Even for someone in their mid-20s, seeing Roger Waters’ “The Wall Live” was a concert I had waited my entire life for. I had spent most of my adolescent years memorizing every lyric to the album, spending change from my $5/hour job on memorabilia and trinkets, renting the 1982 movie “The Wall” from Blockbuster every time I had friends over, and syncing “Dark Side of the Moon” to “The Wizard of Oz” more times than I can count.
Yet, I never subscribed to Floyd’s politics. I was just a dumb kid, completely oblivious to the fact that there was a very poignant message to Roger Waters’ writings. It didn’t matter. To say I was a Floyd fan would be a gross understatement. I idolized them. To say “The Wall Live” was a great concert would be a disservice. It was an experience.
Roger Waters’ show at the Verizon Center in D.C. had all of the angst, fear and paranoia of the album, and I had a front row seat. Having followed him through his career, I knew what I was in for. Waters lead us through the piece — a semi-autobiographical look at his own life. The story in “The Wall” is of a young man who is isolated and fearful: “We’re all frightened of each other, and that makes us behave in ways that are sadly inhumane, like engaging in wars,” Waters told USA Today in 2010. He vowed to make the show more about politics. Oh, boy. Time to break out the earmuffs.
Mirroring the actual two-disc set, “The Wall Live Tour” is broken into two acts. The first set is dedicated to building the massive structure the album and tour are named after, as Waters sings about war, loneliness, industrialization, and other worldly pains that are displayed onto the bricks of the slowly growing Wall.
Waters is a pacifist, and he has incorporated an increased emphasis on the show’s anti-war message. He projects photographs onto the Wall that fans submitted to him of passed loved ones who died at war. Just what we want to see at a rock concert. Good thing my beer’s still full.
Familiar animation from the movie was projected onto the screen: the marching hammers, the fornicating flowers, the fighter planes, etc. All the while, bricks fill in the wall, which spans nearly 500 feet. Waters finished the set by singing “Goodbye Cruel World” from the last hole in the Wall.
After a brief intermission, the second set began with the finished Wall spanning across the Verizon Center stage. Stunning imagery was projected onto the white brick structure, making it the largest screen in touring history. Once “The Trial” began, we all knew what was coming, and the excitement in the audience was intoxicating. The imagery projected on the screen got more intense, more vile, more insane. The music got louder and more dramatic. The audience chanted repeatedly:
Tear down the wall!
Tear down the wall!
Then it all came crashing down — Waters smiling from ear to ear, kicking “bricks” like a jovial child. This is not Waters’ first time demanding the destruction of a wall.
In November 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, and in July 1990 Waters staged one of the largest and most elaborate rock concerts in history on the vacant terrain between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate. The show reported an official attendance of 200,000, though some estimates are as much as twice that, with approximately one billion television viewers.
In 2011, Waters, a proponent for the statehood of Palestine, launched a boycott against Israel, demanding “that fair-minded people around the world support the Palestinians in their civil, nonviolent resistance.”
He scrawled “We don’t need no thought control,” lyrics from one of Pink Floyd’s most popular songs, on “the wall” separating the West Bank, and he joined the campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
But that night in D.C., for most of the more than two hours he was on stage, the 68-year-old was something above a mere frontman or a rock singer. He was the maestro of an elaborate and maniacal production, many elements of which could tour as art exhibitions on their own. The musicians (who had yet to be seen at this point) then emerged from the rubble to finish the final song on the album, “Outside the Wall.”
I couldn’t help but feel a sense of mourning at that moment. I looked around and realized I wasn’t alone. Just like that, the show I had spent the last 15 years dreaming of was over. And it shattered every expectation I ever had. You had to hand it to him.
As a lifelong conservative — and newfound Libertarian — and as a rock junkie, I have become an expert at ignoring my favorite artists’ politics. There’s a reason Waters’ views have never bothered me: I just don’t care. I will continue to only see him as the great artist that he truly is.