Wednesday July 4, 2012

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The horrors of war, the pain of alienation and dysfunction and the human cost of greed and fear would be a tall order for any artist to effectively cram into one show.

Unless that artist were former Pink Floyd bassist/singer.songwriter Roger Waters.

Waters brought his iconic production of "The Wall" to the Times-Union Arena last Thursday, performing the 1979 album in its entirety before a sold-out audience. The show was a concert and performance piece rolled into one, with nary a flat spot to be seen. It was, in fact, one of the better shows these eyes have reviewed.

For the unaware, "The Wall" was a double album released by Pink Floyd to great critical acclaim. The album, written largely by Waters, details the travails of a character named "Pink", a thinly-disguised alter ego of Waters.

The album deals with Pink’s tlife starting with the death of his father during World War II, a situation paralleling Water’s life. (In Thursday’s show, this aspect was displayed spectacularly early on, when a life-sized plane zoomed over the audience and "crashed" into the stage.)

Themes of alienation, abandonment and isolation abound throughout the songs on the record.

Pink’s issues are symbolized by a metaphorical wall. The tour, however, brings this aspect of the show to life, as a real 30-foot-high wall is slowly built on stage as the band plays the first set.


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The wall is completed by the time Waters sings, "Good-bye Cruel World" through a small hole in the structure.

The Wall is eventually torn down near the end of the second set. Waters’ band, who had played behind the wall in the first portion of the show, performs in front of it after intermission.

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The show is musically stunning. The musicians, which included guitarists G.E. Smith and Snowy White, Graham Broad on drums and John Carin on keyboards, replicate the music perfectly, and a state-or-the-art sound system projects the music exceptionally well. In fact, such is the size of this production, that the cheap seats at the other end of the arena were probably the best place to be.

The visuals are equally startling, some to the point of being disturbing. Waters has retooled the concept of The Wall somewhat, focusing more on the evils of conformity and blind trust in government.

Thus, during "Good-bye Blue Sky," the "bombs" dropping from the animated planes projected on the wall resemble symbols of government (hammers and sickles) corporate greed (McDonald’s golden arches) and religion (Stars of David). Several grotesque characters from the 1981 animated movie of the same name also appear during the latter part of the set.

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If there is one issue with the show it is that it is too much like the album. Which means the first set -- "Mother," "The Happiest Days of Our Lives," "Good-bye Cruel World," "Another Brick in the Wall, Pts 1 and 2" -- was musically stronger than the second. The obligatory choral group of children helped "Brick" come alive, as they railed against a huge, evil-looking balloon representing a "teacher," and the audience eventually joyfully joined in with "Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!"

Still, the strongest number of the evening was a show-stopping version of "Comfortably Numb" in the second set, with White’s blistering lead blowing the audience away.

But that is a relatively minor quibble. "The Wall" is a sonic and visual masterpiece, and a triumph for Waters.

To reach Derek Gentile:
dgentile@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile