Tuesday, September 21, 2010

All in All, Roger Waters Reconstructs a Solidly Entertaining 'Wall' - Concert Review: Roger Waters: The Wall Live in Chicago

Concert Review

Roger Waters: The Wall Live
Monday, September 20, 2010
United Center, Chicago
(Performances also 9/21, 23, 24)

We all have differing opinions about what constitutes quality, worthwhile entertainment. But to be fairly obvious, any performance that's enjoyable enough to justify the money and time we spent seeing it would seem to qualify.

And by that measure Roger Waters: The Wall Live--celebrating (and cashing in on) the 30th anniversary of the landmark Pink Floyd album for which Waters was the chief creative force and primary singer--was more than sufficiently satisfying. If you're thinking of trying to catch one of the three remaining performances at Chicago's United Center this week (Ticketmaster link), or when The Wall hits your town, there is no reason why you shouldn't, especially as you're just as apt to enjoy it from $55 seats as from the $250 seats. (In fact, an usher came by and said that we could move from the upper-300 level to the 200 level, and we didn't take him up.)

For with the 67-year-old Waters supported by an anonymous band--though I think one of the guitarists was G.E. Smith, the old Saturday Night Live musical director--replicating the sound of Pink Floyd, appreciating  the visual spectacle and sonic flashbacks certainly didn't require being up close and personal.

Photo credit: Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune
And as a seminal album from my youth was reproduced reasonably well live on stage--not that I would've been old enough to go in 1980, but the very limited original Wall tour never came to Chicago--with Waters sounding roughly like his old self, a stand-in for David Gilmour covering his vocal parts sufficiently in limited doses and an actual wall going up, and being torn down, before my eyes, I was much more delighted than not, even if the show won't rank as one of my all-time best.

Knowing going in that Waters would be playing The Wall in its entirety, and nothing else, I didn't expect a whole lot of spontaneity (here's the setlist for those who don't know the album by heart). And while I can't say I've ever fully grasped the profundity of Waters' rock-star-craving-isolation epic, I liked that he brought the album's anti-war messaging more to the fore with several blatantly compelling visuals including photos of soldiers lost in recent battles and, quite prominently, this Eisenhower quote: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed."

Modernizing the "propaganda" certainly helped make Waters' Wall reconstruction feel a bit less like pure nostalgia, nor merely a way for him to collect the kind of paychecks his former bandmates did when they continued to tour as Pink Floyd without him from the late-80s through mid-90s. If nothing else, you have to credit Waters' understanding of the marketing power of The Wall, one of the five best-selling albums ever in the U.S.   In 2007, Waters toured the states playing Dark Side of the Moon and other classic songs. Although I may have enjoyed that show better than this one, I didn't bother to go when he played a single night at the United Center. But embarking on The Wall 30th Anniversary Tour earned him 4 nights of adoring fans at the UC.

As I said up top, enjoyable entertainment is enjoyable entertainment. And if you try to remain too pure about things, you won't have anything to see.

Yes, on some level, last night's show felt wrong for not being a full Pink Floyd reunion (now impossible since keyboardist Rick Wright died in 2008), though to be fair, seeing PF without Waters in 1987 also was amiss. And yes, in large part, the fully scripted and synchronized performance came off more as theater than a buoyant, super-charged rock concert--and don't be surprised if The Wall doesn't soon become a Broadway show, with someone replicating Waters almost as effectively as his substitutes for Gilmour, et al.

But yes, it was well worth my $55 (and those in the expensive seats didn't seem to be booing either).

I loved hearing the classic tunes, I sang along, I had a great time with the friend I was with, I felt sentimental, I appreciated what Roger Waters was trying to say, I applauded, I went home happy. And thus, although it wasn't the most emotionally fulfilling concert I'll ever see, I'm certainly in no position to tear down The Wall. 

(Here are a couple clips already on YouTube. Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 and Run Like Hell.)

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