Back in the hazy ’70s, Pink Floyd set the standard for concert production and now in his 70s Roger Waters continues to raise the bar.
In fact “concert” doesn’t even describe immersive theater experience he has created with the Us + Them tour that pulled into the PPG Paints Arena Tuesday night.
Waters kept us on edge for every minute of a two-and-a-half hour show and even during the intermission, using startling sound effects to make it seem, almost believably so, that the building was under siege.
The concert, themed around the rise of Donald Trump, came just hours after the president stood before the U.N. General Assembly and threatened another country and millions of people with total destruction, lending an additional air of immediacy to the proceedings.
Waters touched on similar anti-war, anti-capitalist themes as “The Wall” tour, which stopped here twice (most recently in 2013), but having the full reign of this catalog, including the new album, “Is This the Life We Really Want?,” made it much more of a direct hit.
We were greeted with a massive screen showing the tranquil image of woman in a parka sitting on a desolate beach with wind and oceans coming from every direction. We would see her again throughout the show, and learn of her devastating loss, on a screen that delivered all the stunning, beautiful-to-horrific imagery we’ve come to know from Waters and Floyd. Rarely has concert video been so compelling or suited to the music.
And with apologies to David Gilmour, it’s hard to remember these Floyd songs ever sounding better. Not only was the sound system crystal, he had two singer-guitarists — the familiar David Kilminster and Jonathan Wilson — in the Gilmour role, and moving to the front of the stage were Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, the ladies of Lucius, who, with their platinum bobs and synched movements, were as striking visually as they were vocally. And they are very, very striking vocally, equipped for everything the Floyd catalog throws at them and more, most notably the operatic runs on “The Great Gig in the Sky.”
Waters, at 74, hasn’t lost more than about 10 percent of his voice, and he still has a hundred percent of the edge. The vocals bouncing around between the five singers spiked the intensity of the songs, none more so than that moment on “Welcome to the Machine,” when the ladies chimed in with “It’s alright we told you what to dream!”
The first set opened with the lush space-rock of “Dark Side of the Moon” tracks “Speak to Me” and “Breathe” and quickly became more troubled with the pulsing double basses on “One of These Days.”
You’ve probably heard about new songs from classic artists being otherwise known as bathroom breaks, but the only thing that the “Is This the Life We Really Want?” songs lacked by comparison was familiarity. They echoed classic Floyd, with the acoustic “When We Were Young” reminiscent of “Pigs on the Wing” and “The Last Refugee” of “The Final Cut.”
The first shot at Trump came on the ominous “Picture That,” with Waters raging, “Picture a leader with no [expletive] brains,” a line echoed back more harshly from the rear speakers.
We’ve seen Waters trot out school kids for “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” many times before, but never with orange suits and their faces covered in black hoods. As the song’s tone became more defiant and voices grew louder, they ripped off the hoods and uniforms and dance triumphantly in shirts that said “RESIST.” He thanked the students from Pittsburgh CAPA for learning the routine at 5:30 p.m., having never received the DVD.
It was the second set that took concert production to far-out new places, with a drop of a row of screens that ran vertically down the middle of the entire arena, first carrying the image of the smoking “Animals” factory for an 18-minute version of “Dogs,” ending with the band sitting around a table in dog masks.
While a lot of artists are choosing to are shy away from the hot political situation, with “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” Waters went in with both barrels, which is probably a bad analogy. By now you’ve probably heard about the imagery: Trump in a Klan hood, on a pig’s body, as Putin’s baby and that bit with the genitalia. Then, his face painted fiendishly on the flying pig, his most fiery rhetoric plastered on the screen and, finally, in all caps across the entire arena floor: “TRUMP IS A PIG.”
If there were boos, they were drowned out by the cheers.
Waters furthered the point jumping right into “Money” (with immaculate synched solos from Wilson and Kilminster) and a moving version of “Us and Them” that hammered home the “withs” and “withouts” with powerful footage of tanks and riot police juxtaposed with the heartbreaking faces of impoverished women and children.
Waters had no intention of leaving us with dread and despair, instead taking us back to wonder by actually creating the “Dark Side” prism in lasers above the arena floor for “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse.”
“There’s a lot of love in this room…I feel it. It’s palpable,” he said. “There’s a lot of love all over America and it’s beginning to rise to the surface, I’m happy to say.”
He ended by returning to “The Wall” for “Vera,” “Bring the Boys Back Home” and “Comfortably Numb,” making the finale more a celebration than a lament with confetti, lasers and Waters down in front greeting fans while the guitarists teamed up for, basically, one of the greatest solos known to man (kudos to Gilmour).
Facing some questions about going so heavy-handed on the politics, last month Waters shot back, “Go see Katy Perry or watch the Kardashians.”
Just by chance, Pittsburghers can go see Katy Perry three days later, on Friday, in that same building. They won’t get the president on a pig — and they surely won’t get one of the most provocative, artful, mind-blowing and musically sophisticated rock shows to ever hit an arena.
Review Courtesy Of Scott Mervis
PPG Paints Arena is a multi-purpose indoor arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that serves as home to the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League (NHL), and was the home of the Arena Football League’s (AFL) Pittsburgh Power from 2011 to 2014.
Construction was completed on August 1, 2010, and the arena opened in time for the 2010–11 NHL season. It replaced the Penguins’ former arena, Civic Arena (formerly known as Mellon Arena), which was completed in 1961. A ceremonial ground-breaking was held on August 14, 2008. The arena is the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold-certified arena in both the NHL and AFL. As soon as the arena opened in 2010 it was lauded as one of the best arenas in the world, winning both “Best New Major Concert Venue” in the Pollstar Concert Industry Awards and “Best NHL Arena” in the Sports Business Journal reader poll. The arena was originally named Consol Energy Center after Consol Energy purchased the naming rights in December 2008; in October 2016, the building was renamed after PPG Industries took over the naming rights.
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