Rogers Waters was 29 and hearing the clock ticking when he wrote “Time,” the first song he sang on Tuesday, the opening night of the three show stand of his Us + Them tour at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia.
Feeling the decades slipping way (“And then one day you find, 10 years have got behind you”), he put himself in an older man’s shoes. “Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death,” he sang on the ominous track from Pink Floyd’s 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon as images of clocks tumbled and melted away on the giant video screen behind him.
But here’s the thing: The years have been good to Waters. The 73-year-old, 6-foot, 3-inch bassist looks fit and trim as he raises his arms to exhort the crowd to chant along in fascistic-sounding antifascist songs like “Welcome to the Machine.”
Waters, who is slated to front his 10-piece Us + Them band at the Wells Fargo again on Wednesday and Friday, is still able to fill arenas for multiple nights on the strength of songs recorded during Pink Floyd’s commercial zenith, which ran from Dark Side in 1973 to The Wall in 1979.
He also has seen history circle back in his favor. He’s always written world-weary songs of alienation about the struggle for identity in a cold, unfeeling world, and he got particularly pointed starting with the George Orwell-influenced Animals in 1977.
Forty years later, with nationalism and authoritarianism on the rise around the globe, he has an arsenal of protest songs at the ready, with a mere tweaking of the dazzling visual imagery that has always marked his spare-no-expense stage show necessary to retrofit his message for the age of Trump.
For Us + Them — named after a Dark Side song that was accompanied on Tuesday by images of income inequality around the world — Waters has assembled a mighty impressive band.
The shoes of his former Floyd bandmate David Gilmour were filled by guitarists Dave Kilminster, Gus Seyffert, and Jonathan Wilson, with the latter, a major player in the current Los Angeles rock scene who was introduced as “our obligatory hippie,” also standing out as he shared lead vocal duties with Waters.
Blond bewigged singers (and drummers!) Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe of the band Lucius stood at center stage to Waters’ right all evening, adding vocal grace throughout. They delivered on their big moments on the wordless “Great Gig in the Sky” and “Bring the Boys Back Home,” the latter performed as the penultimate song of the night in an encore segment that closed the 2 1/2-hour performance with “Comfortably Numb,” The Wall showstopper that was inspired by Waters’ treatment for a stomach ailment in Philadelphia in 1977.
Along with Lucius and Wilson, there were other guest vocalists: 12 local schoolchildren joined the band on stage for “Another Brick in the Wall” to help with the antiauthoritarian chanting of “Hey, teacher! Leave those kids alone!” To end the first set, in a clever bit of staging typical of Waters’ attention to detail, the kids spent the first part of the song dressed in orange prison jumpsuits and stood with heads down and fists raised. Then they dramatically shed their garb to reveal T-shirts emblazoned with the word Resist!, which was also displayed on the screen behind them.
Waters has been accused of anti-Semitism because of his harsh criticism of Israel and the use of a Star of David among symbols on Pink Floyd’s trademark flying pig on a previous tour. On Tuesday, this reviewer didn’t spot any protesters among the mostly baby-boomer-age Waters loyalists, and the songwriter focused almost all of his political agitating on the president of the United States.
In the first half of show, the only reference to President Trump was in the dystopian “Picture That,” the last of a not-thrilling but not off-putting four-song interlude from Waters’ serious-minded new album, Is This the Life We Really Want?
Waters’ words were harsh in that song: “Picture a leader with no … brains,” he sang. But fans might have missed them if they were not paying close attention or were off on a bathroom break. The degree of enmity toward Trump was impossible to miss the in the show’s second half, however. Waters focused on Animals to start the set, which began with an eight-panel video screen lowered from the rafters and stretching the length of the building perpendicular to the stage showing the Battersea Power Station that’s on the cover of that 1977 album.
The screens showed image after image of Trump during “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” intermingled with occasional shots of Vladimir Putin and Josef Stalin, evoking the porcine dictator in Orwell’s Animal Farm. Toward the end of the song, Trump quotes were flashed on the screens (“Why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not be worked out?”) and in case you could have possibly not grasped Waters’ point, the song’s final image read: “Trump Is a Pig.” Waters then continued with “Money,” the Dark Side track about corrupting capitalism, which again hammered home images of Trump, and of his now-closed Atlantic City hotels.
You might have thought this unsubtle onslaught would have driven fans not interested in being bombarded with politics at a pop concert from their seats in droves, but that wasn’t the case. The musical momentum of the show and the efficiency of its expert staging (and superb sound mix by arena standards) kept things moving like clockwork. And there’s a social contract at a Rogers Waters show that both the artist and his still-massive fan base have agreed to. They come to hear the old Pink Floyd songs that have stood the test of time, and he performs them in the here and now on his own terms.
Review Courtesy Of Dan Deluca
The Wells Fargo Center (Spectrum II (prior to construction), formerly the CoreStates Center, First Union Center and Wachovia Center is a multi-purpose indoor arena located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
It is the home arena of the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League, the Philadelphia 76ers of the National Basketball Association, and the Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League.
The Wells Fargo Center was completed in 1996 to replace the Spectrum as the home arena of the Flyers and 76ers, on the former site of John F. Kennedy Stadium (originally Philadelphia Municipal Stadium) at a cost of $210 million, largely privately financed (though the city and state helped to pay for the local infrastructure). It is owned by Philadelphia 76ers, which also owns the Flyers, and is operated by its arena-management subsidiary, Global Spectrum.
The Wells Fargo Center lies at the southwest corner of the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, which includes Lincoln Financial Field, Citizens Bank Park, and Xfinity Live!.
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