Still Angry After All These Years - Roger Waters Takes
North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand Jan 29th, 2007
From Aural Innovations #36 (May 2007)
Where to start with Roger Waters’ Auckland concert? I guess I would have to begin at least one and a half hours prior to the start of the show, since that is about the time I got there. Already the place was starting to fill up, and demand for t-shirts was just amazing; I had to wait in the crowd (it could hardly qualify as a queue!) for about 45 minutes before picking up my “underwater prism” design and it was hard to choose as all the other designs were so good. At least I had almost an hour of waiting to make my decision.
Getting seated in the platinum section, I was dead centre and a few rows back, enabling me to capture all the onstage action. On the screen backdrop was an extreme close-up of a 1940’s wireless, glass of liquor, and WWII-era model plane with cigarette smoke wafting upwards. As the sun set behind the stage, the PA played a selection of Neil Young tracks mixed with a lengthy slice of early Dylan. All good stuff I thought until suddenly the opening bars of Abba’s “Dancing Queen” blared out to a response of groans and laughter from the audience. Suddenly a huge close-up hand appeared on the screen and changed the station on the wireless to another channel with more appropriate music, and I realised that this whole sequence was a carefully planned scene-setter for the entire show. What other artist would think to gradually draw the audience in for more than an hour before taking the stage?! Over the next few minutes the giant hand reappeared, lazily pouring a drink and relighting a cigarette while Vera Lynn-style music played over the PA and the sense of anticipation in the audience reached breaking point. Then, in a pyrotechnic shower of sparks that would have done his old band proud, Roger and his backing group took the stage and launched into his ultimate set-opener “In The Flesh!” to a roar of appreciation from the sold-out stadium. Recreating the demented screams of the original album version, Waters prowled around the stage with an air of menace that would put to shame rockers less than half his age, while remorseless hammers marched across the screen. By the end of that first number, the crowd was on their feet, roaring approval in scenes reminiscent of “The Wall” itself!
After that devastating opener, Roger and his band, all of whom seemed well chosen for both their amazing technical ability and understated appearance (yes, even Dave Kilminster) as appropriate for this elder statesman of rock, brought things down to earth with a beautiful rendition of “Mother”, alternating verse/chorus vocals with his trio of female backing vocalists Katie Kissoon, PP Arnold and the stunning Carol Kenyon. Roger had a glint in his eye as he wryly shook his head for the line “Mother, should I trust the president?”. Then it was time for the spacerock masterwork “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”, still devastating after all these years. As the screen showed close-up solar shots and liquid lights from the early days of the underground it became clear that there was some kind of malfunction with Snowy White’s guitar, and Dave Kilminster had to step in with a belated solo to cover for his silent co-guitarist. Roger momentarily stopped the show as sound technicians worked to rectify the problem, and then started again at opening bars of the freakout spacerock section, where the ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist and long-time Pink Floyd sideman delivered a devastating assault on his Les Paul, before a return to the quiet fadeout. Roger laughingly apologised for the break and then added, “It was worth waiting for though, wasn’t it?”. No arguments from this section!
A cheer went up from the crowd as we were spellbound by the opening notes of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, and as Roger sang the lines of aching loss for his departed friend, the screen showed pictures of Syd taken from his halcyon days with the Floyd. A rain of bubbles descended on the crowd as if to symbolise Barrett’s beauty and fragility; a moment like this could have been appallingly cheesy in other hands, but was deeply moving on this evening. Silent promotional clips from ‘60’s gems “Arnold Layne” and “The Scarecrow” flashed by onscreen, along with a heart-rending shot of Syd slowly walking away into the trees.
Next up was the balls-to-the-wall rocker “Have A Cigar”, Roger using the funky rhythm to show that his bass chops are still in fine form. Various fansites have debated that he may have been lip-synching to this and one or two other tracks on this tour, since his 60 year old vocal chords can’t reach the high notes any more; however, I was pretty close and I couldn’t see any evidence of it from where I was sitting. As he snarled the immortal line, “Oh by the way, which one’s Pink?”, I had to fight off an urge to shout back, “You are!!!!!”, before Kilminster ripped out another stinging guitar solo. The “Wish You Were Here” suite closed with the title track from that album as Roger and the band again brought us gently down to earth for a short acoustic based section. The gentleness of the music belied the fury behind anti-war gems “Southampton Dock” and “The Fletcher Memorial Home”, the screen backdrops showing images highlighting how the names may have changed in the 25 years since “The Final Cut” was released, but the politics and fighting remain the same.
Continuing the political theme, we were next treated to “Perfect Sense (parts one and two)”, one of only two tracks presented from Waters’ underrated solo career. As the descending keyboard riff played, the inflatable astronaut (absent from the Christchurch concert due to strong winds) drifted high above the stage and a sample of Hal’s disconnection scene from “2001” played over the PA. Carol Kenyon took lead vocals for most of part one, before Roger, having put down his bass, passionately exhorted the crowd to sing along, miming the “sports stadium submarine missile launch” scene while appropriate graphics screened behind him. This was followed by a short statement of intent from Waters as an introduction to his autobiographical “Leaving Beirut”. As Roger sang about the effects of the fighting on that war-torn city’s civilian population, bleak comic strip graphics were shown on the screen of his teenage experiences hitchhiking through the middle-east in the early 1960’s. It was a deeply moving moment, even for the majority of the crowd who had never heard the internet-only release of this song.
The political section and the whole of the first half was closed with an ear-battering rendition of the “Animals” classic “Sheep”. At this point, the inflatable pig hovered above the crowd, painted with familiar and new slogans, including Tinorangitiratunga (a slogan from the Maori Sovereignty movement). While it may be somewhat naive of Waters to place comment on New Zealands’ political and race issues after arriving in the country just days ago, I was amazed that he would have even taken the effort to make himself aware that such issues existed. As Roger spat out the final verse, the pig was released into the North Shore sky, and dive-bombing dual guitar riffs roared across the stadium. After it was over, the band left the stage, promising to return in ten minutes for “Dark Side Of The Moon”.As the second set began, the heartbeat of “Speak To Me” accelerated into frantic high-pitched screaming as an on-screen satellite rushed towards the crowd and the band broke into “Breathe”. David Gilmour being disinclined to join his former bandmate on tour, many of the “Dark Side” vocal duties were handled by keyboard player Jon Carin (a man who has played on both sides of Pink Floyd’s wall) and the female vocal trio. The proto-techno “On The Run” was up next, Graham Broad playing live cymbals as the images and explosive samples rushed by, accompanied by an electronic riff that made all previous version look and sound tame.
Broad again showcased his percussion skills for the rototom introduction of “Time”, which was accompanied by the classic onscreen visuals from the 1970’s during the vocal sections. Roger himself took harmony vocals for the bridge sections, while the guitar solo was a brilliant note-for-note reconstruction of the original stellar passage. Then the reprised “Breathe” coda led to a moment of hushed reverent silence as Roger’s son Harry Waters picked out the haunting piano introduction to “The Great Gig In The Sky”. Until now, I have never heard a version of this heartstopping piece of music that could stand against the original studio version, but Carol Kenyon’s alternately orgasmic shrieking and terrifying whimpers were a truly uplifting experience, streets ahead of the lame version on the “Pulse” DVD. It was truly a religious experience and hard to blink back the tears.
Dave Kilminster took lead vocals for the stage favourite “Money” followed by a Carin/Waters duet for “Us And Them” which was accompanied by pyrotechnics and more vintage screen footage from the seventies. Ian Ritchie’s saxophone solo was another faithful recreation of the original, and the final verse was followed by an ultra-funky take on “Any Colour You Like”, Waters holding down the bottom end with powerful bass playing. As the show neared its climax, “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” were sung by Roger with heartfelt emotion, images of current political figures flashing onscreen to accompany the lines “all you hate” and “all you destroy”. The crowd responded to the final moments with a lengthy standing ovation that lasted until the band returned to the stage for a “Wall”-themed encore. The furious assault of “The Happiest Days Of Our Lives” segued into “Another Brick In The Wall (part two)”, which had the entire stadium chanting along before Snowy White and Ian Kilminster traded guitar solos in an extended outro. The medley of “Vera” and “Bring The Boys Back Home” was both majestic and uplifting, and served as a prologue to the grand finale that is “Comfortably Numb”. As the final twin guitar attack rang out across stadium, the screen shot pulled to show the room and man from the opening frames of the performance slowly spiralling away into space, in a brilliantly conceived finale to the concert.
The evening was definitely a triumph for Roger Waters and his band, and made me realise why he has left the sequence of song unchanged from last year. This was no mere concert, more like a theatrical production with every note and aspect of the multi-sensory production planned down to the last detail. It is always tempting to say that the most recent concert I have attended is the “best one”. However, if I never saw live show after this I would die a happy man.