The Recording Industry Association of America currently ranks Pink Floyd’s The Wall tied for third with Led Zeppelin IV on their “best-selling albums of all time” list. It’s intriguing that the album has connected with so many people over the years when part of its inspiration was the disconnection lyricist/bassist Roger Waters felt with his audience.
The Wall tells the story of rock star Pink, standing in for Waters. The character is increasingly separated from his own life due to the walls he’s put up to protect himself. He has been shaped by events in his youth such as the death of his father during WWII, his overbearing mother, and his abusive teachers. Pink rebels against the rock star he’s become and the fans that have caused it. The touring lifestyle of groupies and drugs doesn’t help, especially when his wife back home is cheating on him. It’s a path of self-destruction too many of his peers have traveled but rather than give up and succumb to it he decides to tear down the walls.
In 1980, Pink Floyd toured in support of The Wall but only in a few locations due to the scale of the project. In 1982, Alan Parker directed a film version of The Wall. In 1990, Waters staged an elaborate, star-studded performance in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down. In 2010, Waters has performed The Wall Live throughout North America and plans to take the show to Europe in 2011. The staging is more musical theatre than a concert. There are costume changes, props, and set pieces such as the wall Waters sings about being built throughout the show by a talented stage crew. The sound effects were excellent as a helicopter, children’s cries, and everything else immersed the viewer within the experience of the story.
Seeing the show the first night at the Honda Center, I found it to be one of the more friendlier concert crowds. People compared concert T-shirts and inquired when they had last seen Waters live. No surprise that it was mostly middle-age males in attendance, but you be hard pressed to tell considering the way many absolutely lost their minds and squealed in delight, suffering a grown-up version of Beiber Fever, as the opening number “In the Flesh?” concluded with Pink’s father’s plane descending from the rafters and crashing with a fiery explosion to the side of the stage.
For those paying attention, the show started upon entering the arena. Songs related to themes in Waters’ work, such as Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” and John Lennon’s “Imagine,” played over the PA while the lights were up. An older gentleman pushed a cart around the floor seats with a message related to the homeless. When the lights went down, he was hit with a spotlight. Audio from the famous “I am Spartacus” scene played, and the man went to the base of the stage and tossed a pink dummy onto it.
During the album’s biggest hit, “Another Brick in the Wall Pt 2,” local kids appeared on stage. One by one they danced about and together they chastised the enormous balloon puppet of the Schoolmaster, based on Gerald Scarfe’s design, to “leave those kids alone.” Afterward, Waters said hello to the crowd and then sang a duet with visuals of himself from 1980 as he played acoustic guitar. The other imagery is what made this performance so powerful. Photos of people, soldiers and civilians, who have died in wars past and present, were shown on the wall. In response to the line “Mother, should I trust the government,” “No Fucking Way” flashed across the wall in response and a closed circuit camera also appeared on the video screen. All of this took place under the disapproving gaze of the Mother balloon off in the wings.
During “Goodbye Blue Sky,” airplanes dropped logos from religions and businesses like bombs onto the landscape below. This created some controversy as Abe Foxman at The Anti-Defamation League, who obviously missed the point, decried the Star of David being immediately followed by a dollar sign as anti-Semitic. On his website, Waters stated, “The point I made with that song is the bombardment we all are subject to by all of the conflicting economic, political and religious ideologies that encourage us all to turn against each other. I mourn this loss of life.” The order of the logos has since been changed to apparently a more acceptable order for Foxman, who is either okay with or can’t deny his religion being involved in the racket of war as U.S. Marine Corp Major General Smedley Butler referred to it.
The violent/sexual imagery of the flowers seen in the film was shown during “Empty Spaces.” Pink begins his isolation as he sings, “I feel one of my turns coming on.” The keyboards created a haunting sound as Pink implores the Wife puppet to “don’t leave me now.” No longer able to stand his life, he decides to put up the wall, which is completed when the final piece is inserted as Waters sang the last goodbye in “Goodbye, Cruel World.” It’s an imposing structure and during intermission pictures of people killed in conflict, some of which were submitted by fans through Facebook, appear upon it.
“Hey You” began the second half of the show with only a blank wall for the audience to see. “Is There Anybody Out There?” continued the idea though bricks were briefly removed to show the guitar solo. A chunk of the wall came down looking like a hotel room mock-up. When Waters sang, “I got thirteen channels of shit on the TV to choose from” line, though archaic, it got a huge reaction out of the crowd.
The war theme was evoked again. During “Vera” images of children reunited with returning parents were shown. It segued into the military march of “Bring the Boys Back Home” with Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1953 speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors about the detrimental effects of war quoted on the wall.
Doing their best to follow David Gilmour’s brilliant work, Robbie Wyckoff and Dave Kilminster appeared on top of the wall playing guitar during “Comfortably Numb.” Waters hit the wall during its conclusion and the image turned into a psychedelic burst of colors and pills.
The entire band, now dressed in black and wearing marching hammer patches that evoked a Nazi armband, finally made their way in front of the wall. “In the Flesh,” no longer a question, revisited the opening number and a black inflatable pig buzzed around the crowd. Pink has almost given up when he’s “Waiting for the Worms,” which can be seen filling the video screen. Waters sang into a bullhorn as Pink’s lyrics become disturbing and racist.
Pink wants to get away from this new life, and at the end of “Stop,” the Pink doll fell from the top of the wall to its base. The Scarfe animation from the film was then shown on the wall as Pink experiences “The Trial.” Waters did a great job altering his voice for the different characters in the song. When Pink, by way of the judge and the chants of seemingly the entire Honda Center crowd, decides to “tear down the wall,” the whole thing thundered down in an impressive display that must have startled a few in the front rows. The entire band then came out to finish The Wall with “Outside the Wall.” With the show over, Waters, nearly 70, expressed his gratitude and confessed to a better appreciation of his fans than his thirty-something self who had written this.
Everyone involved with the production should be very proud of the results. The Wall Live an outstanding piece of theatre, and Waters has assembled a talented group of musicians who deftly handled the different arrangements. While the ticket prices were expensive, you can see where the money has gone into the production. It was a concert for the ages and will long be talked about by those who attended because of how high the bar has now been set.