If you were at the Roger Waters show last night at the Pepsi Center, chances are you're still talking about it this morning, regaling your co-workers and feebly trying to figure out a way to somehow express the unbelievable awesomeness you experienced. Good luck. Afraid there just aren't enough superlatives to do it justice.
Even more absurd/impressive/imposing is to first reconcile and then account for the fact that the show in question is a thirty-year-old production, and it's being orchestrated by a white-haired dude your grandpa's age, just shy of earning a septuagenarian designation, thanks.
Despite the fact that this tour is a re-creation of the original, which took place more than three decades ago, it's safe to assume that many of those on hand at the Pepsi Center last night were seeing the spectacle in person for the very first time.
One of the most expensive and logistically daunting productions in history, The Wall was initially performed only 31 times, in four cities (Los Angeles, New York, London and Dortmund, West Germany), first in February and August 1980 and then in February and June 1981.
And after witnessing firsthand The Wall Live, as this tour has been dubbed, it's easy to see why. With as much thought and effort that clearly goes into putting this thing together, it's hard to imagine that Waters and company had the wherewithal back then, much less the capital, to take the show on the road. Every show lost money -- but then, tickets were reportedly only $12 or so.
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This time around, however, Waters not only has the resources to re-create his classic creation in its entirety, but he now also has the technology to produce the show in the way he originally envisioned. And how. To call this the ultimate concert experience would be woefully underselling it.
The sound wasn't just good; it was an expansive, enthralling, spectral, three-dimensional experience. And combined with the stunning visuals, pyrotechnics, inflatable creatures and airborne pig, it was like watching a digitally remastered version of The Wall in 5.0 surround with thousands of your friends.
Gingerly taking our seats around 7:30, we sensed we were in for something special. And everyone around us seemed to share that sense of anticipation. Just before 8 o'clock, as folks were still filing in, a slightly disheveled man in slightly tattered clothes made his way through the crowd from the side of the stage -- pushing a shopping cart with a hand-scrawled sign in it that read: "Homeless Need Money for Booze and Hookers!"
A few people wondered aloud if this was part of the show. "It's got to be," one lady behind us remarked. Considering that a) the gentlemen looked a little too kempt to be truly indigent, and b) he was strolling through the aisles undeterred by security, one would assume so. And indeed it was.
As the show got under way after a brief announcement from a booming voice advising that Waters was okay with everyone taking pictures but would they please turn off the flash setting on their cameras, the presumed hobo made his way to the front of the stage.
There he was greeted by Waters, on stage and cloaked in a leather trench with a red armband, a row of soldier-like figures on raised platforms hoisting flags bearing the crossed-hammers insignia behind him and a stunning wall of flash pots in front of him that electrified the senses and lit up the arena like an Independence Day celebration at an arson conference.
All this before a wartime-era biplane dive-bombed from the rafters and crashed into a section of the forty-foot wall that had been partially erected as a shower of sparks rained down on the players. And that was all just during the first song "In the Flesh," which kicked off the show.
During the next song, "The Thin Ice," in one of the moments that served to remind us that this wasn't our father's Wall, images of fallen soldiers and civilians from the current war were projected on, well, The Wall -- which doubled as a massive, chameleon-like LED -- with typewritten note cards detailing their vitals, interspersed with archaic photos of other fallen soliders from earlier wars.
From there, Waters and his accomplished sidemen -- including former Saturday Night Live bandleader G.E. Smith -- played the timeless double album in its entirety, track by track in running order, with various customized images, animations, montages and slogans accompanying each song.
But it wasn't just the visuals that were compelling. There were plenty of other theatrical moments. During "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1," for instance, Waters brought out a choir of local children clad in matching T-shirts that read "Fear Builds Walls" -- underscoring the entire theme of the album, building metaphorical walls to isolate yourself from the people and things that inspire trepidation -- and had them mime the words to the renown anti-establishment anthem, ending with the children, flanked by Waters, staring down the imposing, fifty-foot-tall teacher marionette with glowing eyes and shaking their fingers.
Before cuing up "Mother," Waters briefly tore town down the wall -- the fourth wall, that is, and addressed the crowd, making mention of how it was good to be back in Denver and marveled at the fact that it had been thirty years since he wrote and performed these songs. Strapping on an acoustic, in what he described as an experiment in time travel, he set the framework for what we were about to see: Waters playing and singing along with footage of himself performing the exact same song three decades ago in Earls Court. Closing your eyes, you could scarcely tell the difference.
And if that weren't enough to hold our attention, a gigantic caricature of an overbearing mother rose up from behind the wall and peered out at the crowd. As Waters crooned the words "Should I trust the government?" a reply beamed on the screen: "No. Fucking. Way!" followed by another message that read "Big Mother Is Watching You," with a strike through the "B."
As Waters and company continued to play each song from the first album, more and more pieces of the wall were added, only some of us didn't notice because we were transfixed by all of the other things that were happening: the animation of war planes dropping bombs shaped like religious symbols and corporate logos during "Goodbye Blue Sky," the gigantic, anatomically correct blow-up doll with flaming locks that hovered stage left during "Young Lust," and the surveillance-like video with the voiceover of the vapid groupie surveying her surroundings and marveling at the opulence.
Before you knew it, the wall was entirely constructed, obscuring the band, just in time for intermission -- a break in the action that was partially spent lamenting the fact that this epochal show was officially halfway over. As folks filed out in herds to freshen their drinks, grab a quick smoke or otherwise relieve themselves, they might have missed the most moving part of the show, which had exactly nothing to do with the music or the theatrics.
After a message from Waters was displayed thanking everyone for sending pictures of their fallen loved ones, along with a promise not to forget them, a montage of photos of those dearly departed was projected along the entirety of the wall. And while there was an underlying anti-war tone to other parts of the show, this gesture came across more as a showing of reverence than politicizing.
Waters kicked off the second set with "Hey You" and segued into "Is There Anybody Out There," which he and the band played behind the wall. In yet another standout moment, during "Nobody Home," a section of the wall folded down like a Murphy Bed, revealing Waters sitting in a chair facing a TV screen on a set fashioned to resemble a hotel room, complete with a blazing neon sign visible through the window.
When the song ended, that section of the wall folded back in on itself, and Waters made his way to the stage in front of the wall for a stirring rendition of "Vera," which featured poignant modern-day footage of a young girl being reunited with her father, clad in military fatigues and presumably returning from battle, surprising her at school.
A shot of the two embracing framed the words that Waters sang next ("Does anybody else in here feel the way I do?") and the wartime images that followed. As Waters stood by himself at center stage, illuminated by spotlights and singing the words to "Bring the Boys Back Home," a modified quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower* played behind him that read:
"Every gun that's made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, A THEFT" -- in bold red letters -- "from those who hunger and are not fed, from those who are cold and not clothed. Bring the boys back home."
Before we had a chance to reflect on such anti-war sentiments, Waters dialed up "Comfortably Numb," featuring perhaps the most gratifying musical moment of the show, namely the pitch-perfect solo Dave Kilminster* played perched on top of the wall underneath a spot. Testifying to his prowess, my friend swears he saw him tuning his guitar between licks whenever he noticed that a particularly impassioned bend would pull a string sharp or render it flat.
That marvelous display was followed by "The Show Must Go On," in which the rest of the band joined Waters on stage in front of the wall. As if to bolster the notion that this music was being played live by actual human beings who could sing without the aid of pitch-correcting devices, the backing vocalists showcased harmonies tight enough to give even the most accomplished doo-wop crooners pause.
As Waters and his band started approaching the culmination of the set, the notorious inflatable pig made its appearance and briefly hovered around the arena before retiring as the band churned through a few more numbers -- most notably, "Run Like Hell," when various Apple-nodding references flashed on the screens, stuff like "iPaint," "iBelieve" and "iKill," superimposed over images of folks like Mao Tse Tung.
After a few more numbers, the show reached its logical conclusion as "The Trial" ended and a chant of "Tear down the wall!" erupted in the crowd. As if on command, the wall complied and tumbled down on top of itself, to rapturous cheers.
After a few beats, Waters and the band made their way to the stage in front of the pile and performed "Outside the Wall" in an almost acoustic manner, stripped of all the previous bombast, while construction workers clad in "iCrew" T-shirts sorted through the rubble behind them.
Exhausted but completely fulfilled, we left the Pepsi Center notably exhilarated, as well as a little daunted by the notion that we had probably just seen the best show of our lives. "It's all pretty much downhill from here," I said, shaking my head.
Ed note: * Added guitarist's name who played the "Comfortably Numb" solo and attributed Dwight D. Eisenhower quote.
Click through for Critic's Notebook and Setlist
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Although I'm a big Pink Floyd fan, The Wall is admittedly not my favorite release; I'd rank it somewhere in the middle between Wish You Were Here, Dark Side of the Moon and Meddle and Animals. Random Detail: Spotted Marc Grobowski (Corruption, Demonica) in the crowd. Dude's hard to miss in his Broncos regalia. By the Way: Anyone else notice how Roger Waters sort of resembles Richard Gere?
Roger Waters 11.23.10 | Pepsi Center Denver, CO
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01. In the Flesh 02. The Thin Ice 03. Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1 04. The Happiest Days of Our Lives 05. Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 06. Mother 07. Goodbye Blue Sky 08. Empty Spaces 09. What Shall We Do Now? 10. Young Lust 11. One of My Turns 12. Don't Leave Me Now 13. Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3 14. The Last Few Bricks 15. Goodbye Cruel World
16. Hey You 17. Is There Anybody Out There 18. Nobody Home 19. Vera 20. Bring the Boys Back Home 21. Comfortably Numb 22. The Show Must Go On 23. In the Flesh 24. Run Like Hell 25. Waiting for the Worms 26. Stop 27. The Trial 28. Outside the Wall