It’s five whole days now since me and Steen (and our mate Ian) went to see Roger Waters play Pink Floyd’s The Wall at the O2 in London. After the unashamed fanboy gushing of my last entry, it probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that I’ve still not really returned to Earth.
After finishing work on Friday, Steen picked me up and we hit the road immediately, so as to get ourselves down to Ian’s gaff in Bromley as soon as we possibly could. Stopping only once for some emergency Cokes and choccies – our healthy eating kick having been firmly placed to one side for the duration of the weekend – we actually made it down there in record time. We had anticipated getting stuck on the M25 in the usual fashion, but apart from a brief bit of queuing upon exiting the M40 onto the M25 (which probably added no more than 20 minutes or so to our journey – small change when it comes to the M25 as I’m sure most of you will be well aware) there were no hold-ups. I had, if anything, over-prepared and had printed off a ream of maps of the Bromley area as well as detailed directions; this meant that we made no wrong turns and arrived around 7:45pm, pretty damn good for hauling arse down to Kent from the Midlands.
Once we were ensconced at our host’s residence, pizza was ordered, beers were opened and we sat around putting the world to rights, assisted by Within Temptation and Peter Gabriel on Ian’s large plazzy, and some as-yet unreleased audio about which my lips are sealed for the time being… ;-). As usual, it was the wee small hours before we turned in, but in our defence we’d all done a full day’s work too, and had the promise of a Grand Day Out the following day.
Saturday morning arrived with clear blue skies and sunshine, but alas the clouds moved in quickly, and it was thoroughly miserable by the time Ian drove us into Bromley for a visit to Starbucks for some virulent coffee and something nice and cakey. As we left to return to the car, it even half-heartedly attempted to drizzle. But we were not dismayed, for the evening ahead was to provide the much-anticipated Floydian entertainment and after all, that was indoors :-).
Further caffeinated drinkies were dispatched upon our return to Ian’s gaff, and further top secret audio was deployed (with a bit of luck you’ll get to hear at least some of it next year). Then, with our O2 parking booked, tickets in our hot little hands and a joyful song in our hearts, it was off to the O2 for the weekend’s main event. The O2 itself was only perhaps a 15-minute drive from Ian’s gaff, so we were there in record time. Pleasingly, the clouds had used the intervening time to disappear, and things were very pleasant outside. We took it as a good omen, and headed inside.
I’d never been to the O2 before, and was well impressed; not just the scale of the place (which was admittedly pretty awesome), but in the evident care that had been taken to craft a place which was functional and logically laid out, but also equipped with a large number of places to eat and drink before the show – I’ve never seen a venue with so many restaurants and bars inside it. However, before we addressed the important issue of consuming dead animal flesh and drinking liquids made with fermented hops, there was a further diversion in the shape of an exhbition of rare Floydian photos, being held at the BME (British Music Experience) which also has its home inside the O2. Better yet, the exhibition was free to Roger Waters ticketholders. Well, it would have been impolite to pass the opportunity up, so off we wandered to the BME.
We had a short wait in line – perhaps 5 minutes or so – before we were let in. It was a fairly small exhbition (perhaps 30-odd photos, all blown up to large sizes, signed by the original photographers, and displayed alongside blurb from said photographers about the circumstances surrounding the photos. Small it may have been, but it was still utterly fascinating – there were some superb shots on display, everything from Dave Gilmour relaxing with a nice game of backgammon at the Dark Side sessions, to photos from the original tour of The Wall in 1980/81, some great early pictures from the 60s with the original line-up including Syd Barrett, and possibly most intriguing of all, ‘alternative’ or unreleased pictures taken during the production of some of the band’s iconic cover art. Possibly my favourites from these were photos taken of the beds being set up on the beach for the Momentary Lapse Of Reason cover shoot: hundreds of old hospital beds, driven on flat-bed trucks to the beach, then manhandled down onto the sands and painstakingly arranged into a river motif – hard work, especially when it started to rain and the beds had to be removed, then replaced a couple of days later. And no Photoshop to make it all easier, either. Staggering, really; but the end results speak for themselves (and whilst Momentary Lapse probably remains my least favourite Floyd, I always did love that cover art). There was some great recent work on display, too, for promo campaigns and collections that I had not seen before. Signed prints of all the pictures on display were available to buy, too, and it was rather sobering to see 4-figure price tags attached to the majority of them, and the numbers available to buy dwindling steadily before our very eyes. I could sympathise, though: if I had had a few thousand to spare, I might have been tempted myself :-).
The exhibition seen, we negotiated the gift shop (isn’t it typical that when you go to such places, the exit is always through the gift shop? Though in this case I can forgive it, since it gave both Ian and myself a chance to pick some lovely Floydian fridge magnets. It’s probably a good job that we were on a tight budget for our London visit, or we would in all likelihood have been taking the whole Floydian corner of the gift shop home with us :-)), and returned to the outer recesses of the arena to grab some food. We had toyed with Thai, but after seeing how busy the place was, we opted for TGI Fridays and a pleasingly thick and sustaining burger apiece.
And so at last it was time to enter the arena, and take our places for the show. I eschewed the chance to look over the merch stand, preferring to leave that as a treat in store for our trip to Manchester this coming weekend, so Steen and I grabbed a bottle of water each and filed in to the arena whilst Ian wandered outside to offload a spare ticket for the evening (as it happened, he managed to sell it to a nice lady who worked for the Prince’s Trust who had narrowly missed out on getting a ticket when the show went on sale, so a fine result for everyone there).
The O2 arena is actually a really nice venue. It’s broad rather than long, so even if you’re a fair way back, you don’t feel like you’re all that far from the action. I’m not sure how I’d feel about one of the seats on the uppermost tier, mind: the view from those seats must have been seriously vertiginous, and I can’t imagine the sound is all that great up there. In all honesty, though, I was only paying scant attention to the venue as my attention was almost entirely focussed on the stage, where the Floydian circular screen was framed by two large structures comprised of white bricks… We were right at the back of the floor area – the very last row on the floor before the tiered seating rose towards the back of the venue; but crucially we were almost exactly dead centre, just a few feet from the right hand side of the mixing desk corral. The position was almost ideal: close enough that we could clearly see what people were doing on stage, but far enough back that we could see to each side of the stage without having to turn our heads. When I book tickets for shows this large, I always worry that maybe the seats aren’t all that great, but – considering that we had booked the seats several days after the show had gone on sale – we’d landed on our feet.
Sitting there, waiting for the show to start, I was virtually vibrating with excitement. It’d been 9 years since I last saw Roger play live (at the MEN in 2002), and it’s easy to forget in that length of time just how intense the Floydian live experience could be, at least for yours truly. This time it was all the more intense, because of just how much The Wall means to me personally. It’d been 32 years since I’d first heard of Pink Floyd, and I was about to hear the song, and album, that had started it all for me played live, in full, for the first time. Excited? You betcha.
Then the lights went down, and the place erupted.
It’s weird: the show was simultaneously a blur, and captured in my memory with almost perfect recall, every image burned into my neurons. I was speechless with delight from the first chord and the accompanying barrage of fireworks right to the end of the show, and was on an emotional rollercoaster right from the off. I occasionally noticed Steen glance at me, probably wondering if she was going to have to resuscitate me or something, but there was so much going on, all the time, that it was difficult for either of us to tear our eyes from the stage. I actually did better than I thought I might: I made it to the guitar solo in The Thin Ice, the second song up, before bursting into tears.
All the usual Floydian effects were in place: the pyro, the crashing Spitfire, the projections (on the circular screen and on the wall itself – and man, the projections on the wall itself were simply spectacular, really jaw dropping stuff), the lightshow, and the enormous inflatable characters (the schoolteacher, the mother, the wife and the now-infamous Floydian pig all made appearances) were all present and correct and as astonishing as ever. The real meat of the show though, of course, was the music, and it was performed perfectly by the extended ‘Bleeding Heart Band’ (as Roger’s band has been monikered since the mid-80s). Everyone did a splendid job, but special mention has to go to guitarist Dave Kilminster who had the thankless task of standing in for Dave Gilmour, but who did such a spectacular job that it simply never occurred to you during the show that Gilmour wasn’t present. His solo in Comfortably Numb was every bit as spectacular and moving as it would have been if Gilmour was actually there; the guy didn’t put a foot wrong all night.
The show had been overhauled thematically since its first appearance in the early 80s: back then, it was more autobiographical and personal to Roger, whereas this time the scope was more general, and more overtly political, albeit very much from Roger’s humanitarian viewpoint. The cost of war was a key point throughout, as has always been the case, but this time the anti-war theme was extended to cover recent events in the Middle East. Roger carefully apportions blame to both sides in such conflicts, making the point that no-one is blameless, and I can see that a neutral viewpoint might be quite hard for the “eye for an eye” brigade to swallow at times. During The Thin Ice, the circular screen displayed a succession of photos of those who died in war (starting, logically enough, with Roger’s own father), and the list includes US airmen alongside Iraqi suicide bombers and innocent bystanders alike. The point, of course, is that the lack of empathy and understanding that the album as a whole is concerned with leads to difference, which in turn often leads to people doing extraordinary things (both good and bad) to protect their friend, families, and way of life. Intolerance and indoctrination were the targets, although Roger didn’t stint on some cheek-sucking controversy during Goodbye Blue Sky by showing stylised animated bombers dropping various symbols (crucifixes, the star of David, the Chinese and Russian flags, dollar signs, the Shell logo, a Mercedes logo and even some craftily-inserted McDonalds logos) over a landscape as if they were bombs. I quite enjoyed the idea that the rednecks at the US concerts are probably burning Roger Waters albums in protest even as we speak ;-).
This broader theme to the show, though, just served to make it all the more intense and moving. The first few songs of the second half of the show (essentially ‘Side 3’ of the album in vinyl terms – everything from Hey You to Comfortably Numb) is a pretty intense section of the album as it is, but it was elevated to another level on this tour. After the sucker punch of Hey You (one of my all-time Floydian favourites, and a song that I find profoundly moving anyway), I was simply unprepared for a note-perfect rendition of Is There Anybody Out There?, and a tearjerkingly affectionate nod to the departed Syd Barrett during Nobody Home. I was in bits already, but then we had the double whammy of Vera (during which the wall displayed heartbreaking video of children reunited with their fathers, returning from the field of combat) and Bring The Boys Back Home, where still pictures were married to a perfect quote from Eisenhower to absolutely devastating effect. I was howling by the time that was over (and I wasn’t the only one), so you can imagine the mess everyone was in when that was followed swiftly by Comfortably Numb… Oh my goat, it was absolutely beyond words. It was one of those things which you can only really grok if you were there. I imagine that it’ll be pretty amazing captured for DVD (oh please, please let there be a DVD of this tour. Please.), but there, in person, staring up at the wall… Well, I have a million fond memories of this show, but that is the one I’ll going away with, the one I’ll be replaying in my mind every time I hear the album. A perfect example of brilliant staging totally enhancing the material.
This is already getting a bit like War and Peace, but there was so much more to come: a glorious Run Like Hell, complete with audience-divebombing pig (covered in thought-provoking/controversial graffiti), a deeply disturbing Waiting For The Worms, the technicolor nightmare of The Trial, the crashing down of the wall (which prompted the sort of mass outpouring of emotion that I’ve rarely seen at a rock concert) and the touching acoustic finale of Outside The Wall, complete with poppy-red confetti (some of which we collected up, and were amused to see mirrored the symbols we had seen dropping from the planes earlier in the show – hehehe, nice one Rog), and the moving farewell from Roger which had me in bits again… Ach, it was just astonishing. I could pile up superlatives in describing every song, every set piece, but there comes a point where it simply loses its meaning.
The tour’s more than half over now. But if any of you out there get the chance to see one of these shows, GO. Just GO. If you love Floyd, if you love Roger Waters, or even if you don’t, but want to see a hugely moving rock show, don’t turn down the chance. I’m absolutely certain that you’ll be very, very glad you did.
Phew. Even typing this, I’m trembling. And I’ve still got the Manchester show to go to.