Posts Tagged ‘Roger Waters’

Roger Waters is taking the behemoth that is “The Wall” out on a major tour. Waters gained custody of it in the Pink Floyd divorce settlement. Tickets for the Dublin show go on sale Thursday, June 3rd. Even if you’re not familiar with the album, or you are but you’re not overly impressed, I recommend going for the sheer spectacle of it. Also, this may be Waters last major tour. I’ve heard that one before many times from many artists, so I’ll believe it when the next tour doesn’t happen. But I digress.

“The Wall” is more theatre piece than rock concert. It raised the stage-show bar to a seemingly unreachable level. Indeed, Pink Floyd seems to have had a hard enough time getting that bar up there. The show involved a 12 x 40 meter wall composed of cardboard bricks, which was erected during the performance between the audience and the band. Giant inflatable puppets and menacingly nightmarish animation by Gerald Scarfe overshadowed the band, and they could not be seen for much of the performance. It was a major undertaking, so much so that it was performed only a handful of times in four cities, and the tour lost money.

This time around “The Wall” seems to be playing every large auditorium and hall that is used as a rock venue, so I have to assume Waters and crew streamlined the process a bit. I also have to assume that the technological advances that have been made in media will result in this show being even more effective than it was when performed in 1980 and 1981.

As for the music. It spawned a couple of singles: “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)”, which never made sense to me releasing out if its album context, and the lesser known “Run Like Hell”. It also contains one of the Floyd’s greatest signature pieces, “Comfortably Numb”.

As an album, however, “The Wall” works better as a concept. It is part cautionary tale about how our experiences build walls around us (in this case literally), and the cyclic nature of how that is perpetuated through generations. It is also part Roger Waters’ biography, as lived through Pink, the protagonist of the piece. “The Wall” has some good points to make, but it’s a bit muddled at making them. Taking this as four sides of vinyl, as originally intended, “The Wall” has a strong start through most of side one. It’s logically sound at presenting the experiences that become the bricks in the wall and, more importantly, it sounds good. And the final side works well. It is mainly composed of anthems for a new fascist order and culminates in a marvellously twisted show tune about a self-imposed trial, during which the protagonist finds himself guilty of losing his humanity. But the journey between those two points often seems disjointed, confused, and too often less than we’d expect from Pink Floyd musically. Does an album about the separation between a performer and his audience need to create a barrier between a performer and his audience?

In the end, “The wall” can be seen as the point when Pink Floyd collapsed beneath the weight of their grand concepts, or perhaps more accurately, Roger Waters’ grand concepts. What was once a collaborative band started to seem more like Waters’ auteur vision. On one hand, he brought to the band a demo of the wall that was reportedly longer than the actual album, which the other lads approached cautiously. On the other hand he chastised his band mates for not contributing more to the album musically. The band fell out with each other big time, to the point where Keyboardist and founding member Richard Wright left the band, although he was “hired” as a musician for the subsequent tour. He and the other three members of Pink Floyd arrived and departed each performance in a separate vehicle, and Waters stayed in a separate hotel. After that tour, all four band members of this classic Pink Floyd line up did not play together again until Live 8 in 2005. To be fair, that event seemed to draw a line under the past, and nobody ruled out the possibility of another one-off gig for a good cause. Sadly, now that Richard Wright has passed away, the chance to see them together again is gone.

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I love a good practical joke, especially when it’s harmless, serendipitous and I’m not the victim. One afternoon during my sophomore year at Westfield State College I was lounging on the sofa in an apartment I shared with a friend of mine. It being a warm day in early spring, my roommate was sitting on the picnic table just outside the front door. All the windows were open and Pink Floyd’s relatively new album, “Wish You Were Here” was cranked up to 11 on the stereo in his bedroom so that the entire quadrant could here it easily (regardless of whether they wanted to). He hadn’t heard this album before. I had. David Gilmour was cranking out those tasteful, meaty guitar licks at the end of “Have A Cigar” with the rest of the band giving it loads behind him when suddenly the sound of the entire band sucked up into itself, imploding from full, rich stadium volume to the small, thin tone of a tiny transistor radio. Of course, I knew this passage was coming. My roommate didn’t. He suddenly burst through the front door, leapt over the couch and ran into his bedroom to see how badly my album had damaged his stereo. And we had a good laugh, eventually.

Ah, the joys of hearing a well produced album for the first time. No one could produce albums like the Floyd did in the 70s. 30 years later no one has.

“Wish You Were Here” was the follow up to 1973’s “Dark Side Of The Moon”, the album that brought Pink Floyd from cult status to the mainstream echelon in one big leap of sonic cinema. Like that album, it was full of cutting-edge instrumental sounds interspersed with incidental recordings of tape machines, party chat, desert wind and tiny radios, all of which worked together as the soundtrack for a film that existed only in your head. Unlike that album, there were fewer than half as many songs despite the fact that it was a few minutes longer.

I remember the first time I heard Parts I through V of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. It was on WAAF, back in the days when you could get away with playing a 13 1/2 minute track on FM radio without losing your audience. Good thing too, because my initial reaction was “Where’s the beef?” (Something we used to say in those days, which meant something like: this form has no substance.) The majority of the track is an improbably long, slow, minimalist build to what is essentially a three-minute song. Parts VI through IX, which contain the final verse, close the album and complete the song to clock in at a total 26 minutes, fading out nearly as gradually as it faded in. You should be aware that this was in the days before iPods, Face Book and gaming consoles. We had a bit more of an attention span and a lot more time on our hands. So we listened to it again and again and again, and it grew on us with each revolution around the turntable.

The beef, as it were, was the sins of the music BUSINESS and it’s effect on one poor crazy diamond in particular: Syd Barrett. Or something like that, I think. The title track seemed to bridge the gap between where the band was, successful but having to deal with the industry characters depicted in “Welcome To The Machine” and “Have a Cigar”, and Diamond Syd, the tortured artist who was lost to them. Like any great Shakespearean tragedy, those three tracks form the dramatic/musical peak at the centre of the album. Plus they balance it out with the more radio-friendly, intelligent rock that we expected after “Dark Side Of The Moon”.

Is it a self-indulgent album? Surely. Were Pink Floyd starting to come apart at the seams? Probably. Is it any good? Yes. It may not be as flashy as it’s predecessor, but if you let yourself go along with it, it’s a compelling auditory experience you just can’t get anywhere else. And that Gilmour lad sure can play guitar.