When the opening notes of a show are accompanied with pyrotechnics, you know you might be in for something visually entertaining. When that same song closes with an airplane flying over head and crashing into the stage, you are probably in for something the likes of which you haven’t seen before. And that is, in fact, how it all began.
I had seen Roger Waters once when I was in college, and mostly what I remember was the absence of David Gilmore and the fact that Waters really isn’t much of a songwriter anymore. Bitter and pompous, he has a special ability to make me remember Pink Floyd for the music and not the personalities. His “Thank you for supporting me when I was with my other band.” farewell that night spoke volumes. But then I had heard something different. After he brought his live production of The Wall, an album he wrote almost entirely by himself in the late 1970s, to the United Center last year, the reviews were much more positive than I’d imagined they’d be. So, when another performance at Wrigley Field was announced, I figured I would give him one more chance. I mean, if there is any Floyd album to see him play cover to cover, it would be The Wall.
Upon entering Wrigley, we were greeted with the stage. Yes, any concert at a venue that size is going to need a big stage, but big would be an understatement. Stretching from foul pole to foul pole across Wrigley’s outfield, we’re talking a stage of nearly 500 feet across. That’s not big. That’s massive! The wall itself was already partially constructed, leaving a giant gap across the center of the stage so we could see the band…for now.
Tickets said the show’s start time was “8:30 prompt,” which no one in my group had ever seen before. And you don’t need to tell us twice. This isn’t a show you want to come strolling into late, so there we were in our seas by 8:15 ready to rock. When 9:00 came around and they still hadn’t taken the stage, we were admittedly a little frustrated. But oh how that was all about to change.
“In the Flesh” is already attention-grabbing enough on its own, but add the aforementioned special effects and all the other sites and sounds around Wrigley virtually ceased to exist. All eyes were fixed upon the stage, where they would remain for the better part of an hour, as Waters playing dual roles of band leader and actor, treated us to almost every single original note of disc one (act one).
Is it really half over?
Disc/act/set two of the album is when the theatrics really take over. But first let’s talk about the one thing that everyone in the house was waiting for: Comfortably Numb. Probably the most iconic Floyd song, this would be the true test of the evening. Can they pull it off without Gilmore. The answer? Yes. As with the rest of the show, Dave Kilminster, one of three guitarists in the band, hit it note for note, paying true homage to one of the greatest guitar solos of all time. And just as with other live versions of the tune, when it allows for a little improve towards the end, he stayed true to the Gilmore influence and really made us all, for a brief moment, feel like the man himself may just be back there wailing away. Absolutely brilliant and literally breathtaking, you could hear a collective grown/sigh/exasperation from the crowd when it was over. Bravo!
Puppets, a giant floating pig and Waters firing a machine gun into the crowd were just a few more of the countless, stupefying moments in part two. And as Pink’s trial progressed towards the climax and nearly 40,000 fans are yelling “Tear down the wall!”, chills were everywhere. This indeed was something incredibly special.
Going into the show, I figured there wouldn’t be an encore. But as the band stood on the edge of the stage and took a bow, the roar from the crowd was so loud, so long and so sustained that I thought maybe they’d just have to. Rather, Waters emphatically thanked the crowd and cued up “Outside the Wall” with on his trumpet, and with the band backing him, they slowly strolled off the stage, leaving the crumbled wall behind.
It’s not often that I’m ever excited to go to a concert and hear songs played exactly as they appear on the album. This is why some of my favorite live music is improvisational in nature. But Floyd is a different animal. Each album note is so carefully selected, so eloquently played and so emotionally received that to add a personal flare would be disrespectful. Waters knows this. Hell, he’s the one who made it that way in the first place. So, to go and hear The Wall done exactly as it was meant to be heard way back in 1980 was a special treat. If you call yourself a Pink Floyd fan and this show is coming anywhere close to you, don’t even question it. See it.
All photos credit to Ryan O'Malley