Roger Waters’ 2011 production of The Wall takes a classic of anomie and updates it with startling and necessary results.
Roger Water’s transmutation of The Wall, a personal investigation into his own alienation from the contemporary world, into an anti-capitalist, anti-globalist work takes some doing. The central premise of the The Wall, a rock opera about a pampered rock star’s deterioration through excess is easily adjusted to suggest that the Western World is isolated behind its propaganda, wealth and unassailable comfort. Our isolation prevents us from seeing the complete horror that continues in many parts of the world and The Wall’s storyline reinforces the process by which the West isolates itself; from the education through to the preoccupations of modern life and its sense of worry, loss and replacement which enshroud us all.
The show starts with amazing pyrotechnics immediately grabbing the audience’s attention and holding them in expectant thrall. Many reviewers have remarked that the visual spectacle of the show (reportedly costing $37 million) is breathtaking bordering on overwhelming, and they are right. However, unlike other expensive stadium shows which are merely pretty, the content of the images, the sheer weight of ideas is what really pushes this into new territory. Images from a century of wars, the insidious war on terror, the death of Jean Charles De Menezes, and politics were woven together amongst Gerald Scarf’s original work, viscerally updated. The iconic goose-stepping hammers and mortuary planes were as vibrant and terrifying as ever creating an emotional backdrop for greater pronouncements on what’s happening in the world around us.
To be so at ease as the focus of a show like this would take an ego the size of a planet
Unpacking the exact revised meaning and intent behind each of the songs was almost impossible for this reviewer who is admittedly a pretty big Pink Floyd fan and also an easy victim to sensory overload and a familiar tune. The band were on exceptional form, and barring a couple of out-of-tune clangers early in the first set (I.e. Disk 1), the music was performed faithful to the recording with a couple of parts updated and launched over the rapturous audience hungry for glorious rock excess.
A strange thing happens when you hear songs as familiar as those on The Wall, the event becomes something of a communal celebration. It would be safe to say that most people in the audience had discovered the album during their teenage years, years when the music you listen to is the most powerful affecting you for the rest of your life. Perhaps the greatest aspect of the show was seeing what are essentially ‘classic oldies’ given new life and becoming as urgent and relevant as they were 30 years ago or whenever you first heard them.
Roger Waters has been mixed over the last ten years, in the past his voice faltered and he occasionally looked like guest on his own tour. The 2011 Roger Waters is a very different performer, dangerous and moving. Onstage he dominates, his singing has never sounded better, even compared to the recording, and his presence is captivating and vital. Here is a performer completely in command of a huge stage, who manages not to be overshadowed by the awesome visuals but matches their intensity. To be so at ease as the focus of a show like this would take an ego the size of a planet and cynically you could say there a clear danger of Bono-fication when a pop star attempts to make global political pronouncements however this wasn’t the case. The hubris that sparked the famous fan-spitting incident, which prompted Waters’ introspection and germinated into the narcissistic concept album was transmuted with humility into something that speaks to everyone and delivers on every level.
…and becoming as urgent and relevant as they were 30 years ago or whenever you first heard them.
Many reviewers have argued in the past that The Wall is an overwhelmingly narcissistic album and Waters himself has spoken about how there wasn’t really a resolution to the story in the original. By adding external references through the stage show I think that Waters is fixing this, he’s bridging the gap between inner conflict and outer action by challenging people to reflexively act.
Put simply this concert was one of the greatest musical events in my 20 years as a journalist and I urge everyone to try and get to one of the continental shows at once. The Wall 2011 is a triumph of the heart, soul and mind that will have you singing and clapping but most importantly, thinking.
Roger Water’s performed The Wall at the O2 London, Saturday 15th May.
Editor, founder, fan.