Roger Waters’ apocalyptic prophecies are drilled with precision in Boston
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
To his eternal credit, Roger Waters is blunt about his intentions.
This was nicely illustrated before the start of his show at TD Garden in Boston. Beginning 20 minutes before, there were warnings in Waters' recorded voice, letting the attendees know that the show would begin in 20 minutes, then 15, 10, and so on. Which was welcome for someone who will often fret about whether or not I have time to grab a drink before running to my seat.
Finally, an announcement came that the show was about to begin. But, two more notes for the public. First, “please turn off your cellphones.”
“And secondly, 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.”
“Thank you. Please sit back and enjoy the show.”
As an immersive sensory experience, I’ve never experienced anything like this show. The stage is set up in the round, with runways extending to the north and south sides of the arena, and to begin, divided into four pieces by a cross-shaped screen that displays a running image on all sides and fills the building. After those delightful announcements, a bleak, black-and-white storm illuminates and a funeral dirge chimes out, with hints of wailing “Echoes” and the musicians presented at their stations in silhouette.
Then, “hello. Is there anybody in there?” A drastically reworked version of “Comfortably Numb” opened the show, taking the soaring anthem down to a contemplative sorrow, while the screens displayed hoards of broken people standing hopelessly in the midst of a desolate city. From the depths of despair, the screen rose, revealing the rest of the band and the stage, with the aggression of Waters’ tyrant act taking hold as the band lurched into a sequence pulling together parts of “Another Brick in the Wall.” The root of the previous despair is now revealed, as the screen flashes horrifying propaganda:
“STAND STILL. SHUT THE FUCK UP. US GOOD. THEM EVIL. PAY ATTENTION. CONTROL THE NARRATIVE. RULE THE WORLD. FUCK THE POOR. INVADE. LIBERATE. TORTURE. EDUCATE. TAKE NO PRISONERS. DIE ALONE.”
And so on.
This obviously didn’t just cease after a couple of songs. Throughout the night, he included messages of support for the likes of trans rights, refugee rights, Palestinian rights, reproductive rights, human rights. His show and his music are his bully pulpit; this is his method of giving a voice to those who have been oppressed, stomped on, murdered and erased.
A stirring example came as the backdrop to “The Bar,” a song he noted that he wrote during pandemic isolation. He highlighted the plight of the Native American population’s efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from running straight through their reservation, potentially coming into contact with their water supply, to say the least.
But Waters doesn’t say the least. With the patience of a latter-day Bob Dylan meditation, he details his frustration and exhaustion with all of the stacking injustices he witnesses daily, before saying, from the perspective of the Standing Rock tribe to the U.S. government and business interests insisting on plowing through with their oil pipeline:
“Kindly get the fuck off our land.”
SHUT THE FUCK UP
I’ve heard reports elsewhere of some attendees — apparently adept at literally not listening to a single word Waters has ever sung, spoken or written in 50 years — who have been upset at these kinds of overt political overtones tossed into their stoner sessions. One friend who was at the gig last night reported people storming out of a show in Las Vegas circa 2017 when he plastered “TRUMP IS A PIG” on the screen.
Meanwhile, all the counter-arguments are out there — he should leave politics out of music, he shouldn’t divide the audience, he should shut up and sing. In the spirit of our blunt subject, that’s all reactionary, defensive bullshit. The man’s opinion on anything of this should have been known. It’s no secret, and it’s been an integral part of his message for decades. Looking for an opposite view point? Ted Nugent is apparently on the road as I write this, happily unchained from the notion that he shouldn’t speak his mind. If political subject matter isn’t your cup of tea at a rock show, I think Motley Crüe and Poison are touring this summer. There are plenty of mindless good times to be had, and I’m certainly not above having them.
But if that’s the objective, this isn’t the place to find it. “I think we successfully got rid of those people earlier,” Waters joked at one point. As the years stack up, he might be feeling like time is slipping away. The urgency only increases, and the message rises in response. The man titled this tour, “This Is Not A Drill,” for a reason.
TRUST THE GOVERNMENT
“Bleating and babbling
We fell on his neck with a scream…”
“Sheep,” from Pink Floyd’s dystopian masterpiece Animals, may best illustrate Waters’ take on the world, with its people divided into classes and most not knowing any better than to happily stumble along this weary existence. “What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real?” For starters, you get the close comfort of knowing that everything will stay exactly as it is, always, so long as your path on that predestined road never wavers. Stay quiet, do as your told, hope against hope that you get to remain in whatever counts as “happy” and “fulfilling” in an existence lorded by ruthless tyrants.
Of course, in “Sheep,” the meek manage to rise up to conquer the oppressors, only to take their place and become the new, malevolent force atop of the pyramid. And the cycle continues, with the new subordinates reminded of their place:
“You better stay home and do as you're told
Get out of the road if you want to grow old.”
“Sheep” brought a rousing first set to its conclusion, and the second act picked up where it left off, with Waters in full dictator mode on the coupling of “In the Flesh” and “Run Like Hell” from The Wall. Waters capped the first song with firing a fake machine gun into the audience, before continuing the messaging from earlier.
There were breaks from the sobering reality of injustice, of course. Waters took the crowd back in time to his earlier glory when “Have a Cigar” began a run that traveled the entire second part of Wish You Were Here. His relationship with the late Syd Barrett and the beginnings of Pink Floyd served as the backdrop to “Wish You Were Here,” which flowed directly into the latter half of the “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” suite.
And just as we were treated to all of side two of Wish You Were Here, we got all of side two of The Dark Side of the Moon in the second half of the program. Jonathan Wilson stood in for David Gilmore on vocals through much of this section, taking the lead on “Money” and “Us and Them” before the band tripped through the light fantastic of “Any Colour You Like.” It was here that Waters retreated from the spotlight, content to play his bass parts and let the band he’d assembled shine through the prisims and spectrums that now surrounded the stage. And this is also as good a time as any to highlight Dave Kilminster, who, as he’s been for years with Waters, was monster on guitar, pulling out incredible leads and runs in all the right spots.
It was this portion which felt like the first break from the bleak realism of the previous songs, and it cemented the inherent message within it all: it doesn’t have to be this way. The dark, wasted souls who adorned the screens during “Comfortably Numb” are a warning of the future that could be. As the Dark Side medley came to its conclusion on “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse,” the fog lifts. It was a true glimpse of hope.
CONTROL THE NARRATIVE
RULE THE WORLD
Sitting in the upper reaches of the Garden that night felt almost surreal. The imagery and the messaging and the music, all colliding in a spectacle that I’ve yet to see matched on this grand scale.
Quite simply, it was the most riveting, enveloping experience I’ve ever had at a concert. I’d say I couldn’t fathom another evening of such stunning visuals matched with music of such bold investment, but I certainly couldn’t have imagined this. It was a near overload of sensory saturation that managed to stay grounded in the gritty reality that the worst of humanity insists on offering, always.
But it was also decidedly human. Waters is a 78-year-old man who does not need to be on the road at this stage in his life. He’s out because he wants to be, because he has something he feels needs to be said. And there were moments of raw emotion that ran beyond the innumerable tragedies he highlighted through the night.
As a reprise of “The Bar” floated into an acoustic rendition of “Outside the Wall,” Waters and his band circled the elaborate stage, thanking each side of the audience, before stepping down the stairs and into the tunnel below the loge seats. The camera took the audience down through the alley with the band, catching Waters conducting his effectively unplugged band to the show’s conclusion.
From firm yet polite reminders to remain present, to uncompromising principles, to grand musical journeys, all as a reminder that we still have a voice. We can use that voice to enact actual change and better the world. If we’re paying attention.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org