- 28 Jun 18
A Highly Politicised Visual Extravaganza Is Enough To Convince Even A Non-Believer Like Pat Carty On The Second Night Of Waters' Stop At North Wall Quay
The continued popularity of Pink Floyd’s music is an odd thing when you think about it. Take a look at the business end of any ‘best-selling albums of all time’ list. Michael Jackson wants you to dance, AC/DC want you to rock, The Eagles want to sell you sunshine, I’m still not sure what Meatloaf wants to do to you, but Pink Floyd? The four albums that Roger Waters will draw mostly from tonight – The Dark Side of The Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall – deal in the futility of modern life, madness (there’s a lot of madness), death, the shitty end of capitalism, George Orwell, and an opera about a depressed and violent rock star, all sung to a soundtrack of extended instrumental pieces and, that old pop favourite, musique concrète. You don’t find much of any of that on Thriller. On the other hand, these are themes that are almost laughably in tune with where we find ourselves in 2018: aren’t we all just hanging on in quiet desperation?
There’s a snatch of ‘Speak To Me’ before things begin properly with ‘Breathe’. Right from the get-go the sound is hugely impressive, even where we’re seated, well up and to the right – it’s just not my week for tickets. Waters isn’t even singing yet: all the old Dave Gilmour parts will be taken tonight by Californian wunderkind Jonathan Wilson (buy his great album, Rare Birds), helped out by the brilliant backing vocals of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, who, with their platinum blonde bobs, remind you of something Harrison Ford might have been shooting at in Blade Runner. The suitably cosmic visuals start out space, before what appears to be a giant pinball – ok, a sphere – is seen hovering over London. Deep. Probably.
‘One Of These Days’ from Meddle was never much of a song to begin with, but it gives Waters an excuse for some bass noodling, and if there’s anything better than one bass guitar, it’s two of them. The visuals are now of urban decay, and a supermarket. Capitalism and consumerism are wrong (but thanks for buying the ticket).
There’s a flood of red and green light across the hall, a storm of light before a myriad alarm bells ring to introduce ‘Time’; the backing singers are now beating floor toms before the first of tonight’s glorious guitar solos from Dave Kilminster. Things get even better with a spine-tingling ‘The Great Gig In the Sky’: the shared vocals from Wolfe and Laessig are easily the equal of Clare Tory’s original warbling. Worth the price of admission on its own.
The pinball/sphere has now gone back to space before cracking open to reveal a jagged landscape with some sort of crawling machine. There’s a lot of things to love about 1975’s Wish You Were Here, but the fat keyboard dirge of ‘Welcome To The Machine’ is not one of them. The Storm Thorgerson-esqe visuals go into (interstellar) overdrive – rat skeletons run along pipes, then some poor fella’s head gets chopped off and decomposes, obelisks rise from rivers of blood, the blood becomes a mass of writhing hands. I’m glad I refused Sam Snort’s offer to “drop a few” back at the office so we could get “the full experience.” Then the sphere returns and drops down on it all like, as my companion Ms. Kane caustically points out, the Monty Python boot. Mind you, it does sound fantastic, as the audio bounces around the room at the end.
It’s time then for the “new” section, three songs from Waters’ recently fairly well received Is This The Life We Really Want? ‘Déjà vu’ is pleasant enough. Waters first imagines the better job he could have done if he were God, and then he’s a drone over foreign skies, set against a backdrop of the infrared bombing footage that have been everywhere since the first Gulf war. ‘The Last Refugee’, built on a beat borrowed from Bowie’s ‘Five Years’, has a gentle beauty, as the sad, all too familiar story, plays out on the screen behind him. ‘Picture This’ attempts to hammer home the state of the world message with “fucking this” and “fucking that”, so let me respond in kind: it’s not a very fucking good song. Waters will later thank us for singing along in this section, and I’m sure many did, but a lot of people where I was used it as an excuse to hit the bar. Mind you, it’s unfair to call Waters out on this, as it happens at every heritage act show when something recent is wheeled out.
Almost as a reward for getting through the new, ‘Wish You Were Here’ is fantastic. Waters' voice is rougher than Gilmour’s, but it might actually better suit the song. The guitars are perfect and the crowd roar out every word, especially that magnificent chorus.
From the sublime to the ridiculous: I must confess that I have never managed to make it all the way through The Wall, if you’ll excuse the unfortunate pun. The spotlights into the audience as ‘The Happiest Days Of Our Lives’ begins are genuinely exciting, but the appeal of ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ has always been lost on me. We don’t need no education? Yes, we do actually, now more than ever. A group of local children take to the stage in orange jump-suits with hoods, before stripping them back to reveal the message “Resist” on each t-shirt and joining in for the familiar refrain, moving in time to the music, taking instructions from prompters just in front of the stage. I get what this is trying to say, and no one could argue with the message, but it smacks a bit too much of The Billie Barry Kids for my liking.
After a proper theatrical-style intermission, the backdrop becomes Battersea Power Station for the Animals section. There’s some really beautiful playing throughout ‘Dogs’ including some twin harmony guitar passages that one Philip Parris Lynott would smile and nod at, but it does go on a bit as the Zoo TV style messages flash in the background: “We are living in a dystopian nightmare”, “No one is more enslaved than those who think themselves free”. Subtle is not the word that comes to mind as the power station heads off into space, but ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’ leaves subtle far behind in the rear view mirror. At one point the band sit around quaffing champagne in pig masks, with various images of Trump on the screen behind them. If the message still isn’t getting through, Waters holds up placards saying “Fuck The Pigs” as various Trump quotes flash behind him. Again, we all agree with the intent, as any right thinking person must, but not for the first or last time tonight, I speculate that if Bono did this, he’d be laughed out the door. Anyway, never mind all that, the inflatable pig is floating over the crowd, all the better to distract you from a talk box solo going on in the background that even Peter Frampton would have flinched at.
‘Money’ gets a rapturous reception before the beautiful rolling chords and saxophone of ‘Us And Them’, with the spectacular lift when the backing vocals come up. The recent ‘Smell The Roses’ seems a bit shoe-horned in before the swell of the Hammond organ in ‘Brain Damage’ provides one of the highlights, as the lasers create a 3D pyramid above the crowd and the pinball/sphere from earlier is now floating around the room. It is all undeniably spectacular as the band segue into ‘Eclipse’ and it earns a very well deserved standing ovation. Waters is obviously moved and lets us know that he’d expect nothing less from a Dublin crowd, telling us the story of driving from Belfast to Cork in the early Floyd days, only to be stopped by a policeman who cautions him to slow down in case a child or a drunk might step into the street, Waters tickled by the fact that he’s in a country that cares as much for drunks as it does for children.
Before he finishes, he makes another, more heartfelt, speech about the Occupied Territories Bill, due to come up before the Seanad very shortly, and, as Steve Wall commented after the show, “even if one hundred people emailed their TDs as a result, that would be a great thing.” And indeed it would. There’s been a few times tonight where I felt I was getting hit over the head with “the message” but there’s no doubting that Waters heart is in the right place, and he means what he says, and that’s to be applauded.
Just like the night before, we get a ragged but affecting version of ‘Danny Boy’, before the show finishes out with a soaring, epic shot at ‘Comfortably Numb’ – which has the arena on its feet in near ecstasy.
As you can probably tell, if you’ve made it this far, I’ve never been much of Floyd man, and I’m sure some of Waters' more ardent admirers have probably thrown whatever device they were reading this on out the window long before this point. I heard comments describing it as one of the best shows ever seen. I certainly wouldn’t go that far, but there was plenty to love, even for a non-fan like me. The money was up there on the screen, the band were incredible, and Waters, unlike many of his going through-the-motions peers, still very much has something to say.