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BusinessUnstill Waters

Unstill Waters

Unstill Waters

Photos by Dan Nawrocki


The last time Roger Waters walked out onto the stage inside the Canadian Tire Centre he brought with him 35’6” high wall. Out came exploding airplanes, giant inflatable school masters and, of course, an enormous floating pig.

All in all it was just bricks in The Wall. 424 of them to be exact. While the one time Pink Floyd member’s Us + Them Tour doesn’t carry the same grandiosity as his last solo outing (even if it does maintain the flying pig), it did bring along one holdover: politics. Waters’ update to the band's legendary recording gave the musician a familiar yet also fresh pulpit upon which to examine the remnants of war, lack of trust in government and police misconduct. Now, a few years later, the 73 year-old bassist had a new statement to make and he did it the way he knows best: with stunning visuals set to a hypnotic soundtrack drenched in classic rock glory.

“Strobe lights will be used during tonight’s performance” warnings were taped up on the arena entrances and if you didn’t know that you probably shouldn’t have been there. Even a fledgling Pink Floyd cover band (we're looking at you Comfortably Numb - Canada's Pink Floyd Show) knows that you got to have the laser light experience along with the tunes, various visuals and lots of smoke. But there was first a soothing calm before the sensory storm in the form of a woman displayed on the mammoth screen behind the stage. She sat on a welcoming sandy beach gazing off towards forever nestled in an infinite sea of blue.

Then that sky turned red.
Then the delicate sound of thunder.

So you thought you might like to go to the show? Those who had seen him before braced themselves. We knew what was about to hit us. For the others? They would soon discover that calling a Roger Waters performance a concert would be like calling a Botticelli just a painting. No, this is high (some higher than others) art, theatre that immerses you, holds you just on the edge but never lets you quite go over it.

For two-and-a-half hours you would be in the court of a master showman and he would begin the experience with a few of his greatest tricks. Though the show would reach heavily into Pink Floyd’s back catalogue, Dark Side of the Moon would be the canvass most heavily culled from. This reviewer may have never seen the band in their prime but (with all apologies to Gilmour and crew) it’s hard to believe these songs sounded any better with a 360 degree audio presentation that had you picking up nuances of sounds scattered across the arena. Oh yeah, and there were strobes. Lots of ‘em. Can’t say we weren’t warned!

Stitched onto the familiar were cuts from Waters latest releases Is This the Life We Really Want? While the new material was seamlessly weaved into the set the biggest responses came from the classics and Waters delivered them in the abundance. Backed by an (inter)stellar band that included guitarists Dave Kilminister and Jonathan Wilson taking care of the renowned guitar solos, outside of the pulsar that is Roger’s stage presence, the brightest stars on stage blazed in the form of Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe. Usually fronting their own group, Lucius, the vocalists –bedecked in sparkling shirts and matching China-doll wigs– traded ever escalating notes on “The Great Gig in the Sky”. It was mesmerizing. 

As the first set came to a close, Rogers laid the first of only a few bricks in The Wall. The rest would come in the encore but he sent fans into the intermission with the corner stone. Joining him on stage for “Another Brick in the Wall Parts 2 and 3” were students from the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa. First dressed like Guantanamo Bay prisoners, faces concealed by black hoods, the kids would rip off their orange jumpsuits as the song reached its familiar chorus.  Underneath were shirts bearing a single word: RESIST.

It was a theme that would return and one that has resonated throughout the musician's career: resistance.

Resist what?

Tweet storms? Fake news? Real news? Random hot air hurricanes blown by political Neanderthals? Maybe none of it or all of it but perhaps Waters these days has changed his tune if ever so slightly. To him, and I’m sure for most of those gathered, at least some voters last year did need some education.

The result?

Hey, White House, leave that truth alone!

If Waters served as the night's rock and roll hero it was clear who was the villain.

The first barb was thrown in the opening set. It was only a preview of coming distractions. If you were a Trump supporter you probably would be better served lingering back at the arena bar until the encore because the attack was mounting and things were about to get vicious.

“You’re not going to want to miss the start of the second set,” shouted Rogers before the break, a sentence that should have ended with about fifty exclamation points. No, oh no you wouldn’t.  

Stretching across the entire arena floor above the crowd, multiple screens were lowered and quickly transformed into the factory from the album “Animals” complete with puffing smoke stacks. The band then tore into a 20-minute merging of “Dogs” and “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”, slipping on swine masks and pausing at times to sip champagne. You didn’t need to be smacked with a sledgehammer to understand the shots at rich opulence and politicians run amok. You just had to look at those screens.

Trump with the words CHARADE and JOKER stamped across his laughing face.
Trump’s head superimposed over a pig.
Over a baby.
In the guise of a Klansman.
Sitting on the lap of Putin.
Tiny hands trying to grab them by the...well, you know the rest...

Around the arena floated a staple of any Pink Floyd show but this time the enormous blow up pig was painted with an image of Trump, eyes replaced by dollar signs, and slogans like “Piggy bank of war”. The screens then displayed a litany of damning quotes from the much maligned U.S. President. It’s not like they didn’t have enough damaging text to cull from. Really, pick a day and pick a Tweet. If Waters’ stance wasn’t clear the last statement, arriving with the combined thud of drum and bass, would make it evident:

TRUMP IS A PIG.

While this may have been met with some boos (mostly drowned out) down South, that wasn’t the case here. This segment received a standing ovation with the applause continuing for the contrasting imagery displayed of the “haves” and “have nots” during the tour's namesake song. Though there was much to ruminate upon, Waters would not leave his audience trapped in a dystopian nightmare within the total shadow of doom and gloom. The second set culminated with the uplifting climax of “Dark Side of the Moon”

“All you create…all you destroy…all that is gone…”

Overcome by emotion, Waters would wipe away a few tears before posing the opening request of “Comfortably Numb”.

“Hello, is there anybody in there? Please nod if you can hear me.”

The thunderous applause of adoration worked too. While the night closed with the beauty of the iconic Pink Floyd color prism and the return of our woman on the beach now joined by a child, both looking towards the unknown, the message of the show continued resonate long after the arena rested silent and empty:

If you’re not pissed off at the world then you’re just not paying attention.

SETLIST:

Set 1:
Speak to Me
Breathe
One of These Days
Time
Breathe (Reprise)
The Great Gig in the Sky
Welcome to the Machine
Déjà Vu
The Last Refugee
Picture That
Wish You Were Here
The Happiest Days of Our Lives
Another Brick in the Wall Part 2
Another Brick in the Wall Part 3

Set 2:
Dogs
Pigs (Three Different Ones)
Money
Us and Them
Smell the Roses
Brain Damage
Eclipse

Encore:
Mother
Comfortably Numb

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