As the dust settled at the finale of Waters’ awe-inspiring live show, it was hard to comprehend the scale of the performance that had taken place over the previous two hours at our national stadium. Thankfully, the team from musicmuso.com were on hand to take you, the reader, through this most intricate of live spectacles.
Waters has been touring the new, improved live version of Pink Floyd’s landmark album for a few years now; it was now Wembley’s turn to experience the show after a plethora of dates across most of the world. I was especially looking forward to this, having been a long-term Floyd fan, but due to not being old enough - and a frankly unforgiveable lack of time-travel in the 21st Century – I had been unable to see the band or its members play live shows ‘in the flesh’ (excuse the pun), and my live exposure to the group’s music has so far been restricted to tribute bands (The Australian Pink Floyd and a rather excellent Isle of Man based group called Pigs on the Wing being just two).
The concert began with the titular ‘wall’ half-built and spanning the entire length of the stage. A sample from the legendary movie ‘Spartacus’, which built to an echoing crescendo around the vast stadium, filled it with voices proclaiming “I’m Spartacus!” before a solitary trumpet rang out with the tune from ‘Outside The Wall’ – fans of the band and album know this is the prelude to the opening number ‘In The Flesh’, which exploded into life with a burst of pyrotechnics, fireworks and a wall of sparks at the end, when the accompanying scale-model Stuka bomber plane crashed into the stage set after careering along the full length of the stadium.
It’s fair to say ‘The Wall’, while it has always carried somewhat of an anti-war message, has seen the visual aspect given an overhaul to feature a poignant montage of those lost to the horrors of war and terrorism, both in the UK and overseas. One new addition to the show was an additional coda to ‘Another Brick in the Wall Pt.2’, which saw a slower, down-beat section at the song’s conclusion.
There is also a distrust of authority figures and the government in particular, especially on songs such as ‘Mother’, which, after the line ‘mother should I trust the government?’ saw ‘NO FUCKING WAY’ displayed on the partially constructed wall, which drew raucous cheers from the packed crowd. Incidentally, it was before this song that Waters addressed the crowd and ran footage of himself performing the song during the 1980 ‘The Wall’ shows, referring to himself as “miserable little Roger”.
Gerald Scarfe’s superb animated sequences really take on a life of their own when projected onto the immense wall, and the ‘Empty Spaces/What Shall We Do Now’ section was absolutely amazing, firstly with its infamous ‘mating flowers’ scene and then the images of serene countryside being taken over by the oppressive wall, flowers turning to barbed wire and black-shirted figures beating innocents to death in graphic fashion. It really illustrates the themes of alienation, corruption and mental withdrawal from the strains of everyday life.
Towards the end of the first half of the performance, the wall begins to near completion, tying in with the album’s concept of barriers in the form of bad education, a cheating wife, an overbearing mother and the pressures of touring and performing begin to take their toll on the central character. It’s a credit to the (presumably extensive) backstage crew that the wall is built up, block by block, practically unnoticed until the climax of the first part of the concert. To assist the crew in getting the last few bricks in place, an additional improvised piece – funnily enough called ‘The Last Few Bricks’ kicked in after ‘Another Brick in the Wall Pt.3’ which served as a handy medley of tracks from the album.
‘Goodbye Cruel World’, despite lasting longer than a minute, was perhaps one of the most visually powerful parts of the show – the entire wall now blocking the stage from view except for one brick, which Waters performed the central character’s ‘suicide note’ to the real world through with a solitary spotlight, before it being blocked off and the sheer scale of the wall hitting home as the stage fell silent.
The second part opened with ‘Hey You’ performed completely obscured from the crowd, really to hammer home the song’s message of isolation. Waters appears from behind the structure on ‘Nobody Home’ to sing in an American hotel room set, which cleverly was incorporated into the wall. ‘Bring the Boys Back Home’, quite a short track on the original album, was extended here and became an emotional chorus to those abroad fighting in various war zones. It reiterated the anti-conflict message of the show, accompanied by a rousing speech by Eisenhower which was projected onto the wall.
‘Comfortably Numb’ – arguably the high point of the album, was another visual highlight. The first part of the song featured Waters alone in front of the wall, with vocals being shared with his band members who appeared on top of the vast construction. As the trademark guitar solo began, the bleak projection of the wall began to crack and explode as the solo continued; flooding the stadium with a cascade of rainbow colours, before ominous looking black pillars rose and obscured the backdrop in time for the end of the song. It really was a fantastic spectacle to behold on such a large scale.
This set up the final part of the performance, which ran much like a full scale neo-Nazi rally; Waters changed into a black leather coat, gloves and shades as he portrayed the central character devolving into an unfeeling, prejudiced leader of a fascist gang as ‘the worms’ take over his brain. This section was genuinely powerful, with the reprised track ‘In The Flesh?’ carrying some weighty lines (‘that one’s a queer/and that one’s a coon/who let all of this riff-raff into the room’) that were delivered with unflinching malice. During ‘Run Like Hell’, a menacing looking inflatable black boar appears above the front few rows, patrolling the audience and looking like the sort of pig you’d gladly give its freedom rather than make sausages from! At the crescendo of ‘Waiting For The Worms’, with its animated footage of the frightening marching hammers that Gerald Scarfe created, the stage once again falls silent during ‘Stop’, a short interlude where the character Pink decides enough is enough and he wants to go back to his former life, leaving the madness and isolation of the wall behind.
‘The Trial’, the animated fantasy sequence from the movie that features the characters that have appeared so far; the skinny school-master, the over protective mother figure, the snake-like ex-wife, all joined by the ferocious Judge, who ultimately frees Pink from his nightmare by ordering him to be judged by his peers for all his wrong-doing.
After the tearing down of the wall, which the show has been building up to (again, sorry for the pun!) Waters et al appear on-stage armed with acoustic instruments, and after some bows and thank-you messages, play ‘Outside The Wall’, which has undergone an almost country and western re-jig. While it’s a low-key ending to such a spectacular show, it’s perfectly suited to the scene of the musicians shorn of any character or role, and is simply a group of guys having fun playing a song amongst the rubble of the wall. This is an absolutely stupendous live show, but despite the grandeur it never feels forced or overbearing. The effort put into touring such an event is respectable as well – although that effort was well worth it for such a huge number of people leaving the stadium thoroughly entertained after the concert. A massive achievement and a fitting scale for an album of ‘The Wall’s importance.
Here are a small selection of the pictures that musicmuso.com took at the show.