(June 8th - Chicago, IL – Wrigley Field) In an evening where a stage is composed of 424-bricks and a 35-foot wall, there was a sincerely affecting moment when Roger Waters, a former member of Pink Floyd, sung his heart out as he performed "Mother". It was one of the more restrained performances of the evening and its sole trick was a video of Waters from 1980 where he essentially sung with his younger self. During the nearly two-hour performance of The Wall in Chicago at Wrigley Field, the show was not short on a dizzying array of visuals, but on "Mother", Waters was alone at the front of the stage with an acoustic guitar. Seeing him serenade the crowd as they allowed themselves to be whisked away in the magic of it all was as celestial as a music performance could be. Former Saturday Night Live musical director G.E. Smith accentuated the song with his slide guitar which wailed like a child's cry in the night that no one could forget. The 2012 touring version of The Wall has transformed a principally personal tale into a broader socio political themes heightening music to appear as relevant as it's ever been. The distrust for authority figures, the internal isolation and disillusion with modern society has metastasized ten fold since originally released in December 1979. Waters dedicated "Mother" to war victims around the world. The crowd hung on every word as if it would be his last and sung the songs right back to him. In an evening full of intoxicating eye-candy, Roger Waters was able to tear down the walls between him and the audience with just a guitar, his voice and the burning desire to share something truly personal.
The idea of building a wall between an artist and the audience is a preposterous one but an idea that has only escalated in the last three decades. Artists went from embodying expressionism to embracing capitalism. Somewhere along the line, that weighty bond between the audience and the artist dissipated. It's with great irony that I'm here to tell you that Roger Waters broke down the barriers between himself and his audience. The theatrical purpose was to build a wall between the band and the fans for the first half and then mostly hide behind it in the second half. However, Waters engaged our hearts and our minds equally creating a piece of theatrical art that largely spoke to everyone. Before the show, I was surrounded by fans discussing and dissecting the record, and its widespread themes about seclusion and dissolution. The dialogue never veered into territory where the fans were talking about the eye candy onstage and always remained focus on the music at hand. I was surrounded by people in their sixties and their children in their teens. They all sang each and every lyric effortlessly. The Wall is more than three decades old and yet it seems to embody our fears as well as any long play collection ever created.
The show began at 9pm sharp as the sun had set on a perfect Chicago day. As an into tape performed using dialogue from the Stanley Kubrick film Spartacus, the eleven piece backing band took to the stage before Roger Waters gently strolled to the front of the stage in a black shirt and black pants where he put on sunglasses and a full body coat as he assumed his role as the dictator. This began the full album performance of The Wall which over two sets clocked in just less than two hours. The immense wall, accentuated for the outdoor portions of the tour, would serve as a screen featuring dazzling animation everyone from the front row to the upper decks of Wrigley Field could appreciate. Besides a crashing plane, spurts of pyrotechnics and graffiti covered screens; Waters turned his masterwork of inner turmoil into a 21st Century political missive further intensifying the album's themes. During "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)", Waters and his band were joined by a children's choir who didn't just sing and sway their arms but taunted and fought back at the monstrous teacher puppet at the side of the stage. Larger-than-life creatures and puppets would invade the show from time to time, but never once did they overshadow the music, which was at the heart of this colossal creation.
The Wall was performed with meticulous precision by Waters and an eleven piece backing band. When Waters first performed The Wall in Chicago in September of 2010, he did so over four nights at the United Center arena. When the announcement came that he would bring the show to Wrigley Field, a sense of suspicion filled me. Was there any purpose to reimagining this show for an outdoor crowd? Is there any benefit? Despite these concerns, The Wall is a defining stadium experience possibly only matched by U2's 1992-93 Zoo TV trek in support of Achtung Baby. Most acts that perform in stadiums do so to massage their ego. With escalating ticket prices aside from a show that encompasses a larger-than-life stage like U2 or an artist who is larger-than-life (Paul McCartney), there's really no point to bringing the music outdoors for any reason aside from financial gain. However, The Wall was a communal experience where it enraptured the fans in the entire ballpark. From the flying fascist pig to the animated screens which took up the entire outfield to the narrators nightmares represented by stadium sized puppets the experience is largely unmatched in stadium rock. It was the rare over-the-top experience that made you appreciate and look deeper into the music. For the naysayers, there will be a visual image that invades their mind the next time they hear a song from The Wall making them think twice about what they heard before.
Roger Waters proved to be more than a mad musician but a front man of the highest order. He played the role of dictator, offered up ardent notes from his lean bass playing and even ran across the length of the stage several times as he sung. As the first act came to a close, the wall had been constructed by the crew, except for one piece. Waters stuck his head out for his weeping vocal bow for "Goodbye Cruel World". It was astonishing as Waters held out his hand to the 40,000-plus in attendance as he made his exit as the crowd sung "Goodbye" at the top of their lungs. As the crowd's voices echoed throughout the ball park, the final piece of the wall was installed bring an end to the first act. During the intermission, the wall unveiled pictures of people who have lost their lives to war along with their story. Waters, whose father was killed during World War II, is no stranger to the impact of war. When the tour began he encouraged fans to send pictures and stories of their family members and for the 25-minute intermission, the pictures and stories gave people more than a reason to grab a beer, but to ponder and appreciate the sacrifice others have made in the name of the countries and the burden their families have had to shoulder due to war.
One may have wondered about the narrative intensity of the second half since the wall would remain up until the evening's penultimate performance, but if anything, the anticipation built steadily. Waters often was alone on the stage by himself and other times fantastic stage props helped continue the marvel of it all. On "Nobody Home" a piece of the wall to the left of the stage came down to show Waters sitting in a fully furnished living room watching television. On "Comfortably Numb" Waters sang and stood in front of the mammoth wall while singer Robbie Wyckoff (who handled vocal duties on David Gilmour's parts) and guitarist Dave Kilminster howled their vocal and guitar parts with impeccability at the very top of the wall surprising everyone in attendance. One may have expected that the hits ("Comfortably Numb", "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" and "Run Like Hell") would receive the most rapturous responses from the crowd but the entirety of the experience was nothing short of miraculous. During "Bring the Boys Back Home", "Hey You" and "Goodbye Blue Sky" the crowd, who age ranged a spectrum more than fifty years, were moving their lips in-sync with Waters and his band.
The final portion of the show took place at the front of the stage with the wall and its animated story in the background. Waters once again took on the role of dictator and the eleven backing musicians joined him wearing fascist attire. "In the Flesh" featured the infamous flying pig evoking thoughts that a World Series for the Cubs is possible, because a pig has finally flown within the friendly confines. The svelte "Run Like Hell" intensified as the piercing guitars transported the audience to a higher plane as their synchronized clapping perfectly complimented the urgent drive of the band. During "The Trial" the show climaxed with the wall crumbling before the 40,000 in attendance. In the wreckage, the eleven piece band came to the front of the stage with the crumbled wall behind them. They were all dressed down and performed an affecting acoustic rendition of "Outside the Wall". As Waters thanked the Chicago crowd, the rumbling roars and applause only intensified. In one of the most memorable moments I've ever experienced at a concert, Waters gleefully smiled on knowing moments like these in any life, even where one gets to play a rock God, are few and far between. He was genuinely appreciative for the vociferous rejoinder and stood there for several minutes speechless as he took it all in. The Wall has developed into more than an album of personal disenchantment but a show which reflects that nature of the world in 2012. It was wholly entrancing and offered a peak into the psyche of our society. How many albums from the last decade do the same? Possibly American Idiot and Kid A, but whether they'll still penetrate society three decades later has yet to be seen. This tour should have been a victory lap for Waters, but instead it's proving to do the impossible; making us all reevaluate a record that has sold 23-million copies in the US alone. The current tour in support of The Wall cements the album's legacy once and for all and will give the younger generation a bar for stadium performances that are unlikely to ever be topped again.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter