BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Like a space ship releasing a time capsule that flashed back to a more innocent era, Roger Waters “Us + Them” Tour landed in the Bay Area on Wednesday night for a show at the SAP Pavilion in San Jose.
The often dark 2 1/4 hour performance dug deep into Waters history as co-founder of the iconic classic rock band Pink Floyd, along with offering an introduction to select tunes from “Is This The Life We Really Want,” his first album of new material in 25 years, released just days ago.
Returning to the Bay Area for the first time since his impressive 2012 recreation of “The Wall” in it’s entirety at AT&T Park in San Francisco, the smaller venue did nothing to diminish the powerful impact of Waters place in the history of classic rock. Just over a week into a 61-show North American tour that runs thru the end of October, the 73 year old Brit showed no signs of either his creativity or his energy level diminishing.
Appearing with a 10 piece band that featured show stealing backing vocalists Jessica Wolfe and Holly Laessig, Waters opened the show with “Speak to Me” and “Breathe” from “The Dark Side of the Moon” before rocking the house with “One of These Days” from 1971’s “Meddle,” the oldest song to be played.
Quickly returning to music from 1973’s “Dark Side,” on every short list as one of the greatest rock albums ever produced with sales approaching 50 million worldwide, the unmistakable opening strains of “Time” signaled the true beginning of a visual onslaught as the high definition video screens stretching the length of the stage behind the band flashed psychedelic images of a myriad of clocks, watches, alarms and other timepieces.
Following “Welcome to Machine,” the first of a pair of cuts from 1975’s “Wish You Were Here,” Waters next launched into a four song mini set of tracks from the new album. The new material was a long overdue welcome addition to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame musician’s catalog. But their unfamiliarity to many in the crowd led some to head for the concession stands as it provided the only extended stretch of the evening where songs that hadn’t been ingrained in the musical jukebox of our minds were presented.
Rebounding quickly, Waters responded with “Wish You Were Here” as the onslaught of Pink Floyd songs continued. He would finish the opening set with “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” and “Another Brick in the Wall” Parts 2 and 3, the first three of what would be six cuts from 1979’s transcendent “The Wall,” Waters crowning achievement from an already established superstar resume of productivity. As the house lights came on for the first time during Part 2, the front of the stage was adorned by a dozen young adults dressed in orange convict jumpsuits. Stripped away midway thru the song to reveal black “Resist” shirts, the conclusion of the set would lay the groundwork for Act Two.
While the first half of the show was more of a straight forward assault on the senses with some of the most recognizable songs of the rock era, Waters return to the stage after intermission signaled an even more intense act to come. First “Dogs,” then “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” from 1977’s “Animals” opened the second set. Warehouses with smokestacks and Floyd’s iconic inflatable pig began to appear as part of the stunning visuals that now also stretched the length of the arena, as an additional perpendicular video screen was added to the production.
Never one to shy away from politics, Waters has opined his feelings on Mother England in song going back to “The Wall” even before writing about Margaret Thatcher on 1983’s “The Final Cut,” Pink Floyd’s swan song with both Waters and David Gilmour in the band. In 2017, his wrath is most
pointedly directed at one Donald Trump.
A series of unflattering images of the controversial embattled President flashed on the video screens. Some, like one of him bloviating next to the word “charade,” part of the four decade old original lyrics to “Pigs,” spoke for themselves. Others, featuring Trump’s scowling head on a fat pig, crawling like a baby, or handling an artificial phallus required more creativity on the part of the production team. All the while, a seemingly endless series of questionable Trump quotes were flashed on the video screens.
But the biggest reaction came from an image of Trump’s face painted on the side of a floating pig, probably a logistic necessity considering that it wouldn’t have had the same visual effect if it was more accurately depicted up the gluttonous swine’s backside. The overinflated animal appeared from behind the left side of the house and circled around the horseshoe base of the arena before disappearing into it’s original nesting spot, creating an excited euphoria within much of the crowd.
But Waters still wasn’t done quite yet. As long-time sideman Dave Kilminster stepped into Gilmour’s role again on “Money” with spot on vocals and guitar leads, new images of Trump’s bankrupt casino’s, Vladimir Putin and other symbols of Russia, and too many seemingly disgraced cabinet members to recall accompanied the epic track.
Returning to a less controversial backdrop, the song “Us and Them” was uplifted by Ian Ritchie’s beautiful sax solo as the otherworldly impressive sound system was joined by breathtaking visuals that showed numerous scenes of both hope and despair. “Smell the Roses,” the last of the five songs from “Is This The Life We Really Want,” would precede one final sensory overload induced by a return to “Dark Side” and “The Wall.”
With the band kicking into “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” as more surreal Floyd video images began to flood the arena and take effect, an overwhelming feeling of witnessing a part of rock history seemed to be prevalent in the crowd. But the last of the many highlights of the evening was still to come as a result of one final block from “The Wall.”
While “Vera” and the penultimate “Bring the Boys Back Home” spotlighted Wolfe and Laessig’s exquisite vocals which included sharing a duet at center stage with Waters, it was the finale of “Comfortably Numb” that tied a bow on the performance. As Waters walked into the pit in front of the stage and moved from one end to the other to shake hands with members of the crowd, Kilminster’s final guitar solo shined one last time, and floating orbs along with the flying pig returned to the sky above the audience. Stacks on both the floor and elevated in the rafters emitted smoke, and a bevy of colorful lasers filled the front of the hall.
The tour’s Northern California leg continues with stops at Oracle Arena in Oakland on Saturday and the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Monday before moving on to Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Tickets and additional information can be found at www.rogerwaters.com .