Roger Waters The Wall is possibly the most well-crafted show experience I’ve ever seen.
And as the lights went down at AT&T Park on Friday night, and even though I knew exactly what was coming, I was still filled with awe at the sheer size and scope of the stage set before me. There was an enormous white brick wall spanning the entire outfield. There were tall and ominous lighting effects towers scattered throughout the infield. There was a massive stage equipped with a myriad of guitars, synths, microphone stands, and theatrical A/V screens. One might expect such a showcase to be part of a gaudy production like Cirque Du Soleil, but this was not a show with any actors, cover songs, or guest appearances. This was going to be The Wall: the first truly great rock opera dedicated to one man’s obsession with daddy issues and a deep distrust for the world he grew up in.
I’d paid for the cheap seats and happily stood in the upper left section of the stands as the first rumblings of sound started petering out of the massive speaker array. These noises were met by another set of sounds emanating from the center of the grandstands behind home plate. I soon realized this show was going to have full-on theatrical surround sound. And then, in a chaotic burst of guitar chords exactly like the opening seconds of the album, the ball park was quickly hurtled at The Wall. “In The Flesh” had just exploded into my brain and there was Roger Waters, in a leather trench coat embossed with his shiny black Britania hammers, belting out the first few lines much as a dictator would, heaping a hefty dose of doom onto this subjects. The band didn’t miss a note, and the pyrotechnics were incredible. Sparks flew, hammers marched, banners unfurled and, at the end of the song (when on the album you hear the noises of fighter plans soaring), an actual prop plane descended from a zip line and crashed into part of the expansive white wall with a burst of fire and flames. The stadium shuddered and shook as Mr. Waters shrieked “roll the sound effects!” And it was at this moment I stared to see how much of the wall would be used as a projection screen for the rest of the show. The wall became a broad canvas to showcase the most brilliant and perfectly edited music video imaginable. Some scenes were pre-shot but blended seamlessly with Waters’ choreography. And it was all in HD. And it looked great.
As the flames died down the band had already begun its descent into the bleak blackness of “The Thin Ice.” This is one of my favorite songs on Disc 1 and it was sung beautifully by Mr. Waters. The band continued to play seamlessly between songs, evoking the exact notes and timbre of the album. And, as is true with the first few songs, they move at a quickened pace and soon we found ourselves listening to the first notes of “Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 1″ and watching a gorgeous video on the large screen. It looked as though we were flying just above a red ocean while images of soldiers and young boys flashed across the screens. Roger Waters had left the spotlight to join his band and allow the audience to soak up the imagery they were splashing across the outfield.
Another Brick bled into “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” before plunging back into the iconic riff of “Another Brick In The Wall pt. 2.” The stage was soon joined by a group of young children who helped chant the most famous line of the entire album, “We don’t need no education.” The set even featured a larger-than-life blow up effigy of Mr. Hammer himself as popularized in first animated sequence of The Wall: The Movie. There were three lead guitarists who all got a shot at David Gilmore’s solo. Most fans knew every note of the solo and you could tell they were not disappointed as they all sung along in unison to the now classic arpeggios. The whole stadium was rocking; and Roger Water stood in stage center with his hands above his head reveling in the synergy he had created. But as the song began to wind down Mr. Waters appeared in the center of the stage with an acoustic guitar and proceeded to strum a slowed down reprise to Another Brick which, in my opinion, took away from the momentum of the show and landed rather awkwardly. It lasted only a few minutes and soon ended at which point the audience was greeted with the first real pause of the show. Roger Waters took a moment to say thank you to everyone and to remind us all that he used to be a “miserable young fuck.” Then Mr. Waters proceeded to explain that he was going to play a video clip from a live performance of The Wall from Earl’s Court in London in 1980. And not only would he play the entire clip, he would sing along with his younger self! I witnessed a near 70 year old man singing a duet with his 40 year old self. It was beautiful, and no holograms necessary: sorry Tupac.
The white wall itself, which had started out missing its middle section so as to reveal the band playing on stage, had slowly been re-built during the first set. Each song brought with it new bricks that eventually blocked out the band entirely, creating one large expansive white wall. It was very pleasing to watch, and gave an organic feel to the progression of the show. “Goodbye Blue Sky” and “Empty Spaces” featured some excellent animation across the white wall. Some of it was plucked directly from sequences in the movie and some were new. The songs were played very well and as they bled into the opening riffs of “Young Lust” I knew there were only a few more minutes left in the first set.
The darkness after Young Lust is indicative of the period in the storyline where Pink begins his descent into loneliness and alienation. He is being thrown away, and pushed outside the wall. One Of My Turns, Don’t Leave Me Now, Another Brick In The Wall pt.3, and Goodbye Cruel World move along in a languid lolling of despair peppered with loud shrieks and BLAMS as Water’s character development begins to show the downsides of fame and addiction. “I have a collect call from Mrs. Floyd to Mr. Floyd, will you accept the charges?” No, Roger. No one is there for you. The wall, now with all bricks in place and all the musicians now hidden behind it, fades to black.
I heard “Hey You” from inside the stadium as I was stuck in a long line for the bathrooms, “STAND STILL LADDY!” So I can’t comment accurately on it. “Is There Anybody Out There?,” “Nobody Home,” “Vera,” and “Bring The Boys Back Home” all held very true to the original album and were accompanied by imagery from The Wall: The Movie. These songs have always, for me, been a precursor to the enigmatic and deeply dramatic “Comfortably Numb.” The version at AT&T Park brought with it the most fantastic visual effects of the evening. The wall, now fully built, had been showcasing beautiful psychedelic images of bricks, lasers, war, graffiti, and chaos. All alone, running back and forth across the stage, was Mr. Waters. Holding his hands up, “like two balloons,” Waters desperately pounded his fists on wall until the wall broke apart and revealed a bright rainbow of color and light. As the bricks went cascading away into oblivion, it looked as though his fists had opened up a portal into a colorful world of Rainbow Sherbet. It was an awesome effect; I could imagine all the dish-eyed people in the audience opening wide to receive their dessert.
“The Show Must Go On” started to bring me back into reality, and Waters slipped out of view. I felt drained; and a little drunk. I felt like I was sitting in a bunker outside the wall waiting for the worms to come. After [I assume] a quick wardrobe change Waters re-appeared on stage dressed once again in his militaristic Britania hammers. The reprise of “In The Flesh” brought some energy back into the ball park. They brought back the pyrotechnics, they brought back the hammers, and they brought back the despotic aura of intolerance that plagued the first act of the show. Once again Pink was on top, brandishing his unique browless brand of fascism. “That one is Jewish! That one’s a coon! Who let this riff raff into the room?” I’m sure, given the chance, he would have answered that question with another question, “Are there any paranoids in the audience this evening?” Good question Roger. “Run Like Hell” was great. It got the juices flowing again after the 6 minute lull following “Comfortably Numb.” Then, before “The Trial,” comes a brief segment composed of two quick songs: “Waiting For The Worms” and “Stop.” There were some excellent visual effects during the former. We watched as slimy red tendrils crept all over the white wall, life-like at first and then morphing into cartoons.
I have a special place in my heart for the final song on The Wall. It was the most profound moment for me when I first watched The Wall: The Movie. I’d listened to the album many times before seeing the film and was proud to see a very close approximation of what was in my head coming to animated clarity on screen. And to see it again on such a large scale was very moving. The white wall played the same animations from The Wall: The Movie and added a few new tricks of its own. My one criticism was that it became obvious to me they were playing the recording from the album. There was not a live band playing The Trial on Friday night. I can understand it being hard to tour with a stringed ensemble, and given that the actual band was already fully blocked by a white wall it was the perfect time to pipe in a recording, but it still didn’t feel right. Not to say I didn’t enjoy it. It just felt flat.
What happened next? Should I give it away?
The wall blew up.
The sides that had been built up before you got the show were still there except for the swath in the middle, where you’d watched the band disappear as they laid the bricks, had been blown to smithereens. And all was quiet. And soon a light came on and you could see the entire band standing Outside The Wall. Roger Waters was dressed in a t shirt. They all had brass instruments and began to play the final piece, “some hand in hand and some gathered together in bands.”
To be sure, the songs were played a little more slowly than their original recordings. And the background singers weren’t turned up enough in the mix and a few times the momentum on stage fell flat where it should have been elevated by a chorus of voices. And the stadium was just so big that you could hear the slap-back of Roger Water’s voice echoing off the far reaches of the upper deck. And of course there was gratuitous politicizing and lecturing from Mr. Waters; the occasional “fuck the government” flashing across the white wall, or a naked woman rubbing oil on her breasts (not that I minded – just saying). There was maybe a little too much raving and drooling and pontificating at points. After all, Roger Waters is not known to be subtle. And the “intermission” led to such long lines for the bathrooms that I missed Hey You. But you could tell he was having a great time. Dare I say it looks like he might love performing again? Even as I left the stadium I couldn’t stop re-playing all the amazing images and scenes that had been shown to me. Much as I used to listen to The Wall I was gripped with a desire to hit rewind, or reset the record, or replay it on my iPod, and do it all over again. And I find solace in that. It’s a telling trait, and a comment on human nature: after The Trial of life we all end up Outside The Wall, ready to follow the worms, and willing go back for more because, honestly, “How can you have any pudding, if you don’t eat your meat?”