I was 5-years-old when The Wall came out in 1979. Of course, I was far too young to grasp any of the deeply adult themes of loneliness, alienation and distrust of institutional power that dominate Pink Floyd‘s masterwork, but that didn’t stop my fellow first graders and I from chanting “We don’t need no education!” and “Hey, teacher, leave us kids alone!” while we walked to elementary school in the mornings. Some musical statements are just universal in that regard, I suppose. Yet, for whatever reason, I was never much of a Floyd fan growing up. Sure, I was familiar with a great deal of their catalog —if you grew up in the 70s or 80s had access to a car and FM radio, how could you not be?— but for whatever reason, my musical attention during my formative years was drawn primarily towards hip-hop and more accessible, distinctly American classic rock staples (Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Eddie Money).
I bring up this confession (of sorts) because I went into Saturday night’s Roger Waters presents The Wall: Live concert at Yankee Stadium without a deep level of knowledge about either the album or the production. I purchased The Wall on iTunes just last week, and only had time to give it one end-to-end listen (which just so happened to be my first time doing so) before hopping on the 4 Train from my home in Brooklyn and making the trek up to 161st Street in the heart of the Bronx. Aside from cursory glances at a few reviews of recent dates on the stadium leg of this particular tour, I went into the evening with an open mind, fully prepared to be blown away. Well, suffice to say, that mission was accomplished. Quite literally, in fact.
First off, anyone who describes this Roger Waters production as simply a “concert” is totally underselling the whole proposition. Rather, it is a sensory spectacle of the most magnificent magnitude, one in which a haunting, grandiose artistic vision comes to life thanks to flawless technical execution in fields as disparate as surround sound, pyro, marionette work, cinematography, lighting and even construction. Rife with anti-goverment, anti-corporate propaganda and harrowing visuals that bombard the audience with a mélange of footage culled from reality television, porn, politics and war, the show demands that you pay it nothing less than full attention. It asks a lot of its audience, intellectually, particularly when you’re being confronted with widescreen, larger than life scenes of nightmarish human atrocities paired with some of the most memorably heroic riffs in the canon of rock and roll. And it’s also impossible to ignore the palpable sense of disdain for the audience —most of whom, it should be noted, paid well over $100/ticket to attend the show— that runs through the narrative of The Wall, but thanks to Waters and his incredible musicianship, you never feel anything less than enveloped by the music.
Speaking of the music! It’s cliché to say that they don’t build ‘em like they used to, but in the case of The Wall, there’s no description that’s more apt. It’s one of the pinnacle artistic and creative achievements in music history, one that will long outlive the now 67-year-old Waters. Songs like “Another Brick In The Wall”, “Hey You”, “Young Lust”, “Run Like Hell,” and, particularly “Comfortably Numb” (the show’s undeniable high water mark, see above) have all achieved legendary status, and there are simply no artists today that are even attempting to make albums that have this kind of creative ambition, let alone those who are actually successful at bringing something this emotionally and musically complex to life. And yet, for all of the toil and trouble that we have referenced above as being omnipresent during the show, it’s impossible to deny that so many of these songs are just so FUN to listen to. All of us —even myself, an admitted Floyd neophyte— have strong, vivid memories of key moments in our lives that were scored by songs from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and watching the crowd dominated by thirty-, forty-, and fiftysomethings react to hearing songs in the flesh that have been woven into the very fibers of their life was just as entertaining as the songs themselves. In short, it was the kind of show where people had themselves a helluva time.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Wall itself. For this stadium leg of what was previously just an arena tour, The Wall that gets constructed on-stage during the show stretched virtually from foul pole to foul pole, running some 500 feet in length and easily 40 feet in height. Far and away the most physically impressive thing that I have ever laid eyes on during a concert, its power as a metaphor is equally profound. Myriad references to The Wall are, of course, made throughout the course of the evening, all culminating in the crowd chanting of “Tear down the wall!” in unison during show’s penultimate number, “The Trial.” As far as climaxes go, hearing close to 50,000 people undulating through various levels of sobriety pleading for this action will be very difficult to top. Even Roger Waters himself admitted as much, admonishing the “poor, miserable, f***ed up little Roger from years ago” during one of the few monologues in which he openly addressed the audience in something other than song.
Spoiler alert, at the conclusion of the evening, The Wall does indeed get torn down. However, with any luck, I’ll hopefully be able to catch Roger Waters and his masterful band get another chance to build it up and tear it down another night in the future. And if he’s coming to a town near you, I highly suggest you do the same, whether or not you count yourself as a diehard Pink Floyd fan. You just never know when a spectacle of this magnitude will make its way through your town again … or if it ever will.
[Photos: Getty Images, _bobina’s Instagram]