Roger Waters' 'The Wall'
December 3, 2010
@ Oracle Arena
Better than: A hippie-dippy stoner protest.
We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
We sang the anthem as school kids. In bong-fueled daydreams, we imagined fighting the power and winning the prize: freedom, equality, social justice, global peace. But the wall was too high. Imagine this: since the 1979 release of Pink Floyd's chart-topping double-album, The Wall, the United States military has battled in Iran, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. This list doesn't include the covert ops around the world. More than a third of the federal budget goes to defense spending. For 99 out of the last 100 years, our country has engaged in military conflict abroad and in the homeland. That's a very high wall. Even as kids, we could see this. So we'd get comfortably numb -- smoking, drinking, zoning out with records, television, video games. Then came the Internet, the iPod, smartphones. We would never have to interact in the flesh again.
So here we are, a decade into the new millennium, more alienated from ourselves and each other than ever. Yet The Wall remains a rallying cry against militarism, against separatism--the hammer of capitalist forces--against ignorance, disaffection, apathy. Roger Waters, the Pink Floyd bassist-composer who envisioned this "rock opera," staged a powerful encore performance Friday night, acknowledging in the final lines of "Outside the Wall": "Some stagger and fall, after all it's not easy/ Banging your heart against some mad bugger's wall." That said, his message in the end was essentially, 'Deal with it.' So what if the barriers to understanding appear insurmountable? That's no reason to hole up, disgusted with the world, feeling sorry for ourselves. Waters challenged us all to face down oppression from without and within -- no fear.
He told the audience how he was a mess thirty years ago, when he wrote this piece as an angry autobiographical exploration of his own broken spirit. He said he's been on a long journey since then, and is now a much happier man. His confession felt like a watershed moment of group-therapy. We applauded his courage and conviction. The inspirational part, though, is that rather than kick back on his royalty checks, Waters is on a mission to proselytize the gospel of resistance and solidarity with this tour, a multimedia spectacle on the grandest scale.
's current incarnation, which dazzled in the nearly sold-out 20,000-seat arena, combines the double LP's original music, snatches of the expanded soundtrack and animation from the 1982 film
, massive stage props (mechanical puppets, a pig blimp, a forty-foot wall that serves as a screen for the video projections), and new video footage that transforms Waters' once-personal story into an edgy political manifesto. One of the most moving images from Friday was a scrolling collage of the names of soldiers and civilians cut down in War Without End. Waters has been collecting their names and stories as "an act of remembrance" in an online project called Fallen Loved Ones
Another trenchant visual was a series of massive propaganda murals to bolster a fist-raising performance of "Run Like Hell." The slogans and images included "iRESIST" (sheep-faced rebels with grenades), "iPROFIT" (pigs in suits), "iLOSE" (blood-splattered bricks), "iTEACH" (religious zealots), "iLEARN" (kids with haunted eyes), "iBELIEVE" (Mao and George W. Bush), "iPAINT" (Hitler), "iKILL" (gang bangers dancing in pools of blood), and "iPAY" (tombstones). The connective tissue: "FEAR." The admonition from Waters as an armbanded, sunglassed, Nazi-spawned leader: "You better run!" Of course, his meaning was the opposite: don't run, open your heart, band together and rise up, unity brings triumph. Heavy-handed? Sure. But so are the forces against us, he would argue.
Waters used the searing symbol of crossed hammers to represent how we're beat into submission from birth. On "Mother," he indicted parental coddling, the smothering mommy dearest who won't let us think, feel, or do for ourselves. On the "Another Brick in the Wall" trilogy, he called out abusive educators who belittle students with "dark sarcasm in the classroom." On "One of My Turns," he gazed in the mirror at his own senseless violence, revealing an ugly portrait of self-destruction to which very few of us are immune, pounded by propaganda into slavering sheep.
Don't believe it? Picture this: outsized images of sex and violence playing out on walls to the right and left of center stage, where Waters' world-class band--including a trio of guitarists, two keyboardists, a drummer, and a handful of vocalists--performed a fiery "Young Lust" in the dark. Hypnotized by the bloody warfare and bare breasts, we stared wide-eyed, grinning, drooling, our hearts racing. When we finally looked back at the band, the wall had grown between us. Huge bricks were now stacked up to separate artist from audience, us from them. It all happened while weren't paying attention. Could there be a more potent metaphor for Waters' message?