October 18, 2006

Roger Waters Concert Review -- Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, California -- October 10, 2006

Roger and Me vs. Us and Them

Setting the (Other) Stage

I arrived to the conceptual party of the Pink Floyd late. Up through high school the majority of what I listened to was soul and funk. That wasn’t to say that I didn’t know about the Pink Floyd. Having grown up in a neighborhood that was so white that “minority” meant you were Catholic, I was inundated with their sound. My first exposure to the Pink Floyd was the song “Money,” which was all-pervasive on what at the time was called “album oriented radio” (AOR) and today gets the shuddering title of “classic rock.”

What I heard I hated from the word, “go.” For starters, “Money” sounded like a white band trying to be black and failing. But far, far worse was having to deal with the meat-headed fans of the Pink Floyd. On and on they’d drone about how “deep” it was, all the while looking down on me through sagging red eyes.

As my musical horizons exploded in college, I returned to the band as my interest in 60’s psychedelia collided with my roommate’s record collection which included several early albums by the Pink Floyd.

The Floyd are a band that saw a tremendous amount of flux, in two very different areas.

The early sound of band was heavily dominated by the keyboards of Richard Wright and the ideological leadership of Syd Barrett, a man literally teetering on the brink of sanity. When Barrett “went away,” the Pink Floyd became more heavily guitar based through the exquisite whining sounds of David Gilmour.

On Barrett’s slipping, the Pink Floyd went from generic wacky psychedelics (“Candy and a Currant Bun”), to the insecurity of what it means to be human (“On the Run”), and ultimately toward a distrust of government (especially the military -- “Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert”).

Musically the tipping point for the band is the album Meddle. Before this nothing really sounds “commercial,” but from here forward you’ll find not only things like multi-part harmony, but also explorations of a theme and concept as heard on "Echoes," a song making up the entirety of the B-side of the album.

The album following Meddle, The Dark Side of the Moon, is so anomalous and intricately crafted it doesn’t even sound like an album by the Pink Floyd when listened next to the group’s output in its entirety. The session somehow feels too crafted and detailed (this probably also helps to explain why it so heavily outsells all other records by the band). And yet, this is the album everyone associates with the band.

Intellectually, the gauntlet gets thrown down in the album following TDSotM, Wish You Were Here. This is the first spot where Roger Waters first turns the caustic cannon of his angst beyond self-torment and takes a blast at the record industry (which, by the way, has just handed him more money in one year than he’d made in his life up to that point). This is followed by Animals, a general loathing of society; then The Wall, more of the same (minus the ultra-thin metaphor) with an over-dose of hatred for anyone involved in development of rock musician (especially the fans). The Final Cut is a stab and a spit at an anti-war, anti-government album, inspired largely by the Falkland Islands conflict.

It's hard for a band with this much conceptual and sonic change to stay together, and sure enough, it’s right in here where things explode.

You can’t get a straight, or at least cohesive, story about what happened during The Final Cut timeframe, but it goes something like this: everyone is pretty goddamn sick of Roger Waters running off through the weeds about things that the rest of the band don’t feel like releasing music about. Richard Wright has been fired (either here or during The Wall, the accounts are conflicting). Waters’s ego is now big enough that the album cover states “A Requiem for the Post War Days by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd.” (To date, this is the only album that the Pink Floyd have never supported with a tour.)

The band breaks up and bitterly fight over who gets to use the Pink Floyd name. David Gilmour wins the legal nude mud wrestling match and goes on tour with Wright and Mason as Pink Floyd. Waters gets control of The Final Cut and things are legally messy to the point that not only does the Pink Floyd Box Set Shine On (now out of print) exclude the disc, they don’t even mention the disc in the body of the coffee-table-book liner notes (stranger, box includes Momentary Lapse of Reason, the disc which following The Final Cut sans Waters).

Waters goes on to record The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, Radio K.A.O.S., and Amused to Death. All lackluster performances filled with fear and trembling that manage to become RIAA Gold records for no other reason than they were recorded by Roger Waters (as a comparison, the Pink Floyd albums from Meddle on all hit multi-platinum status -- even without Roger present in the band).

The Waters-less Pink Floyd does two albums: Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell. They also release a live version of The Dark Side of the Moon (complete with irritating, not to mention Earth destroying, l.e.d. on the spine). In 1995 the Pink Floyd, in any form, disband, and that’s it for them.

Almost.

At a concert with the heady ideal of ending world poverty (and run by the usual suspects) Live 8, Roger Waters rejoins his three old band mates under the Pink Floyd moniker for a six-song one-off show. Rumors abound ... yes, they’ll reform ... no, they won’t ... no, they love each other ... yes, they hate each other ... comets will strike Earth tomorrow ... that kind of thing.

The only certain thing was Roger Waters was going to tour The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, “For the first time in America in 30 years! _Your_hype_line_goes_here_!” No one seems insulted by the fact that the cheapest seats in the house in my local venue are us$93 before obligatory Ticketmaster fees, and those closer to the stage are $135. (Lawn “seats” can be had for a paltry $30, plus, that’s right, a 33% Ticketmaster fee. The extremely close seats are available by bid directly from Ticketmaster and will ultimately sell for the low thousands of dollars.)

Now, the same type of cretins that’ll go on and on about how much greater John Lennon was than Paul McCartney (they definitely have never listened to the goddamn Wedding Album, or either of the Unfinished Music albums -- all of which will make you wish that Mark David Chapman had fired a well-aimed bullet at you instead) will also tell you that Roger Waters is the heart of the Pink Floyd and everyone else is just an instrument.

Okay, fine.

The Pink Floyd were known for two things: searing displays of lasers and quadraphonic sound. If Waters is the controlling “genius” behind the Pink Floyd then he should also be Johnny-on-the-Spot for the live show.

I have a grand total of zero interest in seeing Waters perform his own solo work, and there is a ton of music of the Pink Floyd I’d rather see/hear than TDSotM, but if that’s what he’s playin’, I’m goin’ to see it. Once. Although, as you’ve seen before, I have serious doubts about his ability to reproduce the full-Floyd-effect in an outdoor arena.

Although the show is very heavily sold-out, I manage to score a pair of lawn tickets without the fees. Suttonhoo will be joining me in a sudden and surprise visit from Chicago, so it literally, can’t be all bad.

But.

You’re carrying a big weight and way too much attitude -- especially at this price -- Mr. Waters. People the lower seats are paying $300 a pair -- for that price you could literally buy (new) every studio album by the Pink Floyd and every studio solo album by Roger Waters and the DVD of Pink Floyd - Live at Pompeii (which is great, by the way) and still have $25 left over to buy a custom DSoTM cake at your local bakery along with a little of whatever mind altering substance you choose (that’d buy a hell of a lot of Mountain Dew, I can tell you that). You had damn well better put out.

But it’s not going to be easy. Roger playing TDSotM live faces two big challenges:

* It’s easily the Pink Floyd’s most heavily crafted studio album (thanks in a large part to Alan Parsons who also crafted the fundamental sound on the The Beatles’s Abbey Road). That means Roger will have to make one of two choices: play it note-for-note, or improvise. Of the two, I’d prefer improvisation because otherwise I know I’ll find myself looking for the holes. And I’ve already heard that damn thing a zillionty times -- it’s time to give me something else.

* David Gilmour does the vast majority of the singing on the album. Er. Um. I’m not sure what the answer is here. Maybe call up David and be really nice? Or maybe just use a tape of him and act like it’s somebody else -- that might work. TDSotM is coming in the second half of the show, so by then the audience should be detached enough from reality that no one would notice. (Except me, as if that would make any difference to the world.)


It’s Showtime

Although the show was scheduled to start at 20:00 “sharp” (according to the tickets), I was hoping to get to Shoreline at 18:00 when the doors opened to grab a center and close-as-you-can-get-considering seats. An interplay of misfortune and laziness saw me waltzing in about 19:15, and at that point the grass was 85% full. No problem, we hike up to the top and wait. It was a nice cool, but very still, evening and we sat on our low-rise lawn chairs and talked until the fateful 20:00. And then ... nothing happened ... so the crowd started chanting and an unknown MC came out to tell us that, gosh, there were still a lot of people coming in so we’d wait another 20 minutes. I suggest rioting for old-time’s sake, but that doesn’t really catch on.

When the lights go out, Roger has the image of a large old-style radio portrayed on the backdrop. A hand is flicking around on the stations and early gives us the first secret handshake of the night ... the hand stops on a song by Vera Lynn -- the torch singer that’s mentioned on The Wall. From the reaction of the crowd, it’s clear that nobody here remembers Vera Lynn, but I do and I dig it. Nice one, Roger.

Then the hand gets to ABBA on the radio and, to the amusement of the crowd (but my dismay), quickly changes the station (I’d rather hear “Waterloo” than anything off Amused to Death, that’s for sure). The hand then hits a series of stations playing ABBA in a row, but is changing stations so quickly that the majority of the crowd don’t get the joke because they don’t recognize the myriad of songs being flipped through. I do. Another nice one. You are rolling, Rog, and you haven’t even come out yet.

All changes when the lead-in for The Wall track of “In the Flesh” starts and Waters’s band comes out in full force. It’s an interesting choice for the opening track because unlike “In the Flesh?” (note the ‘?’) which opens The Wall, “In the Flesh” is about 75% of the way through the album. The music is essentially the same, but the lyrics are more slashing:

So ya, thought ya, might like to go to the show.
To feel the warm thrill of confusion, that space-cadet glow.
I’ve got some bad news for you sunshine,
Pink isn’t well, he stayed back at the hotel,
and they’ve sent us along as a surrogate band,
we’re gonna find out where you fans really stand!
Are there any queers in the theatre tonight?
Get ‘em up against the wall!
And there’s one in the spotlight,he don’t look right to me,
Get ‘im up against the wall!
And that one looks Jewish,and that one’s a coon!
Who let all this riff-raff into the room?
There’s one smokin’ a joint,and another with spots!
If I had my way, I’d have all of them shot!

Not only is it prophetic in ways about the band that Roger is now playing with, it’s fairly hard hitting. It’s one thing to see Busta Rhymes talk about “niggaz,” it’s quite another to have a white rich and snotty British guy say, “that one’s a coon” in a crowd that is pure-bred white enough that it could be mistaken for a Klan rally. It’s a far cry from the workhorse concert greeting of “Hello, Saannn Frannn Sissss Coooo!” to be sure.

Waters doesn’t even flinch. It’s not clear if it’s because he’s on auto-pilot (this is the penultimate stop of this tour), or he doesn’t care, or he’s making-a-point-dammit-and-if-you-don’t-get-it-you’re-part-of-the-problem. No matter, the crowd’s eating it up. The song ends in a heady spray of pyrotechnic sparks, people go as insane as their 50 year-old white metabolisms will let them.

And what’s not to like? The only real problem is the song featured endless marching of those oh-so-famous crossed hammers. Yeah, yeah, it’s a Wall image, I know, but you can give my fading retinae something else to fade on. Five minutes of marching hammers is a little much if you’ve got more tricks up your sleeves, Roger.

Really though, who cares. In all my self-grandiosity, I’m already nodding with approval. And we’re only one song in.

Then comes "Mother," also from The Wall, Roger’s voice is showing a lot of strain, but the song holds up just fine. If anything it’s more poignant because Waters’s voice is so thrashed.

I’d briefly looked at the set lists that the band had been playing (tours like this have nearly no variation in set lists) before I went to the show, but I didn’t study them, because I wanted to be surprised. Overjoyed with glee I was when they started into “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.” This song, along with “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Astronomy Domine” are my very favorites of the Pink Floyd early work. And this was not a good version, it was a great version -- spaced out, syncopated and with some crazy wind instrument for good measure (probably an oboe, but maybe something more exotic -- I was too far away to tell).

From here the show went into several songs from Wish You Were Here and for the first time I’m sensing a bit of trouble. The versions of the songs they’re doing are very good, and they are creatively working around the hole left by David Gilmour’s silky voice that is supposed to be there (sometimes using other musicians, sometimes using the all black female doo-wop chorus), but the songs are lacking. Definitely lacking.

But the band’s shoring up of the sound is good, and that’s where the difference from the recorded sound of the Pink Floyd stops. I would’ve lost a lot of money betting that a person couldn’t reproduce David Gilmour’s guitar sound, but Dave Kilminster was doing it note for note and bend for bend. It was, in fact, so close that I’m not 100% certain that there wasn’t some sampling and he was playing a sampling guitar. (I don’t believe that’s the case, but if anyone would technically pull off something like that, it would be Roger Waters -- and it would be nearly impossible to tell as an audience member if they did.)

From here we drop into a series of Roger Waters numbers, updated with their political bashing. As an assortment, these are boring enough that the people on the lawn finally sit down (which was bloody nice, because standing on a slope at an angle like that for an extended period felt like I was continually stubbing my toes -- I guess that’s what you get for saving $240).

The last song of the first half was my favorite from Animals (an album that I think is weak - but musicians love), “Sheep.” As they’re playing, the obligatory stage prop of a pink flying pig is brought out. He’s graffiti-strew, as all modern flying pigs are, his butt has “Impeach Bush” written on it, which has the funny side-effect of people always applauding ass-side as he rotates in the air currents. Instead of hovering the audience like the old days, they walk it through the expensive seats, then through the cheap seats, then onto the grass and then they launch the sucker. The light folks hold a spot on him for a bit, and then they return to the matter at hand (if I’d been in charge, I would’ve either lit the pig from the inside or kept a spot/laser on it for as long as it was in sight).

But again, we have a problem -- there is a missing spot in the music in this song. “Sheep” has a nice bass/rhythm guitar run in it -- it is, in fact, the reason I like this song -- and the band just glosses over it.

And with that we end the first half.

Intermission

What was a strong start faded pretty significantly. Part of it was from Roger playing his solo work, but much more significantly, we’re lacking visuals; as in, there are no lasers at all. I want to have retinal blindness tomorrow, or possibly even for the rest of my life if the excuse is real good, and literally the only laser is some jackass who is occasionally tweaking his laser pointer on one of the grass display screens.

Also, we have no quadraphonic sound. All of the sound is coming from directly in front of us. There’s sound behind us whatsoever. Now true, we’re in the cheapie lawn seats, but that means that the vast majority of people at this show are not experiencing it.

Worse, the bass mix is way way off. When Roger plays it’s noticeably softer than other musicians in the band. It might be that they’re doing quadraphonic for the people seated down below and the bass speakers are between us and them.

I’m still holding out hope. There are moments of brightness here and who knows? Maybe all lasers are for the second half.

The Grimy Side of the Moon

Intermission goes by in the blink of the eye and soon we’ve got theater darkness and the pumping heartbeat of the opening track of TDSotM, “Speak to Me.”

It’s good news and it’s bad news. The good news is the display visuals are stunning. There are no lasers yet, but the video montage is the best I’ve ever seen outside a Siggraph show. But the bad news is they’re going to play note for note. Already they’re relying heavily on pre-recorded sounds -- the very ones from TDSotM album. Ick.

They make their way through the set and it’s probably as close as you can get to doing TDSotM live with a band that isn’t actually the Pink Floyd. As I’d feared, the gaps are what I’m noticing. David Gilmour’s voice is badly needed damn near everywhere. The drum solo on “Time” isn’t nearly crisp enough and feels forced.

The big solo parts seem kind of strange. The orgasmic/tortured vocal on “The Great Gig in the Sky” is nearly spot-on note-for-note, as are all the guitar solos. And yet, because they are so accurate, with nearly no improvisation of any kind, and are backed with theatrics of the musicians, they almost seem like caricatures of the pieces they are impersonating.

The subtle points of the record, such as the line “I never said I was afraid of dying,” whispered into “The Great Gig in the Sky” is lost -- instead someone just walks up to the microphone and says it.

Toward the end, there’s a series of war/anti-Bush images played in the middle of a song that has no war implications -- not surprising since none of TDSotM has anti-war sentiment. Excuse me, Roger, you’ve lost your place ... that’s later in the Pink Floyd canon, not now. So musically he’s stuck in one spot, but ideologically he’s stepping forward

And the inexcusable things during this entire part of the show are: no lasers, no quadraphonic sound.

They finish and I’m disappointed. I’ve seen the Water-less version of the Pink Floyd live and they’re better than this. Quite a bit better than this.

Kick Me Baby One More Time

The band comes out for the obligatory encore. “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” starts the set, then “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” (complete with recorded children, anti-war imagery and groovin’ doo wop singers -- which don’t seem to blend right to me).

Waters then does “Vera,” which is perfect and scores big points because of the pre-concert reference.

Then, surprisingly, comes the best song of the show: “Bring the Boys Back Home.” Now it’s true that The Wall isn’t really about the war, but this song (sort of) is. The production on stage is exquisite -- he’s essentially turned this into his version of the 1812 Overture with volleys of flame and more, you guessed it, anti-war imagery. Roger’s voice is essentially gone at this point and he’s screaming/scratching into the microphone. Goddamn you Roger Waters, you should have had this kind of passion and attention to detail through the whole show!

The closer is “Comfortably Numb,” which isn’t as strong, and once again is desperately missing the voice of David Gilmour.

The shows over. The fans go wild. The end.

Moon Set

If I quit harping on the bad things and talk about the good things, this is what I see:

* Creative and cool opening. Bonus points for the Vera Lynn reference at the beginning and the end.

* “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun!”

* Pig launch! Oink!

* Stage fireworks.

* “Bring the Boys Back Home.” A lame song is transformed to a great one.

* Great company.

* A crowd that was not only into it, but under control. I didn’t have any idiots next to me singing along to the entire show. Nor did I have an people under the influence either throwing up on my back or trying to mate with it. (There was one guy that was stumbling uphill who referred to Suttonhoo as my “old lady.” Plus one point for that. Thanks, spaced out dude -- nice candy-striped pancho, btw.)

Was it worth $30 a ticket? Barely. (If Suttonhoo hadn't have been there, probably not.) But if I’d paid 300 for a pair, I would’ve grabbed a crowbar and gone after Waters’s bus, his roadies, or maybe just an innocent bystander. This show was fine for what it was, but it both overtly and covertly over-promised and under-delivered.

And the ultimate ultimate irony of it all ... the instrument most missing was not the guitar of David Gilmour, it was his voice.

One thing's for sure, if I’m not given a ticket, I’ll never see Roger Waters solo again. Here's the deal, Roger: you simply don't give your money's worth, you need to give me more, much more, if I'm going to pay you to be hated.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

well worth the wait. I love it when you write about music -- it's like reading RW Apple on mangosteens (or on anything, actually).

great night. thanks again.

~ the old lady

Wednesday, October 18, 2006 6:29:00 AM  
Blogger Mike Austin said...

Ok, so no lasers or quadraphonic sound. But I liked it, and it's the only Waters show I'll probably ever see. I wouldn't pay over $100 bucks for seats though - for any artist.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006 10:29:00 PM  
Blogger b1-66er said...

fair 'nough. thanks for readin'.

Thursday, October 19, 2006 12:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just purchased tickets for the
"Aussie" Tour..(Melbourne)..
Found your review of interest!
Guess its difficult not to be
looking for those lasers and
David Gilmour but its the
nearest i.ll get to a Floyd
concert since 1988.....

Friday, October 27, 2006 6:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your review was interesting, i dunno why you could just say you enjoyed it though. I don't think there are many thing better you could have done with your time. Bad seats = bad sound.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006 12:22:00 AM  
Anonymous James said...

Thanks for your excellent and thoughtful write-up! I did notice an error in your reference to "The Final Cut" album, it's in fact "A Requiem for the Post War Dream".
Also, you state that tDSotM has no anti-war sentiment. To that, I suggest you check out "Us and Them". For a guy who's looking for holes in RW's production of the album, it appears as if you could know the material a bit better yourself. Thanks again for a nice read, I hope to catch RW live this summer and will pay for the best seats I can afford. It'll probably be the only chance I get to see Mr. Waters live, and it'll be well worth it to me even if it's his worst effort ever.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 2:27:00 PM  
Blogger b1-66er said...

I just stumbled across this and re-read it for the 1st time since I wrote it all those years ago...

here's the catch: at shoreline, the majority of the seats ARE lawn. so if you use your theorem, the majority of people will get bad sound...

I completely reject that idea. a concert, first and foremost, is a musical experience. AND being outdoors means you don't have to worry about echo or boom. even if you ignore the ticket price (and you shouldn't), sound shouldn't be bad.

also, I spoke to several people in the fancy seats after I wrote this...the show was NOT done in quadraphonic.

it's waters who is the bragger, not me...he just asks me for my money. if you talk the talk, you've gotta walk the walk...and he didn't.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 4:11:00 PM  

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