Although Pink Floyd has gone through several iterations, Roger Waters is arguably the name and face of the group. He was present as bassist from the very beginning in 1965 with Syd Barrett as frontman. After David Gilmour joined and Syd departed due to his mental health, Roger took over singing and songwriting. Naturally, the rest is history. After their most successful and acclaimed era, Roger left the group in 1985. Gilmour remains active with Pink Floyd. Both parties have settled lawsuits, toured the band’s material, and even done a couple of one-off reunion shows since. Nevertheless, the departure remained permanent.
Waters has kept busy. He’s done several global tours in the last twenty years, including playing the entirety of The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. Roger’s most recent solo album, Is This the Life We Really Want? (accompanied by the Us + Them Tour), was released in 2017. With a career spanning six decades, the 2022 “This Is Not A Drill” tour demonstrated Roger Waters is every bit the artist and performer he was in the 1970s. If anything, modern technology and global events have only increased his passion, energy, and stage presence for the music and message. Originally set to kick off in 2020, the tour was delayed two years due to the global pandemic. Between this and Roger being 79 years young, I (and I’m sure much of the audience) felt very lucky to be there that night indeed.
Roger Waters is famous – or perhaps infamous – for his activism. Just before the show started, a personal message was displayed: “If you’re one of those people who says I love Pink Floyd but I can’t stand Roger’s politics, please kindly fuck off to the bar now.” Throughout the show, it was clear Roger minces no words in his themes and imagery. Almost every song featured videos, captions, and highlights of uncomfortable facts relating to human rights and injustice. The messaging was certainly not subtle and likely divisive, but it’s his show and I don’t know what else could have been expected. Live experience aside, much of Pink Floyd and Roger’s solo lyrics contain explicit political themes. The world has changed, but the music’s messaging is perhaps more relevant than ever.
It was a 360-degree stage in the middle of the arena – enough to accompany a full band running around, giving everyone a great view of the visuals and group no matter where you were sitting. This was the first time Waters had used a 360-degree stage and it was a fantastic choice.
I wasn’t sure what the setlist would be like – how it would be structured, the amount of and specific Pink Floyd material featured… We were delighted as the lights dimmed and the music immediately launched into “Comfortably Numb” – one of Pink Floyd’s most popular radio songs, with one hell of a guitar solo. This was accompanied by projections of a dystopian city—vast, empty, decrepit buildings and mindless citizens walking through. While we could hear Roger singing clearly, all we could see was a guitarist in silhouette.
As the song ended, Roger and the band lit up on stage to applause. He launched into “The Happiest Days of Our Lives,” a track off The Wall about the horrors of English boarding school abuse. This segued into “Another Brick In The Wall” (Part 2, followed by Part 3) – another radio classic and also a ballad of British school experiences. There’s something very fun about singing “Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!” in an arena with 17,000 other fans.
From here Roger went into his 1987 solo track “The Powers That Be” – one of the most disturbing and serious songs of the evening. As the title suggests, this is an anti-authoritarian, anti-elite song warning us of the power of the state. Much more intense than the lyrics were the visuals – anonymous CGI figures being beaten bloody and repeatedly shot by equally anonymous police and soldiers. The segment also featured photos and captions of real victims from all around the world killed by the state. (“Crime: being out after curfew. Punishment: death. Crime: being Black. Punishment: death. Crime: being Indigenous. Punishment: death.”) In the wake of increased security powers, George Floyd’s death/the protests that followed, and an overly divided sociopolitical climate, this was a harsh and rough message. In an even more controversial statement, Roger had pictures of every US president since Reagan, calling them war criminals and detailing their acts of mass murder. The violent and upsetting imagery may have been too much for some people there, but I’m not surprised Roger chose this messaging and I respect him using the platform to do so.
In a more intimate and calm approach, Roger sat at a piano and told the audience stories for 10 minutes before playing another song. He spoke of his last time in Vancouver in October 2017 – a time he remembered because of a talk he gave in a church here about Palestine and human rights. Roger is a well-known supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel in response to Palestinian rights violations in the area, a move that has caused considerable controversy. He told us of the warm, polite reception he remembered from the church talk and in particular his Q&A conversation afterwards with “a young Jewish lady and a Muslim woman, whose names I don’t remember I’m afraid.” This led to his memory of a French friend of his whom has since passed away and the philosophical talks they shared. Roger told us his concerts are a safe place to gather where all can engage in ideas as if it is a bar and today, “we are all part of the bar, exchanging opinions where you can exchange your love for your fellow man.” He finished his long-winded speech by relaying words of advice from his late French friend—“that, perhaps, I am not alone. Today, we are not alone,” leading to massive applause. From here, Roger played just a few verses of one of his newest songs, written during COVID, that’s over 14 minutes long. It was called – what else? – “The Bar.”
After this subdued approach, we jumped back into Floyd roots with their 1975 album Wish You Were Here. This included the title track – a beautiful classic – and the more upbeat and sarcastic “Have a Cigar.” In a touching tribute, the visuals here included old pictures of Pink Floyd from the 60s and 70s. It was no coincidence Roger was speaking about his former and deceased friend Syd before and during this portion. We continued with the symphonic “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI -IX)” – one of the longest songs of the evening. This was closed out by shifting to a different Pink Floyd album – “Sheep” from 1977’s Animals. In addition to projections of flying rams on the screen above, there was an actual giant inflatable sheep flying over the crowd. It was spectacular and a bit trippy.
At this point the set ended, and I could have left the show very satisfied. However, it was merely an intermission and we still had a whole second half to go. Roger came back embracing the full concept of The Wall album – not just in music, but in a meta performance that included banners, costume, and imagery of the era. The song “In the Flesh” features a fictional rock star (literally named “Pink Floyd”) who has a mental breakdown and imagines himself a fascist dictator while doing a concert. The evil element of his personality has taken over, leading him to lash out at the audience and wish them dead. (“There’s one smoking a joint! And another with spots! If I had my way, I’d have all of ya shot!”) Roger dressed the part in sunglasses and a long coat echoing certain authoritarian WWII generals. It felt uncomfortably close to being at a rally you don’t want to be attending, but that was sort of the point. It was obvious satire, especially in the context of the rest of the show.
If the parody depicted was somehow too subtle, this part of the show also featured the infamous flying pig puppet – a staple of many Pink Floyd and solo Waters concerts. A giant inflatable pig adorned with pictures of weapons and the words “STEAL FROM THE POOR GIVE TO THE RICH” circled the arena. I was wondering if the swine would make a physical appearance and I was so happy to see it—probably my favourite imagery of the evening.
This was immediately followed by “Run Like Hell” – a track continuing “Pink Floyd’s” delusional fantasy of inciting an audience riot as a supreme dictator. The banners featuring the well-known crossed hammers symbols from the album retracted and we watched these same hammers march on screen in formation as soldiers. This was, if I’m not mistaken, footage taken directly from the rock opera film of The Wall. Roger did the same concept when he performed the album in its entirety around 10 years ago, and it just works so well in a crowded arena. I was a little disappointed to not see more of the actual bricks in the wall – being a metaphor, but also a literal physical wall in the story context. Still, the brief dictator cosplay felt all too real.
Roger played a couple more solo tracks, from the 90s and from his most recent album. The visuals were once again on the nose, with Roger voicing his displeasure with the problems of the world. “FUCK THE SUPREME COURT. FUCK THE PATRIARCHY. FUCK OCCUPATION. FUCK YOUR GUNS. PALESTANIAN RIGHTS. INDIGENOUS RIGHTS. HUMAN RIGHTS” were just some of the words expressed on screen. Many of these statements were accompanied by applause – I’m glad they resonated with people.
From here we finally got into The Dark Side of the Moon era – an album with imagery and context that needs no introduction. He started with “Money,” a very satirical song about how cash drives people. The visuals for this included flying coins and smartphones, alongside a pig in a business suit greedily enjoying the currency. (I’m guessing this had something to do with capitalists.)
We continued with four more tracks from Dark Side – all of Side B in the same order, in fact. It was a real treat to hear a full half of the album. My only complaint is that I was disappointed to not hear “Time” at any point during the night—I definitely expected to. Nevertheless, the crescendo and mesmerizing songs seemed to hypnotize the audience. There’s a reason it’s such a best-selling album. The screen above became a dark prism of lasers, light beaming through it to create a rainbow. The rainbow then transformed into a colourful mosaic – still a rainbow, but now consisting of faces of people from all over the world. Perhaps Roger’s consistent themes of humanity, human rights, and global citizenry were most present here. It was a beautiful thing to witness.
This was really the climax of the concert, but we had just a couple left to go. This was much more low-key with minimal visuals. He played a song from The Final Cut (“Two Suns in the Sunset”), another couple verses of “The Bar,” and ended the night with the final track from The Wall, “Outside the Wall.” At this point, Roger introduced each backing member verbally and on screen with captions. While the man was of course the feature of the night, he had an amazing group accompanying him. Seamus Blake brought the house down with his saxophone solos. Jonathan Wilson and Dave Kilminster are amazing guitarists. Robert Walter and Jon Carin performed on keyboards and organ. Gus Seyffert accompanied on bass, with Joey Waronker carrying the whole thing on drums and percussion. Finally, to round it up were Shanay Johnson and Amanda Belair, who were just beautiful in their backing vocals the entire show. This was a total of ten people on stage recreating music that isn’t easy to perform or replicate—long, complex studio recordings. Roger assembled an amazing team to put on a show and I wish I could thank every member personally for making the magic of Pink Floyd happen.
Roger Waters was speaking of his possible retirement ten years ago with The Wall Live tour. Since then, he’s done two more large arena tours, and I’ve had the good fortune to experience all three of them. One can only imagine the physical and mental toll months of touring and performing take on someone, never mind the decades of shows that came before that. Someone with the recognition of Waters could easily do shorter sets, less ambitious/elaborate stage visuals, or simply perform and tour less overall. I’m not only impressed by his stamina and commitment, but by how well his voice has held up after almost sixty years of singing. Considering he’s not the young man he was in the 70s, his vocals and range were remarkable – better than anything I remembered or imagined. The guy just has so much talent – by far one of the most unique, memorable, and frankly best concerts I’ve ever experienced.
I don’t know if Roger Waters will ever come to Vancouver or even tour again. I’d certainly love to see what he does next, and I was surprised he was still going when this 2022 show was first announced. But if this truly was his final tour, it was a stupendous note to go out on. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I’m so happy and grateful to have experienced that night.
“All that is now, all that is gone, all that’s to come, and everything under the sun is in tune, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.”
Review Courtesy Of Cazzy Lewchuk
Rogers Arena is a multi-purpose arena located at 800 Griffiths Way in the downtown area of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Opened in 1995, the arena was known as General Motors Place (GM Place) from its opening until July 6, 2010, when General Motors Canada ended its naming rights sponsorship and a new agreement for those rights was reached with Rogers Communications. Rogers Arena was built to replace Pacific Coliseum as Vancouver’s primary indoor sports facility and in part due to the National Basketball Association (NBA) 1995 expansion into Canada, when Vancouver and Toronto were given expansion teams
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