Sunday, December 12, 2010

We Were Witnesses: Roger Waters Brings The Wall to Tacoma.

I've been to many concerts and seen lots of bands.  How many, I dunno, more than thirty and less than fifty.  After each show I reflect and try to decide whether it's the best I've ever seen.  I always try to convince myself the answer is yes.  I mean, I never really have a bad experience, right?

 I can tell you without reservation The Wall performed by Roger Waters and his band is without question, reservation, or hesitation is the most wonderful concert I've ever experienced. 

I am not a Pink Floyd follower, and cannot name every song on every album they ever did.  I've never listened to Piper at the Gates of Dawn or Ummagumma. But The Wall, a rock opera, is different.  I bought the album in 1980 after its release, and found the 26 songs about the descent of a young man into isolation and madness compelling.  I saw Alan Parker's 1982 movie in the middle 80's and was taken with movie's combination of dystopian animation and disturbing narrative that is the core of the lead character, Pink's, life.  

When it was announced last spring Waters was bringing The Wall to Tacoma, I winced.  It was a show I desperately wanted to see.  At 67, it was unlikely he would tour again.  Keyboardist Richard Wright was dead, Waters and guitarist David Gilmour were estranged, Pink Floyd was irretrievably broken.  This might be the last opportunity to see this opus live and I wanted to be a witness. 
Roger Waters in all his glory.  I've never seen anything like the Wall.
But I was broke and the tickets were exorbitant.  I was thrilled on my 55th birthday in August when my son, Patrick, presented me with a floor level ticket to the concert.  He'd organized the effort to coordinate funds to buy me a seat next to he and daughter-in-law extraordinaire Michelle for my birthday.  We were going to see The Wall, we'd just have to wait until December.

Last night we made our way to the Tacoma Dome surrounded by a sell out crowd and plunked ourselves in the middle of the reserved seats on the floor.  It was a knowledgeable, orderly crowd.  When the show began in shortly after the scheduled 8:00 with a full sixty seconds of explosions, fireworks and images on the walls flanking the enormous stage.  More images projected on to a huge circular screen, and thus began the evening's narrative.  Pink's story would be told aurally by the Waters and his band, and another story, told in parallel, sometimes connected and sometimes not appeared in the images all as a 40 foot high 100 foot wide wall was slowly constructed across the stage. 
Waiting for the train at UWT.  We parked uptown knowing there was little parking at the Dome.

Waiting for the show.  The semi built walls are visible to left and right with the large circular screen over the stage.

The musicianship was flawless.  Waters assembled a fine supporting band, and while they weren't Pink Floyd, they never missed a note, never took indecent liberties with the music, they were simply fabulous.  Waters was at the center of it all, handling nearly all of the vocals with skill and showmanship.  The highlight for me was Comfortably Numb with the lead vocal and guitar solo occurring atop the completed wall.  Though the song missed Gilmour's breathy vocals the emotional guitar was brilliant, simply the most moving work I've ever heard.
In the Flesh starts the show with a bang

All the while the band played, visuals played on the overhead screen (until it was obscured) and on the wall.  In some cases Waters chose animations from the Parker movie, or inserted background visuals in synch with the music.  But many of the visuals shown were political.  Waters presented a program that was clearly anti-war and anti-corporate.  Among the show's first images were the stories of those who died in war, soldiers, civilians, children and the families who'd been bereft by the loss of a loved one.  Always the stories, from Marines in Iraq to RAF fliers to children killed in Baghdad bombings were told with dignity and respect. Waters' message were encapsulated in the words of Dwight Eisenhower:

"Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket that is fired signifies, in a final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."
The Wall of War Victims from WWII to Afghanistan, from Marines to civilians

War Victims up close

Neda Agha-Soultan, murdered by her government, Tehran 2009.  Unforgivable.

Waters was not what I expected.  I understood him to be crowd-shy and adverse to touring.  Not the case.  He was the ringmaster, always in control of the show and always connecting with the audience, well aware he was in Tacoma that was near Seattle.  One of the highlights of the show was after "A Brick in the Wall, pt. II" when he took the time to introduce the children that had appeared on stage as the maligned students suffering the indignities from the evil teacher.  They were from a local after school program and he praised their effort.  He then went on to play "Mother" double tracked with audio and visual of himself from the 1990 Berlin performance of The Wall.  It was stunning.
The Teacher is one of many oversized visitors to the stage.

Another Brick in the Wall Part 2

Local children play students in Another Brick in the Wall Part 2

The concert was a triumph, though not flawless.  There were times I felt there was too much reliance on the 1982 movie animations, particularly in the closing scenes.  While they were familiar, so much of what was done was new and special, why review twenty minutes of the court scene from nearly 30 years ago.  However, if that's all I've got to quibble about it must have been a pretty good night.
Mother Part 1

Big Mother

This says it all

I left the concert with Pat and Michelle knowing I had never seen a better show.  I wonder if I'll ever go to a live concert again.  I was a witness to the best.
Mrs. Pink visits the Wall during "Don't Leave Me Now."

"Comfortably Numb" soloist enveloped in light.

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