ROGER WATERS “Us + Them” London Hyde Park 06 July 2018
At this advanced stage, Roger Waters has become, to all intents and purposes, the public face of Pink Floyd. It was all so very different 25 years ago ; Pink Floyd then were an active operation, with Roger Waters skulking in the background like a furious ghost. Now, with the Floyd inactive and two of the original five now sadly deceased, Pink Floyd have become a memory – and if you want to experience even the vaguest glimmer of what it was to have seen them, well, here it is.
Two years after it began in the desert, the “Us + Them” tour comes finally to Europe : and it unambigiously restates the Pink Floyd legacy. Having seen Floyd, David Gilmour, and Waters in many incarnations over the past three decades, what this is, is a confident reclamation and restatement of what the work – both in and out of Pink Floyd was – and is. Whereas Gilmour was all about feeling, emotion, and some kind of non-specific evocation of feeling, Waters is a precise, pointed, and political show. It covers much of the same ground musically, and the films, animation, and staging are often very similar – making it clear it wasn’t musical differences that caused the band to separate – the difference sits all in the context. From an opening, and accurate “Speak To Me / Breathe”, the majority of the first half of the show covers most of the first half of “Dark Side Of The Moon”, and ties together the through line that runs through all of Rogers work. In the space of this, “Welcome To The Machine” is the first song that really shows the breadth of the show : it introduces a huge silver ball on screen, that then reappears at strategic points throughout the rest of the show, symbolising some kind of authority, some kind of machine, some kind of control. Other imagery repeats throughout the rest of the show – Battersea Power Station, pigs and animals, a prism of colours – each ascribed a new meaning, and combining together to create a powerful presentation of the music as something much bigger than it once was, with unconnected songs tied together by visual imagery and political themes.
As the tour is now two years in, there is also a changed lineup, and an unexpected new record – the pounding and vibrant “Is This The Life We Really Want?” – so the show has been reconfigured to provide several songs from it. These songs sit more than comfortably as the equal of some of the classic era Floyd songs : “Picture That”, and “Smell The Roses” for example, sound like they could always have been on a 70’s Floyd record. In one, particularly important transition, “Us + Them” itself pauses with a new ending, and then “Smell The Roses” slides in seamlessly. The only difference between say, Amused To Death and a Pink Floyd record is, in many ways, the name on the front of the record.
Visually, these newer songs offer a powerful, and unexpected interpretation of the entire body of work. During the middle of “Smell The Roses” the view suddenly changed to the interior of a corridor and a woman sitting on a beach – reversing the same view used as an ambient backdrop before the show itself began, and it recasts the whole show as the fever dream of thoughts running through the mind of a political prisoner ; and if you’re paying attention, it’s a cutting and brutal realisation. Is This The Life We Really Want?
In the meantime the frankly surreal setting sees Waters don an animal mask, a huge inflatable animal float over the crowd, and a nearly life-size Battersea Power Station rises up to tower over the venue, which becomes a space station, alongside some undoubtedly offensive imagery that shows the current President as, amongst a great many other things, a child in a KKK mask. It’s also during “Smell The Roses” that a huge silver ball floats over the crowd, the symbol of authoritarianism that sees over all of us. The show moves into ”Eclipse/Brain Damage.”, further tying together all the visual themes of the rest of the show into a single whole : as a laser pyramid opens up over the crowd, and a prism of light flies into the distance. You’re only seeing the cover of Dark Side Of The Moon come to life in front of your eyes. (And given that tonight sees 90% of that album played live, it’s also key to see how important this album is to Waters in his body of work.)
In the confines of Hyde Park, the show works on the huge scale – and there’s 60,000 people here to divide Us And Them between. Previous shows have seen a huge screen dividing the crowd in two ; here there is no such device, but the “Us” are the full price tickets (at a staggering £89), and the “Them” are the very well off “Gold Circle” at the front that grows the price considerably to around £199 each. Of course, to one of the richest rock stars there is, this isn’t much. But to Us, the divide is more apparent. And financially more obvious. But The “Us” and “Them” is quite clear tonight. .
In another way, “Us + Them”, also reflects world politics ; the polarised planet, where the US sees the rest of the world as a lesser, dehumanised “Them”, not worthy of individual recognition. Who cares if it doesn’t happen in America, anyway?
The final song is a powerful, and necessary “Comfortably Numb”. In this context, it’s a song about who we are now – we’re comfortable, we’re numb, and what happens around us we don’t feel anymore. It’s a call to arms and a moment of release : is this the life we really want, indeed? And I’m stood there, and wondering if this is the last time I will ever see any member of Pink Floyd perform any of their songs? Waters is nearly 75 now ; this could be the last hurrah.
Speak To Me
One of These Days
Breathe (In The Air)
The Great Gig In The Sky
Welcome To the Machine
The Last Refugee
Wish You Were Here
The Happiest Days Of Our Lives
Another Brick In The Wall
Us And Them
Smell The Roses