Art, in all its forms, is intended to inspire, challenge and broaden our minds. Whether a song, a painting, a NFT, or an interpretive dance, art is not intended to be comfortable, and if it is, it’s not doing its job. So when Roger Waters, co-founder and former member of Pink Floyd, arrived in Albany this week, he brought with him a performance that reaffirmed his status as an artist, while confronting the views of the audience in the process, sometimes to their discomfort but to great acclamation.
Appearing at a hazy MVP Arena on Wednesday, July 20 for a show two years in the planning – and more than half a century in the making – Waters performed a career-spanning show, featuring Pink Floyd classics, solo and new material amid an odyssey for the senses.
Those two years were such a span of time, that from when the This is Not a Drill Tour was announced in January 2020, the name of the Albany venue has changed from the Times Union Center to MVP Arena. The anticipation for fans – who represented a wide age-range as grandparents joined grandkids to see a legend perform – grew steadily as they awaited the show to go on, nearly two years to the date of the original show (July 25, 2020).
With announcements on the screen read aloud by a calming British voice, the audience was given 15, 10 and 5 minute warnings for when the show would begin. There was this courtesy to all in attendance, as well as a request to silence your cell phone, that were met with agreement from the crowd. Rousing applause and cheers overshadowed those rumblings when those in the crowd who were not interested in hearing Roger’s politics were advised to ‘fuck off to the bar right now,’ as the audience prepared themselves for a spectacle of the audio, visual and political varieties.
For this performance, the cross-shaped stage featured four quadrants of video screens displaying animation and early band images, so that every seat was a great seat and you could see the full show from any vantage point, amid a haze that hung in the air like London fog. Opening with “Comfortably Numb” as a video played across the screens with a dark, dystopian future city scape, the song reaching an emotional peak and the screens ascending, revealing the full band and offering Albany a rare performance in the round.
Performing this evening with Waters were Jon Carin (keys, guitar, vocals), Robert Walter (organ), Jonathan Wilson – (guitar, vocals), Gus Seyffert (bass, guitar), Dave Kilminster (guitar, vocals), Joey Waronker (drums, percussion), Seamus Blake (saxophone), Amanda Belair (vocals) and Shanay Johnson (vocals).
As the band was revealed, the 78 year old Waters showed off his vocal ability and on-stage agility as he moved from side to side and end to end of the arena, making sure no one was left out of seeing Roger close up. A trio of songs from The Wall were the first songs in full view of the audience – “Happiest Days of Our Lives,” “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” and “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 3).” “Powers That Be” followed as the first solo work of Waters, a track off his 1987 concept album, Radio K.A.O.S.
This is when, as if you hadn’t been given fair warning, Roger’s politics become their own feature of the show. If you somehow weren’t aware of where Roger stood on world issues beforehand, well, you were in for an education into the mind of the former Pink Floyd frontman.
Imagery included BIPOC victims of police violence – not just in America, but in England, Africa, Turkey, and around the world. During “The Bravery of Being Out of Range,” the voice and floating head of Ronald Reagan appeared on the screen, giving his farewell address to the nation in 1989, with the words WAR CRIMINAL beneath his image along with 30,000 Guatamalans killed referring to those of Mayan descent who were killed during his presidency through efforts to expand democracy in Latin America. By now, Roger had shifted to the piano as Reagan’s head was burned into the minds of those in attendance, and rightly so given his hatred for Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and whose policies the song criticizes. Not to leave the Gipper alone, Presidents Bush (both), Clinton, Obama and Trump are all featured as well with WAR CRIMINAL below their image for various military action and drone strikes taken during each presidency. Biden was featured last and while his presidency is just one and a half years old, WAR CRIMINAL appeared again, with ‘just getting started’ below, which was met with an uneasy applause from the audience.
Roger spoke to the audience as he sat at the piano, thanking everyone who kept their tickets from the initial date in 2020. The first portion of “The Bar,” an unreleased song that was written during the pandemic followed, with a similar sound to “Nobody Home” from The Wall. Here, imagery was displayed of the Lakota Indian tribe and their protest against a uranium mine in the Black Hills of North Dakota. These were not light images to see, yet showing the resolve of the Lakota people in the face of overwhelming odds and power, both remarkable and inspiring.
Nothing, however, prepares you for the sheer amount of reading involved in a full Roger Waters concert experience. Instead of a professor giving you a pre-reading assignment before class, Waters puts the text on the screen, leading your eyes to dart from the screen to the band, and back again, knowing that this captive audience is laser focused on the center of the room. All of the text is no doubt informative and sheds some light into the mind of Roger Waters, yet at times feels like being stuck in a car with a podcast where you can’t change the channel.
The second side of Wish You Were Here took center stage as the set moved into its second half, starting with “Have a Cigar,” as early Pink Floyd photos were displayed on the screens; “Wish you Were Here,” as Roger spoke of Syd Barrett stories and images appeared above, and the finally, the latter portions of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” As sheep, pigs and dogs appeared on the screen, the show entered the Animals era, including Tweets featuring the recent opinions of the US Supreme Court while the band performed “Sheep” to the loudest cheers of the set thus far.
After a 20-minute intermission, a flying pig was released – roughly the size of a compact car and soaring over the crowd – circling the arena and drawing attention away from Roger and the band as they took the stage and moved into The Wall’s “In the Flesh (Part 2)” and bringing along the full experience of The Wall, short of the actual wall being torn down. Banners dropped down featuring marching hammers, a red hue about the stage and Waters in a full dictator-tilt as he tore through Pink’s speech from the film, before moving into “Run Like Hell” as the pig continued to circle the stage above the crowd.
Two tracks from 2017’s Is This the Life We Really Want?, “Déjà Vu” and the title track followed, with a theme of human rights flashing on screen, along with specific rights for Yeminis, Palestinians, women and those without equal rights in the world.
The coins of “Money” could be heard next as the Dark Side of the Moon era was given center stage.. With screens showing faces of humanity and scenes from global protests, “Us and Them” felt more like “Us versus Them,” particularly those most vulnerable among the ‘Us,’ indiginous peoples from around the world. “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” would follow, with a rainbow forming on the screens while a triangular prism of lasers surrounded the stage end to end, providing a full Dark Side of the Moon album cover effect.
Waters’ encore began with one of his last songs for Pink Floyd, “Two Suns in the Sunset,” which references nuclear holocaust, and was connected to the Doomsday Clock. A second portion of “The Bar” followed, with the band crowding around Waters at the piano, as they brought acoustic instruments in preparation for a walk around the perimeter of the stage as “Outside the Wall,” the final track on The Wall closed the show. With Waters standing on the stage at the end to a standing ovation, his bid farewell with a simple message: Peace.
When taken together, Roger Waters’ live performance coupled with the knowledge he seeks to impart on his audience is a vivid spectacle of the highest order. Taken separately, both fall on deaf ears and the message is lost. Waters continues to examine the uncomfortable realities of life through his music, one for the benefit of his audiences for the past 54 years and counting.
Roger Waters’ “This is Not a Drill” Tour arrives at Long Island’s UBS Arena at Belmont Park on August 13, followed by two nights at Madison Square Garden on August 30 & 31. All tour dates can be found here.
Roger Waters – MVP Arena – Albany, NY – July 20, 2022
Set 1: Comfortably Numb, The Happiest Days of Our Lives > Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 > Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3, The Powers That Be, The Bravery of Being Out of Range, The Bar, Have a Cigar, Wish You Were Here > Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX), Sheep
Set 2: In the Flesh > Run Like Hell, Déjà Vu, Is This the Life We Really Want?, Money > Us and Them > Any Colour You Like > Brain Damage > Eclipse
Encore: Two Suns in the Sunset, The Bar (Reprise), Outside the Wall
photos by Dave Decrescente