Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne VIC
10th February 2018
Consequential, influential and wildly obscure, it simply cannot be overstated just how massive Pink Floyd was to progressive rock. Regarded as one of the greatest bands of all time, Roger ‘Syd’ Barrett, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright (David Gilmour joined in 1968 after Barrett’s departure) are today still characterised as ‘architects of psychedelic space-rock and blues-based progressive rock’. Having gone on to sell more than 250 million albums worldwide, the bands engaging artistic flexibility and intelligent inventiveness were a gift from above – demanding attention and questioning consciousness.
Challenging humanity, drawing influence from politics, death and adversity, Pink Floyd layered their songs like paintings. Pairing visceral, surreal lyrics and experimental, electronic samples with classic jazz influences, they also provided audiences with a complete sensorial experience. Live, their performances included elaborate light projections seamlessly curated in time with the music. In print, Storm Thorgerson’s striking and startling artwork which adorned the albums were emblematic to the era.
Some five decades later, having set the standard for production high, Pink Floyd’s co-founder, pioneer and singer-songwriter Roger Waters continues to raise the bar with modern technology.
In front of a sold-out Rod Laver Arena – the first of three shows at the venue – the two-and-a-half-hour Us +Them Tour extravaganza was as much a theatre experience as it was about music.
Greeted with a large screen showing an unknown woman sitting on a barren beach, squawking seagulls were soon replaced by eerie vocals to the tune of ‘Speak to Me’. As the iconic “I’ve been mad for fucking year’s” sample looped, Waters took to the stage. Clad in all black, Waters and his band launched into ‘Breathe’, as the infamous imagery we’ve come to adore from Pink Floyd materialised behind them. Transitioning into ‘One of These Days’, Waters stepped forward and took the spotlight for the first time, attacking his instrument with an aggressive, psychedelic bass solo. It was not until ‘Time’ however that we heard his distinctive gruff voice growl. They say patience is a virtue.
Rolling through a lavish medley from Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall, the fierce and unsettling ‘Welcome to the Machine‘ saw the audience on their feet first. Violently pumping their fists in the air, Waters proudly embraced the rapturous rally he created before launching into the acoustic classic ‘Wish You Were Here’. Undoubtedly as heartbreaking as sobering, the song’s sedate groove gently washed over the crowd for one of the evening’s most powerful moments.
Without warning, simulated searchlights swept overhead as the sound of choppers echoed. The stage burnt bright and a long line of orange jumpsuits appeared. All hooded, these ‘prisoners’ stood frozen during ‘The Happiest Days of Our Lives’. It was not until ‘Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2’ however, in which all ‘broke free’ and removed their restraints. Later revealed to be members of Girls Rock! Melbourne (a not-for-profit organisation that aims to empower female, trans and gender non-binary youth in music), the children trudged in time, repeating the song’s lyrics with timely lip-synching and simple choreography. An iconic stadium spectacle, this drew the largest cheer of the night (even from Waters himself).
After a brief intermission, a collapsible replica of the Battersea Power Station descended from the roof, slicing the arena in two. Elaborately used to project imagery for the remainder of the evening, ‘Dogs’ carried the appearance of the iconic smoking factory whilst ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’ was accompanied by a highlight reel of doctored Donald Trump caricatures. ‘Money’ saw a smooth sax solo and chugging bassline escort unsettling footage of our world leaders before ‘Us and Them’ forced confronting pictures of poverty upon us.
Soon after, the arena dimed for one final hypnotic visual feast. Recreating Dark Side’s pyramid with high-tech lasers, refracting rays of prismatic light expertly melted over the spectators. Finishing with ‘Mother’ and ‘Comfortably Numb’, beauty was in no short supply as an explosion of confetti slowly sunk into the deserved standing ovation.
As spectacular as it was unnerving, if anything, Roger Waters will make you think. And while not everyone will agree, it’s hard not to take inspiration from his provocative creativity, refreshing honesty and unsurpassed controversy.
Gig Review by Jimmy Russell.
Roger Waters – Us + Them Tour
Feb 11th @ Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
Feb 13th @ Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
Feb 16th @ Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Adelaide
Feb 20th @ Perth Arena, Perth