On Wednesday December 8 I saw Roger Waters and his band perform The Wall
at HP Pavillion in San Jose. Here is a "review," which will consist of a number of disjoint thoughts and points in no particular order:
- Overall the show was excellent. It's the sort of concert that is more than just the album played louder. It is a "show". I'm glad I got to see it.
- I felt I got my money's worth for the pyrotechnics in the opening number "In the Flesh?" My wife jerked in her seat when the bombastic opening blasted out. Strangely, there were no more fireworks after that. But really you get an entire concert's worth in the first three minutes.
- The physical Wall itself was used very effectively as a projection screen: at times, it appeared as though the wall was opening, crumbling, transforming, etc. It was huge, dwarfing the performers. They really do build it during the first half of the show. Seeing the crew do it did have a bit of a "Waiting for Guffman" feel to it, though.
- The singers were really good. Some of the numbers like "The Show Must Go On" really worked better with skilled vocalists. There was an extra verse to "The Show Must Go On" that is not on the album.
- Roger Waters is not much of a performer. He looks kinda dorky and campy. He certainly doesn't stay "in character". He does not have much charisma. He was having a lot of fun, which is fun to see, but he was not really in character. Pink Floyd the character is certainly not having much fun throughout most of the story.
- Roger referred a couple times to how "fucked up" he was when he wrote and initially performed this piece. He does seem to be in a better place now. But it raises the question, "If you're in a better place, why are you performing this dark psychodrama you created over thirty years ago?" I felt kind of the same way: I'm not in the same alienated place I was when I was in high school and college, when this album really meant something to me. But yet I went to a great deal of time, effort, and expense to go see this show. In a way, I feel like both Roger and I were having a blast looking back on a darker time in our lives.
- Along those lines, one of the most strangely resonant numbers was "Mother," during which Waters performed the song along with a vast, ghostly, grainy, black and white projection of himself performing the song at Earl's Court in 1980. The symbolism was awesome: the real Roger Waters, dwarfed by the massive ghost of his own past self three decades ago. It totally worked for me.
- Because the role of Pink is passed around among different singers, and because Roger isn't much of an actor, the focus was a lot less on the character of Pink Floyd than in the movie. The show also felt a lot less "British" than the album or the movie. The school kids were played by kids from San Jose Boys and Girls clubs, though they did sing in a British accent.
- The guitarist Dave Kilminster was excellent: though he played the original David Gilmour guitar solos note-for-note, he imbued them with a passion that I felt equalled or exceeded the originals. (I'm thinking of the solo from "Another Brick in the Wall part II" and the two solos in "Comfortably Numb".) Indeed the guitarist was a more compelling performer to watch than Waters himself.
- The best stadium rock number in the show is "Run Like Hell," and indeed it seems like the finale. (Gilmour Pink Floyd closed their concert in 1994 with "Comfortably Numb"/"Run Like Hell." ) It was totally awesome. Even though plot-wise "The Trial" is necessary, musically it just doesn't stand up as well. The wall collapsing was pretty cool, though. "Outside the Wall" worked well as an epilogue.
- There were fewer laser and light effects in this show than on Gilmour-led Pink Floyd's Division Bell tour. But the projections onto the wall and the "Mr. Screen" above it provided all the necessary visual splendor.
- I didn't think the Teacher puppet was all that scary. I think I just don't relate to the idea of teachers as figures of menace and danger. The wife puppet had praying mantis arms, which were cool. Praying mantises are cool. When I'm with my nieces, I like to make my arms into praying mantis arms and pretend I'm eating their brains. This has nothing to do with The Wall.
- There was no encore. I wasn't expecting one. During "Outside the Wall," Waters took a brief turn playing trumpet, and managed to get most of the notes right.
- The pre-show music had a lot of Bob Dylan ("Masters of War" ) and John Lennon ("Mother", "Imagine"). I think the pre-show music was chosen to relate to the themes of The Wall.
- The night of the show was the 30th Anniversary of Lennon's death, and Waters asked for and got a moment of silence. Waters said, "He was a crazy bugger but he brought a lot of light into this world with his music."
- There was a lot of contemporary liberal politics added to the imagery, some of which felt rather "tacked on" to me. One of the more effective visual updates was during "Bring the Boys Back Home", during which were shown some of those famous viral YouTube clips of children re-uniting with their fathers returning from war.
- $25 for a program is too much. $45 for a t-shirt is too much. $8.50 for a beer is too much. I didn't pay for any of that stuff. $20 for parking was too much too, but I did pay for that. It seems a bit strained for Waters to be visually attacking corporate culture when being intimate with corporate culture is about the only way one could afford tickets to his show.
- If The Wall meant anything at all to you, I'd definitely try to see this show. It is an experience. Like the album, it can be overblown, bombastic, self-indugent, meandering, and ugly. But it is a masterpiece of rock-'n'-roll, and there may never be another staging of it like this again.