Concert review: Roger Waters brings visually arresting, politically charged show to Duluth

BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene

Much about Roger Waters’ “Us + Them” show is a slow-build.

The first two songs of his show at Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth on Sunday focused on the gargantuan video screen spread behind the airy stage as Waters and his taut six-piece band unspooled Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” and “One of These Days.”

The bassist – shaggy-haired and craggily handsome at 73 – grinned as he strode to each side of the stage to acknowledge the sold-out crowd, but it wasn’t until the somersaulting clocks on the screen indicated “Time” was on the way that Waters stepped to the mic, extracting a roar as he uttered its opening verses.

His songs – both with Floyd and solo – are best experienced with headphones, but he turns them into a visceral live experience with his audiophile tendencies (surround sound speakers dotted the arena) and arresting visuals. Even the blonde-bobbed singing duo Lucius (Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig) were as striking to watch as to hear during “The Great Gig in the Sky.”

Waters gets busy on the bass during “Time.” Photo: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

Throughout the two-set, more than 2 ½-hour (including a 20-minute intermission) concert, Waters conjured his expected optical magic.

Under a cascade of blue lights, he swapped his bass for a Fender guitar and hit a few well-placed chords on “Welcome to the Machine” as animated rats and hollow-eyed skulls skittered behind him and the crowd, barely prompted, threw their fists forward to chant.

Among the quartet of songs from his new album, “Is This the Life We Really Want?,” was the stark “The Last Refugee,” which featured video of a homeless woman dancing in a warehouse as she imagines herself in an alternate reality and as a child on a beach. For “Picture That,” Waters abandoned an instrument and stalked the stage to better emphasize his incisive lyrics as they reverberated off the nudging beat.

CHECK OUT OUR PHOTO GALLERY FROM THE CONCERT

But it felt as if Waters was deliberately lulling the audience with the layered musicality of many Pink Floyd songs – which allowed guitarist Jonathan Wilson to provide his angelic vocals as a lead singer, as well as a brilliant harmonizer with fellow guitarist Dave Kilminster – until the always-searing “Another Brick in the Wall.”

The two parts of the classic rock staple were delivered with musical crispness and bite. Waters seemed to revel in the presence of the kids from Atlanta’s Destined for Greatness Outreach Youth Center who reliably grooved and sang in their orange jumpsuits that gave way to black T-shirts bearing the word, “Resist.”

The phrase lingered on the video screen heading into intermission, and Waters’ second set heightened the tempo, the visuals and the political expression that has been part of his oeuvre for as long as he’s been making music.

A stunning projection screen lowered from the ceiling and ran the length of the arena floor, with smoke stacks depicting England’s Battersea Power Station the initial backdrop as Wilson offered lean vocals on “Dogs” while Kilminster uncorked another stinging guitar solo.

The musical complement to the “Animals” portion, “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” featured the band donning pig masks for a table sit-down that mirrored a surreal scene in “Eyes Wide Shut” before the song kicked in with Waters’ unfiltered rebuke of Donald Trump.

The crowd mostly cheered (a few boos were heard) as images depicting a grimacing Trump on a baby’s body and as a tiny toy for Vladimir Putin to command lit up the massive screens. Words including “charade” and “joker” flashed as that regular co-star at any Waters show, the giant inflatable pig – stamped with “Piggy Bank of War” – took an aerial tour of the arena.

Waters released a new album in June and played five songs from it during his show. Photo: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

As “Pigs” blurred into the clanging sounds of “Money,” some of Trump’s most notorious quotes (“If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her,” “The beauty of me is that I’m very rich”) were blasted in black and white lettering.

The bluesy swing of the song, which included shots of Trump Tower juxtaposed with images of homeless kids sleeping in the streets, was accented with a bright sax solo by Ian Ritchie and a growling vocal from Waters.

The Floyd favorites “Us and Them” and “Brain Damage” were sonically flawless, and the latter ended with a spectacular sight – shards of lasers morphing into a pyramid and jumble of colors to re-create the “Dark Side of the Moon” cover.

Waters didn’t speak much throughout the show, but after “Brain Damage,” he repeatedly patted his heart and repeated “Wow,” at the sounds of his enthusiastic fans.

“There’s a lot of love in this room,” he said.

Not everyone might agree with Waters, but his creativity in crafting a memorable presentation rooted in theatricality is unsurpassed.

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gnomonklater@live.com
gnomonklater@live.com

When Pink Floyd was still PF, I was also so jealous hearing from my friends how great last night's show was when they had gone to a concert that promoted DSOTM, or Animals, or The Wall, etc.  For whatever reason, I could never see them.  Fast forward to 2017 to the Roger Waters Us and Them concert at Infinite Energy Arena, July 16, 2017.  Finally, I am seeing someone from the band, not THE band, but someone from it.  That bothered me from the beginning, but I wasn't picky.  I had hoped to hear classic Floyd songs and I wasn't disappointed.  However, all during the show, all I kept wondering was how amazing the show would have been if I had been seeing all of the original members playing together.  It was not so, and maybe it will never be.  I was very happy also, that I was in attendance with my 15-year old daughter, who after the death of David Bowie, was tearful, feeling that every rock and roll legend will probably be dead or fully retired by the time she was able to start attending concerts.  I was happy for her that she was able to see a true legend, one of the founding members of Pink Floyd.


When we arrived at the Arena, we stopped for some 'merch' at the T-shirt truck parked right outside the front gates.  Like any good dad would do, I had to buy her a souvenir that would last beyond her memories of the show.  As she made her selection, I was somewhat troubled by the somewhat arrogant assessment on the front of the shirt that described Waters as "The Creative Genius Behind PInk Floyd," or something nearly like that.  I wish that hadn't been put on there, but I knew that this is how Waters views himself.  I have never been able to accept Waters' apparent view of himself and the rest of the members of Pink Floyd as 'Us and Them,' although I know that was not the meaning of that term in the context of the concert tour.  Us and Them refers to the separation of the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' in the world, the 1%ers and the rest of us, the 99%ers.  Yea, that's still a thing, and maybe even more so today than ever, especially since it seems Trump and his family and cohorts haven't been able to stop laughing about having been elected to rule over all of us.  And Waters really drives this point home during the concert.  I have to kind of wonder though.  How much of Waters' message is from the heart he pounded while feeling all the love at the end of the show, and how much of it is is capitalization on the message.  Does he know the difference?


The day before the concert in Atlanta, Waters did a podcast through BDS, about an hour in length.  He was basically interviewed mostly about whether he felt the sanctions he is trying to get performing artists to exercise against Israel is working.  Don't get me wrong.  I00% support Waters' message and support the Palestinian people.  But during the podcast, at one point, Roger chugged a bottle of Fiji water.  Maybe not a big deal, but that sort of blew me away.  Does he know the plight of the Fijian people who are manipulated for the production and profit of this drinking water of the rich?  The image of him drinking that, while talking about the plight of the Palestinian people broke my heart.  Maybe the hotel he was staying at simply supplied it for him free.  Maybe that is all he chooses to drink.  I don't know, but either way, if he is going to support people who are manipulated, perhaps he should do his homework and realize how deep and widespread all that goes.


I wondered a lot about the true circumstances of how and why Waters left Pink Floyd, and I sort of feel that I tend to side a little, no maybe a lot, with the rest of the band members, that the way he essentially tried to take over the band was wrong.  Genius doesn't behave this way.  And as I watched the show, yes, the multi-media experience was truly great.  I was happy to be singing the words to all of the songs, especialy Another Brick in the Wall with everyone in the Arena, including my daughter.  But I have to wonder, just a little, about the Us and Them tour.  With the exception of the few new songs Roger has done on his own, all of the other material was done when he was with Pink Floyd, and as I listened to those songs, that was the memory I tried to hold onto.I'll never think of Roger as the "creative genius" behind the band.  As far as I am concerned,all of that material came from a great band, not one individual.  And I hope that the next time Roger kicks back to enjoy a bottle of Fiji Water, he'll take a moment to go online and learn about all of the controversy surrounding that product and how the people and government of Fiji are manipulated for the sake of making more and more money for a couple of ex-California real estate moguls who figured out how to go to Fiji to bottle the spring water to feed to other wealthy pigs.