Monday, December 6, 2010

Roger Waters at Staples Center 12/5/2010

I used to go to big rock concerts regularly when I was young: Rush twice, Jethro Tull twice, Billy Joel, Sting three times, Genesis, ELP, Bruce Springsteen, King Crimson four times, Talking Heads twice, Peter Gabriel. But, since I hit 30 or so, and ticket prices spiraled way out of control, I went to fewer and fewer concerts. Then, about three years ago, I took my son Max to his first concert: Rush at the Hollywood Bowl. Since then, I've done a fair amount of concert-going. I didn't think I could be completely blown away at this stage of my life by a rock concert. Until last night, that is.

Roger Waters was the primary writing genius behind Pink Floyd's most successful recordings until leaving the band about 1983. In 1979, the band released The Wall and toured the world with an ambitious stage that featured animation, large-scale puppets, and a large white wall built brick by brick during the performance, separating the band from the audience.

Last night Waters performed his third of three Los Angeles shows re-creating and re-imagining his earlier work. The puppets, the wall, and the animation were still there, but the show benefited immensely by using modern technology, state of the art sound (critical in a place like Staples), and world events that have occurred since 1979. The use of images like victims of 9/11 and the Iraq War (both US military and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan), as well as dissidents from the Iranian Green Revolution, lent a currency to the music and the storyline that made it very chilling to witness. At times, I was moved to anger, sadness, despair, laughter, and awe. Sitting next to my wife, I wanted to applaud so often, but found I couldn't, as I was too engrossed in the story, in the visuals, and in the sheer theatricality of the performance. It was as if applause would cheapen the power of what Waters was communicating. My favorite moment came when Waters, with acoustic guitar in hand, played the haunting ballad "Mother" in unison with a grainy film of him performing it 30 years ago that was projected on the not-yet-completed wall. During the second verse, he sings: "Mother, should I trust the government?" as a graphic slowly materializes on the wall -- "No Fucking ... Way."

At 66 years old, Waters still has the voice of someone much younger, with that maniacal edge that shows up in so many of Floyd's work. The show was a testament to his genius, his world view, and his vision of despair that can give way to hope and acceptance. As he addressed the audience after the final number, he said that 30 years ago he was "pretty miserable" while composing the songs for The Wall, but has now been able to approach this music from a place of healing, of happiness, and of appreciation. Time can do that....

(Photo of The Teacher being assailed by children during "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)," the biggest single from the album, taken by me from about 100 or so feet away)

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