Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Roger Waters presents The Wall, in Nashville - a Review

My wife and I had to park about half a mile from the venue (Bridgestone Arena) itself, since all of these close parking was either sold out or over $10.  The night was pleasant, in the high 80s (F) with low humidity (for Nashville) and a slight breeze from the Cumberland River.  Entering the place was simple enough - they don’t give a sh*t about regular digital cameras anymore, so it was basically a look over to see if we had a bomb strapped on.  I guess a rock show attended by a bunch of hippies - young and old - and performed by a pacifist wasn’t pegged as a ‘high security’ situation.

The obligatory flying pig

We decided to hit the merch table before finding our seats, and after about 20 minutes in line I was able to nab the last “Trust Us” camo tshirt in size large.  The selection of merch was honestly disappointing.  Roger’s ‘Dark Side’ tour had some fantastic and original shirts, like the one with Roger from the 70s, but The Wall merch mostly seemed rehashed shirt designs with the 2012 update and “Roger Waters” everywhere “Pink Floyd” had been.  Let’s be honest - who goes to Roger Waters for the merch?

Finally winding our way upstairs and grabbing a soda, we started the sojourn around the outer track of the building to get to our seats in section 333 (top tier in the VERY back of the arena).  As we rounded a ‘corner’ a well dressed gentleman stopped us and said he worked for the arena, and that they were trying to get rid of some lower-level tickets, much closer to the stage.  He then handed us two tickets to section 107, stage left.  

The mighty Wall!

The seats were ‘limited view,’ but we only missed the flower sex, and given the very nature of the live show The Wall, it wasn’t a big deal in the slightest.  Free seat upgrade.  

This is how close we were


The show did not start promptly at 8pm, despite the clear indication printed on the ticket - not that this was unexpected.  There was no opening act, no encore.  For nearly three hours, there was only The Wall.

As the lights dimmed the announcer warned us to turn the flash function in our cameras off - the flash of light would wash out the projections on the MASSIVE white ‘brick’ wall that served as both projector screen and visual centerpiece.  A lone spotlight appears on the stage, and the ending to the movie “Spartacus” begins playing over the speakers, as two officials carry the ‘Pink’ puppet on on the stage to say “I am Spartacus” before being dropped to the ground.
A lone trumpet plays the lonely melody from “Outside the Wall” in the darkness before the audience is caught off-guard by the sudden first chords of “In the Flesh?”  Balls of fire and spark shoot from the base of the The Wall portion of the stage followed by that old codger himself, strolling out all badass like.

We did our hammer salutes and mad screaming as he patrolled to each side of the stage, his enjoyment clear on his face.  He might be getting older but compared to when he first performed these shows in the early 80s, he is at the top of his game and loving every second of it.  All of the pyrotechnics were used in the first song of the evening, including an airplane that flew over our heads to crash behind the Wall in a fireball, and the rest of the show focussed on the gorgeous visuals Roger and Co. projected onto Mr. Screen and the Wall itself.  If there wasn’t action being projected on the bricks, then a stone-brick texture was projected, making the otherwise whitewashed wall far more realistic and menacing. 

“The Thin Ice” gave us our first taste of our ‘not David Gilmour’ of the evening, Mr. Robbie Wyckoff.  While I was expecting the worst after enduring the  awful job that Doyle Bramhall II did in the 2000 tour, “In the Flesh,” Wyckoff didn’t sound like a dying basset hound.  He was competent, if a bit unassuming - but this IS Roger’s show.  The ‘screen’ that as the Wall itself as well as Mr. Screen began to show us the name, birth and death of people killed in the name of some authority, starting with Roger’s father and including people like the Persian ‘angel,’ Neda Agha-Soltan.

The Schoolmaster
The trio of Another Brick 1, Happiest Days and Another Brick 2 were pretty damn true to the source material.  Dave Kilminster’s performance of Gilmour’s ABITW2 solo was spot-on.  Add in a little Snowy White goodness at the end and you have one worked up crowd.  For the children’s chorus, a group of Nashville’s school-aged kids got on stage and performed a simple rhythmic dance while singing and gesturing to the Schoolmaster puppet that had descended on our side of the stage.

Between “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” and “Mother,” something of a new song was played.  The best way I can describe it is to call it “Another Folk in the Wall.”  It had the same hook as the other three “Brick” songs, but was acoustic and had a funkier rhythm.  It broke up the proceedings nicely, and helped to keep the audience on its toes.  From here, Roger broke with the 1980s script and talked with the audience a bit, mainly about Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes who was shot eight times by London authorities, because they erroneously ‘suspected’ him of terrorism.

While the show has always had some anti-authoritarian themes, they were nothing like what was on display tonight.  Roger pulled no punches, and it felt damn good to see someone do this - be unapologetically bleeding heart.  No excuses: every rocket launched is a theft from someone that is in need (to terribly paraphrase Ike).

“Mother” was straightforward with two notable exceptions;  a black and white (not gray-scale, true black and white) projection of Roger performing the same song back in 1980 at Earls Court and after Roger sings “Mother should I trust the government?” three words appeared in bold red on the Wall in rhythm with the song: “NO FUCKING WAY.”  The synch of the projection with the performance was remarkable.  This is one polished show.

While one of my favorite songs on the album and sequences in the movie, “Goodbye Blue Skies” was a fantastic rendition - but something felt missing without the terror that the song invoked in the movie.  That said, the harmonies were crisp and the visuals (bombers dropping symbols like the dollar sign, the star of David, the cross, the logo for Shell gasoline and many others).

By the time “Empty Spaces/What Shall We Do Now” started, we could no longer see Mr. Screen at all, as it had become completely obstructed by the continual construction of the Wall itself.  We were treated, however, to the new ‘root’ animation to go with the flowers.  The roots writhed and pulsed as the music and flowers danced until the climax which saw the portion from the movie being projected on the Wall.   “What Shall We Do Now” was probably the second most ‘pumped’ song of the evening for me, since I hear it so rarely.  The only song that ‘rocked’ harder for my money was “Run Like Hell,” but more on that later.

I tried to get a nipple shot, but this was the best I could do, bell button and camel toe;)
T&A was the order of the day for “Young Lust,” as it should and there were many a pair of young breasts and smooth bellies projected across the Wall as the band rocked out and the stage crew slowly enclosed the band in their stage-tomb.  I can’t be sure, but I thought I may have caught Wyckoff doing some scat vocals ala’ Gilmour during the Young Lust solo (he was not playing guitar, however), but I can’t be certain.

For “One of my Turns” and “Don’t Leave Me Now,” Roger was in front of the Wall, while his band backed him up from behind the Wall.  He roamed the stage while singing the former and sat dejected for the latter.  As always, the projections on the Wall were incredible, but this is the slowest part of the show so nothing really stuck with me.

The beginning of Another Brick Part 3

“Another Brick in the Wall Part 3” took the projections to a level last seen on LOST when the ‘others’ are seen brainwashing people with a strange, jumbled movie.  It’s something you really just have to see for yourself.

“Last Few Bricks” was fairly uneventful, as the extra medley through the set so far gave the stagehands time to finish constructing all but on brick of the Wall.  Finally, we see Roger in a lone beam of light shining through the last crack in the Wall.  “Goodbye Cruel World.”  The last brick is placed and the Wall’s construction is complete.

The completed Wall during "Hey You"
After a pleasantly punctual intermission (25 minutes on the nose), the melancholy beauty of “Hey You” filled the arena.  The songs presentation was plain.  No fancy lights or fire and no projections aside from the static “stone-brick” texture.  There is also no visible band.  The entire band is performing, unseen, behind a thirty foot tall ‘brick’ wall.  The concept is so simple when you read it, but ‘seeing’ it in action is absolutely surreal.  No mistake about it, Roger’s “Wall” concert concept is completely brilliant.  The man makes you cheer to what is, for all intents and purposes, as singing brick wall.

"Is There Anybody Out There"

Two bricks were then removed stage left for “Is There Anybody Out There” to reveal two guitarists (Dave and Snowy, I believe) on nylon-strung classical guitars for the gorgeous tune.

"One of my Turns"

As the song ended, a drawbridge type panel began to lower itself from a section of the Wall on stage right.  The panel lowered until it was perpendicular to the Wall and had a tidy living room set-up - a chair, lamp and LCD TV.  His performance from his ‘living room’ is projected on the stage left side of the wall, in crisp color and detail.  The projection gave us an awesome look at just how animate Roger is these days - often miming lines like “all down the front of my favorite satin shirt.  The Pink Floyd song written in a night during The Wall recording sections still sounds like an original, intended piece and is all the more gorgeous for it.

The Wall projection for "One of my Turns"

"Comfortably Numb"
“Vera” and “Bring the Boys Back Home” were incredibly moving - the former featured video of families (especially children) welcoming home their parents from their tours of duty, often streaming tears.  The latter of the two displayed the entire Dwight Eisenhower quote I referenced above, juxtaposed with video and pictures of children in poor conditions, tastefully.

I won’t be very surprised if “Comfortably Numb” was on top of the audiences list of best performances, and for once, Roger pulled it off without Gilmour.  Dave’s solo was INCREDIBLY faithful and Wyckoff delivered quite well also, though nobody can sing the part quite like Gilmour does.
Both were positioned at the TOP of the complete 30 foot wall, with spotlights shining from behind them, casting their shadows across the audience. 

Wyckoff's shadow
Roger was fantastic as well - and nobody can sing his portion of that song as well as he does.  A few bars into the second and final solo, Roger ‘pounds’ a spot on the Wall, which triggers a GORGEOUS shattering animation from the point of contact across the entire Wall.  The gray mass of brick and gloom exploded temporarily into a bright cascade of primary colors mimicking a sunset. 

The shattering
 As the solo nears its end, several trap doors on the stage in front of the Wall open and elevators appear carrying guitars, a drum set and a keyboard set-up, all for the “surrogate band” to use for the remainder of the show.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see any of the old-school masks.

A full, two verse version of “The Show Must Go On” brought us screaming back into the more militant “In the Flesh.”  Roger marched to the mic with his black leather trench coat and aviators and began the reprise full of gusto.  As a finale for the song, following “I’d have all of you shot,”

Roger, having all of us shot
Roger pulls a tommy-gun from his jacket and begins ‘shooting’ the audience.  While the ‘gun’ he was ‘shooting’ only had a blue LED light in the tip, on the Wall projection, his exact image was doing the same thing, only this time bullets and shell casings were flying about madly.  While the video of Roger was very well synched with the live act, it did appear to be pre-recorded and amazingly choreographed for the live experience.

“Are there any paranoids in the audience tonight?” Roger teases darkly from behind his sunglasses.  That’s how faithful this show was to the original run, in terms of musical direction.  Well done Mr. Gilmour.  “Run Like Hell” was a very energetic performance for the crowd - there were hands rhythm clapping and fists pumping.  
As the song ends, Roger gets the crowd worked up by ‘thanking’ them quite loudly, sending us into another cheering frenzy.  As “Waiting for the Worms” began, the tension in the air was growing thick - that Wall had to come down soon.  

“Stop” sees the brief return of the ‘Pink’ puppet, as he is seen sitting atop the Wall before plummeting to the floor for climax of “The Trial.”  As the first orchestra begins this next to last song, the ‘Surrogate Band’ set up sink beneath the front stage again, and the animations from the movie are projected to go along with Roger’s lone performance. After being sure to sing “go on judge, shit on him,” Roger soon disappears from the stage and the loud speakers and audience begin deafeningly chanting “TEAR DOWN THE WALL!  TEAR DOWN THE WALL!”

Then, as if it were the Biblical Jerhico, the Wall began tumbling and crashing to the ground, falling just short of the front row (a yard from their feet, maybe).

As the ‘rubble’ cleared, the entire band (including Roger’s son, Harry and the incredible Jon Carin) appeared on stage, with Roger holding a trumpet and others holding various guitars, banjos and such.  The delicate “Outside the Wall” finally swooned us away after an amazing night of music.

The band took its bows and Roger gave us his deepest thanks, and the night was over. As we left the arena, I saw people in tears.  I understand that feeling: I was born WAY too late to have been able to see the original shows, so this was a big deal in terms of my musical consumption.  Since 1996 (when i discovered Floyd in HS) I had been dying to see The Wall live - it was so worth the wait!

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