Live: Roger Waters Performs The Wall, Actually Constructs a Wall at Madison Square Garden


Roger Waters Performs The Wall
Madison Square Garden
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Better Than: Homeroom

If you’ve never seen a man use a remote control to fly a massive inflatable black pig to the delight of 20,000 or so people–you really should. It’s fascinating. Such a beast emerged next to me, from the shadows of a largely constructed white wall that had been erected over the last hour and a half. And ducking next to the end of an empty, obstructed view row was a bearded man, probably in his early 30s, controlling this flying pig with precision, as Waters and his band chugged through one of The Wall‘s most beloved tunes, “Run Like Hell.” Never was there any doubt that this pig was going to crash into us–that’s how smoothly it glided through the Garden.

But bringing The Wall to life was more than just a mere spectacle of pigs. Earlier, a large, ghastly-looking mother inflates in the same area as the pig, appropriately for the song “Mother.” During “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2,” a skinny, witch-like teacher haggles over the stage like a 40-foot, deranged Macy’s Day Parade Balloon; the kids from the Boys Club of New York, who were brought out for the “We don’t need no education” chorus end up pointing at her in mob-like unison, shaming her for her thought-controlling ways. Moments before, during opener “In the Flesh?,” a plane divebombs into something on stage right, causing a simulated explosion–a risky move, given New York’s recent history with planes and buildings. But then again, people paid good money to see this thing, and if flying pigs and explosions don’t get them talking, then nothing surely will. (Look, it’s happening now.)

More interesting than the spectacle of the stage production–and it certainly is one of the more over-the-top live sets I can recall–The Wall happens to be one of those albums. For a certain group of people–nearly everyone in the room–this record strikes up very specific memories of something, sometime, long ago. Anywhere from 15 to 30 years, in fact.

Thus the show becomes one of these moments, where you’re standing in a room with 20,000 people, who all have their own personal feelings towards each note and their own relationships to the album’s central alienation/isolation theme. This is an odd thing because the last place you probably are going to feel isolated is in a situation like this. Everyone knows the album’s story, but it’s more fascinating to hear everyone’s personal moments with the album: when “Hey You” became something of a crutch, alone in a bedroom; or the contrived symbolism of listening to “Comfortably Numb” while doing well-timed bong hits in the back of a dead station wagon. These are the moments you can’t get at this live version of The Wall but you do get a feeling standing there, that this was some sort of pre-cursor artifact to what’s become of the pop-therapy doled out by the Oprahs of the world. For the firemen and ad guys and publishers and teachers that fill the arena, this record was the one thing that once “understood” them when nothing else did. And now, years later, it’s a relic of a few specific memories that have faded, are probably no longer meaningful, but still lurk. (It helps that Water’s voice is pretty spot-on in every single delivery throughout the night.)

We don’t get those windows into each other’s “walls.” So instead, Waters takes the time actually to construct a large wall during the show–by the time we get to “Goodbye Cruel World,” you can’t see his band anymore. It’s easy to forget about everyone around you when there’s a giant wall being built, literally, right in front of you.
But I guess that’s the whole point. Flashing across Roger Waters’s wall are images of tiny obituaries of people that have recently died in wars, along with old Army planes dropping symbols of evil/bombs–the Shell Gas Company logo, the Mercedes logo, the cross–even poor old Applebee’s has its logo thrown into a montage. (I understand, but Applebee’s seems like small potatoes for any overarching commentary about how Big Brother is out to get us.) But this is what Waters wants at this specific moment, where the music and the presentation serves as a nice enough reminder that the point of his album 30 years ago, still has relevance today–a total “told ya” moment that you can’t experience too often in pop music or with flying pigs.

Critical bias: Many moons ago, Pink Floyd was often a go to in terms of “mood music.”

Random Quote: “An old man got me high.”

Notebook dump: During the “Comfortably Numb” guitar jam, Waters points to the crowd and inexplicitly makes the “drinky drinky” motion with his hand.