While he was campaigning to be president, Donald Trump famously railed against political correctness.
"I'm so tired of this politically correct crap," Trump crowed at one campaign rally in South Carolina in September 2015. He’d go on to repeat variations of that statement multiple times before the November 2016 election, when 46.4 percent of American voters put him into office.
But while it was unusual to hear a mainstream candidate for America’s highest office so blatantly disregard the idea of inclusivity and attack vast groups of people (calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, for example), rock music, as an art form, has always been similarly anti-establishment in how it can be used to challenge norms, flout authority and make people uncomfortable.
That was exactly what veteran rocker Roger Waters, one of the original members of Pink Floyd, has gone after on his latest — and perhaps last — mega-tour; there was nothing politically correct about his concert at the Pepsi Center on Saturday, June 3. (He’s also playing a second show tonight, Sunday, June 4.)
Waters’s show was an utter evisceration of President Donald Trump and American imperialism, so brazenly defiant and offensive that it seemed Waters would have been ecstatic if he succeeded in shocking any Trump sympathizers right out of the arena.
On a giant LED video screen suspended behind the stage, images of Trump were superimposed with KKK and Nazi Germany iconography, and at one point during the song “Pigs,” there was even a brief zoom-in of a Trump statue with a micro-penis. Every time Rogers sung the line of the song’s chorus, “Ha ha, charade you are,” the word “charade” was beamed on screen next to leering portraits of Trump
But perhaps the most direct fuck-yous to the president were Trump's own quotes, including those from the infamous Access Hollywood tape, emblazoned across the giant screen.
When “Pigs” concluded with the message “TRUMP ERES UN PENDEJO” (translated from Spanish to “Trump, you’re an asshole”), the packed crowd at the Pepsi Center leapt to its feet and roared in approval and laughter.
As Waters’s ten-person band continued into the Floyd favorite “Money,” the song was accompanied by images of Mar-a-Lago and some of Trump's failed casinos, like the Taj Mahal.
Certainly, there were some in the audience who stayed quiet or felt uncomfortable during some of the most politically charged theatrics — like when a group of Denver schoolchildren appeared on stage for “Another Brick in the Wall Part, Pt. 2” and ripped off orange jumpsuits to reveal T-shirts with the word “RESIST” on them. But for the most part, the audience was fired up and defiant. The show put the most powerful man in the world on trial, and one could only wonder what kind of enraged tweets Trump would send out if he'd sat in on even a portion of the concert.
The decision to eschew any degree of political correctness was a calculated one by Waters, who has a history of activism around things like Israeli campaigns in Palestine (which just last week caused Waters to get into a feud with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke over boycotting concerts in Israel).
During parts of Saturday’s show, there were signs of what Waters’s concert would have been like had he just played it safe and stuck to the space-rock vibes of many of the Floyd songs he was performing. During “A Great Gig in the Sky,” from Dark Side of the Moon, for instance, we had the impression we were soaring through the cosmos, as the LED screen depicted stars and galaxies behind live footage of two soul singers on stage who wore matching platinum-colored wigs and absolutely killed with their harmonized re-creation of singer Clare Torry’s wailing vocals on the original, recorded version of the song.
The two-and-a-half-hour-long hit parade of Pink Floyd songs drew heavily from Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall.
But while Waters delivered on those classics with a tight and talented band (including backing vocals from psych-rocker Jonathan Wilson), this tour was never about keeping audiences comfortably numb.
That was made clear even by the inclusion of four politically themed songs from Waters’s new solo album, the not-so-subtly titled Is This the Life We Really Want?, which was released just a day before the Pepsi Center show, on Friday, June 2.
Waters was emotional at times, as when he almost choked up addressing the Denver crowd. “I don’t know how many years it’s been since I played here, but this has always been a great music town.”
But while it was apparent that he was happy to oblige Pink Floyd fans by playing the hits that helped define the 1970s, Waters was not about to let his crowd forget why, at 73 years old, he’s still giving his all on a worldwide tour.
During the final song of the show, just as the band launched into the climactic guitar solo of “Comfortably Numb,” confetti suddenly rained down from the rafters of the arena.
Printed on one side of the small pieces of paper was the word “RESIST.”
And whether or not you agree with the message, it was a rock-and-roll kind of statement.
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