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Roger Waters -- The Wall Live in Los Angeles: Concert Review

Roger Waters The Wall Coliseum - H 2012
Chris Godley

The Bottom Line

An entertaining and memorable extravaganza in which music and performance cede the spotlight to stunning visuals and sonics. 

Venue

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Saturday, May 19)

The ambitious show refocuses the 1979 Pink Floyd album as an overt political statement amid vivid imagery and technical wizardry.

Roger Waters has created the rarest type of stadium concert: one where the seats farthest from the stage are as good as any. But calling The Wall Live a “concert” is something of a misnomer. It’s an experience.

That’s because this show has to be taken as a whole, rather than just watched and/or listened to. Visually stunning and sonically astounding, the mega-production is sheer spectacle – rock concert as performance art. There really isn’t anything to compare it against.

Therein lies something of a conundrum: It’s an impressive, immersive, ambitious show that must be seen to be described -- but was it a great concert?

Yes, with a few qualifiers.

Saturday’s show at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum certainly was memorable; its indelible images – including faces of military and civilian war victims dating to World War I -- and utter scope all but assure that. The familiar songs were performed flawlessly by an ace band that mostly replicated the album, with a few tweaks. But the music is so entirely secondary as to be borderline inconsequential. Whether that’s a problem is strictly personal preference.

With so much to look at, the singer is no longer the focus, which makes it easier to please a giant crowd. U2’s recent tour, for example, boasted the largest stage set ever constructed, but Bono still had to engage the throng. Waters really doesn’t, and he knows it. As he sang, he sometimes resorted to near-pantomime and air drumming, the latter once embarrassingly offbeat.

To his credit, the 68-year-old Brit is in good shape and was in terrific voice when he was featured, especially during “One of My Turns” and “Run Like Hell.” The radio-staple latter cut was much meatier than on record, really the only time the music not only trumped the visuals but overwhelmed them.

VIDEO: Rare Pink Floyd Footage Mesmerizes on Vevo

The erstwhile Pink Floyd frontman has refocused The Wall – tied for third-best-selling album in U.S. history by the RIAA’s standards – into an overtly political statement. Much of the nuance and ambiguity about the dangers of conformity and blind faith (and blind trust) takes a back seat to anti-war sentiment and government distrust. Those whose interpretation of the 1979 double album focused on the wall between rock star and audience must have felt slighted. Maybe Waters sees that an anachronism in the age of social media.

Whatever his motivation, he made the decision to go all-in, and the show reflects it.

The projected imagery is vivid -- often grotesque and abhorrent, sometimes festive and exhilarating, occasionally disturbing or borderline seditious. An example of the latter: The “bombs” deployed from warplanes in “Goodbye Blue Sky” included symbols of governments (hammer and sickle), religions (Stars of David), financial oppression (dollar signs) and open-to-analysis (the McDonald’s Golden Arches). There also was animation familiar from the 1982 movie of The Wall: the marching hammers, the fighting/fornicating flowers, etc.

All the while, during the first half, bricks fill in the wall, which spans nearly 500 feet.

Saturday’s performance got off to a rocky start, when Waters abruptly halted the production during “The Thin Ice” because of a technical problem. “We’re gonna figure out why that mic is not on,” he told the crowd, “then we’re gonna do that verse again because I want to sing it.” He conversed with unseen staffers and, after about five minutes, restarted the song. Following the dramatic and attention-getting opening, it was jarring but excusable.

Along with all the eye candy, there certainly were musical highlights, which predictably – despite the “Thin Ice” mishap – included all of Side 1. The helicopter sound effect in “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” was chilling as it crept up from behind and got louder before it “settled” in front. A group of local kids was trotted onstage to yell along with the No. 1 pop single “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II),” to which a non-album acoustic coda was added. And “Mother,” among the record’s most affecting songs, was a joyous/ominous show-stopper. It featured projected sound and video of Waters performing the song live in London in 1980. He played along on acoustic guitar as he invited the crowd to watch “poor, miserable, f---ed up Roger from all those years ago.”

Many folks were seen shaking their heads at the beginning of intermission.

Later, a clanging cowbell introduced “Young Lust,” which followed “What Shall We Do Now?” – a track that was cut from the album at the eleventh hour but has been part of subsequent live performances. “Waiting for the Worms” began with sparkling Beach Boys-like harmonies – supplied by Pat, Mark and Kipp Lennon of the veteran L.A. band Venice -- and its middle section channeled The Doors’ “Five to One,” much more so than on record.

It was all quite thrilling, but -- like the album -- the second half didn’t match the first. Regardless, if this is to be the template for future stadium extravaganzas, the bar undoubtedly has been set. But that’s doubtful, really, because it’s likely that few acts have the wherewithal (let alone the money, motivation and popularity) to attempt anything like it.

That alone made this show – this concert – a singular experience.