What Happened to the Post-War Dream?
Roger Waters in Concert
Rosemont Theatre - July 24, 1999
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 1999, Volume 6, #9
Written by John Metzger
Since Roger Waters left Pink Floyd in the early '80s, both music critics and the group's fans alike have endlessly debated the question asked in Have a Cigar — "By the way, which one's Pink?" Waters and the other members of his former band uniquely complemented each other to paint a complete picture that none have fully been able to realize since they parted ways. Waters founded Pink Floyd in 1966, and he provided the vision and lyrics that yielded such classic albums as Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall, Wish You Were Here, and Animals. Yet, it's impossible to discount the contributions of guitarist David Gilmour, who helped define the group's sound and musical scores with his signature guitar style. Each side of the debate seems to underestimate the other's influence, and in the end, it's a truly pointless argument to which there is no single answer.
Regardless, Waters' current tour — his first in 12 years — has been one of the most anticipated events of the concert season, and on July 24, he brought his stellar band to the Rosemont Theatre. It was only the second date of his current endeavor, but you wouldn't have guessed that from the tight, professional atmosphere of the performance. Backed by a group of veteran musicians, including guitarist Andy Fairweather-Low (who has toured and recorded with Eric Clapton), Procol Harum drummer Graham Broad, and Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan alum Doyle Bramhall II, Waters embarked on a monumental two-set journey through the past 26 years of his recording career. Sizable portions of classic Pink Floyd albums were performed in sequence, particularly during the first set, with only minor alterations in their arrangements.
The dual guitars of Bramhall and Snowy White served to fulfill Gilmour's role quite well, while Fairweather-Low provided a great deal of ambience and texture. He added an acoustic undercurrent to Welcome to the Machine, a Clapton-esque guitar lead on Every Stranger's Eyes, and pounded out solid bass runs whenever Waters switched to an acoustic guitar. Likewise, the group's two keyboardists conjured up a swirling mix of synthesizers and piano, often offering the guitarists and Waters a chance to relax, grab a refreshing beverage, and play some poker around the living room set on stage.
Sounds of laughter, dogs barking, news broadcasts, and cash registers were bounced around the speakers scattered throughout the theater. The combined backdrop of the projected images and the stage set-up, which included a television set broadcasting Stanley Kubrick's 2001, gave the concert a surreal quality that complemented Waters' deeply personal yet ultimately universal lyrics. It's a true testament to his poetic and musical genius that songs like Wish You Were Here, Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2), and Comfortably Numb remain fresh and powerful.
Throughout his career, Waters has always had a greater scheme in mind for his albums, and each has been designed around a central theme in order to relay a message. He has always advocated the need to resist the conformity imposed on individuals in society, and his second set seemed particularly to be constructed to drive home this point once again.
Opening with Breathe, Bramhall delivered the lyrics, "Breathe, breathe in the air/don't be afraid to care," as if imploring the audience to wake-up and stop society's descent into madness. Waters drove the set through the futility of Time, the greed of Money, and put everything in perspective as the stage's television set switched off during several songs from his excellent 1992 release Amused to Death. The album was conceived during the Gulf War, but has become even more eerie in the aftermath of O.J. and even the recent Kennedy Tragedy. "It all makes perfect sense expressed in dollars and cents," Waters and the group sang as he stretched his arms wide like a desperate preacher. On Amused to Death, Waters continued, "We did as we were told/We bought and sold," only to push for the destruction of the corporate wall during the set closing Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2).
Even during his dual encore, Waters continued to drive home his message. Brain Damage/Eclipse reflected the lunacy that seems to pervade society, and the rousing conclusion of Comfortably Numb seemed to be speaking to the many faces in the crowd who had given up (or perhaps had never begun) the fight for reason, justice, and sanity. Waters seemed to be saying that we've all been beaten into a comfortably numb state with a complacent, lackadaisical "what-difference-can-I-make?" philosophy. Thanks to the media, the government, and society, we're all slowly killing ourselves through the business of war and the war of business. "This species has amused itself to death," sang Waters in his requiem for mankind, and the sad part is that scarce few seemed to care.
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Copyright © 1999 The Music Box