sense" was one of the real highlights of the night. An obscure song from obscure album, "PS" came to life after years of dormancy and became the song Waters always wanted it to be. Designed as a "global anthem" for the new order of consumerist society presented on ATD, it would be easy for the song to get lost in the din of a live show attended by people who aren't interested in hearing "new stuff." But Pat Arnold positively grabbed the crowd and wrapped it around her finger. This woman, to put it bluntly, has some set of pipes. Her solo in "PS Pt. 1" improved on the perfection of the recorded version, sending lyrics like "time is linear/memory's a stranger /history's for fools/man is a tool in the hands of the great God almighty" right through the skin of the average punter. By the time "PS Pt. 2" started, most of the crowd was standing, seemingly disappointed that Arnold's spotlight was out. But by the time the song reached it's apex (during which Marv Albert describes a military shootout at sea) Arnold had once again gained our attention. The whole crowd stood, fists in air, singing along to a lyric that suddenly DID make sense ("…it all maked perfect sense/expressed in dolalrs and cents/puonds shilling and pence"). Maybe, for a brief second, we were all bonded by the fact that money really does make the world go around, and that we are all part of the consumerist society our parents created for us. For whatever reason, there's your Miller Light play of the game.
Waters closed out the set with the somber "It's A Miracle," Amused To Death," and the predictable "Brain Damage/Eclipse." Great moment during "Brain Damage." As Waters sang the opening lyric "the lunatic is on the grass," the usual roar went up from the crowd. The video screen showed a close up of Waters and caught a real "Rog" moment. As the crowd reacted, Rog's face seemed to tic into one of those "ooookay, whatever" faces that only last a passing second, but speak volumes in its silence. Waters is obviously still uncomfortable about his audiences interpreting his lyrics as they see fit. But that lyric, regardless of its intended purpose, has taken on another life, as "Brain Damage" has over the years devolved into nothing more than a stoner anthem. "Eclipse" didn't quite reach the sermon like emotives of "Perfect Sense" but the crowd nonetheless showed its appreciation enthusiastically.
For the encore, Waters made some perfunctory remarks about "re-capturing old magic" and the "old days." And its typical that he would follow up such show-bizzy remarks with such a genuine gesture as "Comfortably Numb." On his previous tour, Waters expressed regret to a fan who had requested "Numb" and promised to do it "on the next tour." Okay, so he kept the kid waiting 12 years…. Bramhall and White traded solos in the old rock and roll tradition on the rear stage catwalk, continuing the long held tradition of the guitar as rock's official instrument, and the solo as its most important expression.
So, Waters didn't disappoint, he didn't spit on anyone, he was as ebbulient as he could be. And in the absence of the real thing, after a while, you didn't really miss Dave and Rick and Nick. Those days are over, but I think everyone was grateful that Waters turned back the clock for a while just for kicks. It sure was fun.