It's unlikely that any rock 'n' roll roadie works as hard as Roger Waters' roadies. Last night in Toronto -- on the first of three dates kicking off the former Pink Floyd singer's globe-spanning, 30th anniversary 'The Wall Live' tour -- they slowly and steadily constructed a massive, non-metaphorical wall across the Air Canada Centre stadium stage until, by intermission, the band was now completely hidden behind it. And after repleting up the rafters with crashing fighter planes, flying pigs and grotesque three-story tall animatronic puppets, they eventually send that wall a-tumblin' down at the climax of Waters' triumphant return performance.
Several generations have now grown up with Pink Floyd's 1979 magnum opus, chanting that they don't need no education, attending laser light shows, crowding Midnight Madness screenings of the Alan Parker film and listening to the prog-rock double-album epic in their bedrooms with the lights off. Needless to say, for all the many acts who have taken to playing full album concerts in recent years, few have boasted full albums quite as impactful as 'The Wall.' Waters may not be Pink Floyd, but given the '70s legends ongoing irreconcilable differences, there's somewhat more enjoyment in watching a black hoodie-clad Waters front an anonymous Floyd cover band than, say, seeing David Gilmour play Pink Floyd karaoke. Though to be fair, it did take a full four players to replace Gilmour's contributions onstage, including uneven vocalist Robbie Wyckoff who often faltered on Gilmour's lines, though the crowd often helpfully out-sang him.
What made Waters' state-of-the-art 'The Wall Live' resurrection work so well was that it was ultimately about the album, not the man who wrote it or the men who performed it. But the big question that surrounded the tour lead-up was, Does 'The Wall' still matter? Its core story of youthful alienation -- sparked by the band's dissociation from its fanbase once it reached stadium-size -- certainly continues to reach out to new and old listeners alike. As for the album's additional themes of nationalism, fascism, corporatism and war, they may not ring quite as powerfully as when Waters last performed it on the collapsed husk of the Berlin Wall itself. But the new images from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and other global hotspots that Waters added to the familiar ones from the album art and cult film make clear that wars certainly haven't stopped being fought, revolutions haven't stopped being quashed and soldiers and civilians haven't stopped dying. This was emphasized by the crowd's roar of support that accompanied the slogan "Bring the Boys Back Home" during 'Vera.'
Waters also made sure to mix old-school sloganeering (Big Brother is Watching You) with new ones (iProfit) and the animated planes dropped bombs made up of Shell Gas and Mercedes-Benz logos alongside the old communist, capitalist and Christian and Jewish symbols. The other question was, How well does Waters hold up? Almost creepily well, actually. At 67, his vocals are shockingly similar to those on the album as they mourn and marvel at the mysteries and inequities of life. 'The Wall' is really purpose-built for this kind of performance -- the double-album is perfect concert length and the songs are confident enough to take their time to set scenes and establish moods as with more traditional theatrical productions.
It was also conceived as a complete piece, so while the Toronto crowds certainly sang along loudest to the album's breakout hits -- 'Another Brick in the Wall (Part II),' which included a chorus of lip-syncing schoolchildren and giant professor puppet; 'Mother,' featuring a sky-high maternal puppet glowering down as Waters sang the acoustic number (marred by an early microphone flub); and 'Comfortably Numb,' performed high atop the now-constructed wall -- there was no feeling of impatience through the lower-key songs. That was equally due, of course, to the unceasing spectacle of the concert, which also involved mind-blowing digital animation projected upon the wall itself, beloved scenes from the movie (marching hammers, anal judge, fornicating flowers) and astounding use of surround sound.
By the end, the crowd, ecstatic that the performance had actually met their sky-high expectations, began chanting "Tear down the wall," until the wall did collapse upon the stage as if it, and the album itself, were alongside Waters taking their own well-deserved bows. http://www.spinner.com/2010/09/16/rogers-waters-the-wall-live-tour-toront/