Roger Waters, Reviewed: Pink Floyd, Crazy Lights, and Lots and Lots of Politics
Definitely not a show for people who say, "Can you just shut up and play your damn music?"
When I heard that Pink Floyd co-founder and, some would say, mastermind Roger Waters was miffed that news outlets weren’t reviewing his his latest tour because they prioritized more modern acts like Drake and the Weeknd — both performers Waters insisted he is “far, far, far more important than” in a recent interview — I knew I had to get to the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia on Friday night for “Roger Waters: This Is Not a Drill.”
Like so many tours happening now, this one was supposed to hit the road in 2020 but became a victim of the pandemic. The postponed tour commenced in early July and wraps up this October, with Philadelphia one of only four U.S. cities where Waters has a two-night engagement.
If you’re one of those people who think musicians should leave their politics and personal beliefs out of their shows, I suggest you look somewhere other than this for your big night out on the town. Maybe wait until August 14th and catch Barry Manilow and his anemic Copacabana‘ing at the same venue. Waters isn’t one to shy away from saying exactly what’s on his mind.
Take, for example, his previous tour, launched four months after Donald Trump became president. Some fans didn’t take too kindly to the anti-Trump messaging and imagery laced throughout the concerts: Trump in a Ku Klux Klan hood. Trump’s face on a giant flying pig. A pants-less Trump showing off a tiny penis. There were boos. People walked out. When CNN asked Waters to comment on the audience response, he suggested those who didn’t like it should “go see Katy Perry or watch the Kardashians.”
Well, five years and one pandemic later, Waters hasn’t exactly mellowed out, as he makes clear before the show even begins with a message that appears on the several screens above the stage and is also spoken over the sound system: “If you’re one of those ‘I love Pink Floyd but I can’t stand Roger’s politics’ people… you might do well to fuck off to the bar right now.”
And sure enough, Waters made his positions quite clear in the show that followed, mostly with messages on those screens that supported causes like trans, reproductive, and Native American rights and spoke out against police, warmongering, capitalism, oligarchs, and every president from Ronald Reagan to the present commander-in-chief, designating them all as war criminals for one reason or another.
Say what you will about all that, the man puts on an astonishing production. And that’s exactly what this show is — a production, filled with lasers and wild lighting and audio effects in true surround-sound. Keep in mind: This is a man who constructed a 40-foot-tall wall across the huge stage at Citizens Bank Park for the “Roger Waters: The Wall” tour 10 years ago—in the middle of the show. And then it came falling down.
The current spectacle is almost too much to fully absorb in one sitting, which is how audiences felt after watching 2001: A Space Odyssey or, say, Donnie Darko for the first time. If you’re the type of person who likes to ingest various psychedelic substances before a concert, I have to tell you: Ya don’t need them. There’s plenty of mind-warping stimulation to go around.
Waters and several other singers and musicians perform in the round, so there’s really not a bad seat in the house. A friend who watched from the nosebleeds while I was much closer, in section 114, suggested the show might actually be better taken in from a bit further back, so you can see the full effect. I found that to be the case with the aforementioned “Wall” tour after taking in both the 10th-row center and the very last row in the tippy-top of Citizens Bank Park. The sound is remarkably good from anywhere, a hallmark of all Waters and Pink Floyd shows for decades.
The first set begins with a new and much different treatment of “Comfortably Numb” than the one you’re familiar with from The Wall: sparse and solemn. Gone are the soaring guitar solos. A Pink Floyd purist might scoff at the new arrangement, though if you were playing the same song the same exact way on every tour since 1979, you, too, might want to shake things up a bit.
But don’t worry. Waters moves into pretty note-for-note versions of other songs from The Wall in that first set before resurrecting a few tunes from his various solo projects. Should you choose this latter moment to take a pee break after consuming a $17 Stella Artois or three, be sure to get back in time for some classic offerings from Wish You Were Here and Animals.
If Dark Side of the Moon is on your list of Best Albums Ever, you’re going to want to stick around for the second set, because that’s where you’ll be treated to half the album — along with more political messaging, of course. And yes, there’s a flying pig.
Waters is all of 78, so who knows how many tours he has in his future? He has amusingly noted that this is his “first farewell tour.” And since the chances of Pink Floyd ever reuniting are about as likely as seeing a pig fly (okay, bad example in this case), this could very well be your last opportunity to hear songs from their catalog performed live by one of the guys who wrote them.
“Roger Waters: This Is Not a Drill” continues on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Tickets from $50.