Roger Waters @ Toyota Center
Once in a great while, a concert is announced that you know is going to be great before you even see it. I grew up listening to the greats thanks to my parents, but whenever I picked up both of Pink Floyd’s masterpieces, Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall, I was stuck. Pink Floyd are their own genre, their own complete type of music, and they own it. I had the opportunity to see Roger Waters perform live once before this date, when he brought Dark Side to the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion for a late summer mind-blowing performance. When I found out that Waters was once again returning, only this time bringing The Wall, I was immediately pushing to both my Houston Press contact as well as my Live Nation contact about getting into that show. I needed to photograph it – it was going to be the biggest show that I had ever had the chance to shoot. Well, call it dumb luck, but I was accepted to shoot the show in the month leading up to it. Let’s just say that, even though I had a ton of great shows to catch in November, my mind was completely stuck on the thought that Roger Waters would be in Houston very soon. Well, the moment came, and I was standing in the photo pit with a few photographer friends, awaiting Waters’ arrival on the grandiose stage that was set up for his show.
Standing alone on the front part of the stage was a store-front dummy dawning only a leather trenchcoat and a pair of aviators. A “homeless” man was working his way through the crowd pushing a shopping cart filled with a random assortment of goods, eventually leading himself into the photo pit. Shuffling through his shopping cart, he pulled out a white, faceless ragdoll, better known in the story as Pink. If you’ve ever seen the film version of The Wall, Pink should be known quite well to you. Taking the doll, and throwing it at the feet of the dummy carrying the jacket and sunglasses, the homeless man made his way out of the building. Signifying the start of the set, soon the stage was taken over by marching men in leather suits carrying flags with the criss-crossed hammers made famous by the film. Explosions and pyro all around, Waters eventually made it to the stage, walked straight to the dummy and dawned the aviators and leather coat for the first song of the set, “In The Flesh?” I was like a giddy school-boy, singing along while trying to snap as many shots as I could.
The song ended with a plane flying through the arena, and eventually exploding into the wall. This brought the intense beginning to a climax, bringing the tone down a bit through “The Thin Ice.” Soon, the intensity was in full build-up mode when Waters and his solid backing band jumped into “Another Brick In The Wall Part 1,” “The Happiest Day’s In Our Life” and “Another Brick In The Wall Part 2,” which upon listening could be tagged as one long three-part song. “Part 2” found Water’s being joined by a group of local kids who danced and sang along with the lyrics throughout. Also, a giant blow-up creature stood looming over the stage and audience, creepily moving up and around against the already building wall. Piece by piece, men in black outfits methodically placed the bricks in the wall, growing more and more as the songs progressed. As we exited the photo pit, Waters talked to the audience a bit before jumping into one of the album’s biggest radio songs, “Mother.” As I walked through the outside corridor of the Toyota Center, I sang along loud and proud while the concession-stand operators oddly eye-balled me. As I eventually made it to my seat, which had a perfect view of the entire stage, the opening notes to “Goodbye Blue Sky,” one of my all-time favorite Pink Floyd songs, started.
A quick “Empty Spaces” moved surely and steadily into a rocking “Young Lust,” one of the most well-played songs of the entire evening. By this point in the show, the wall was well on its way to being completely built, with imagery from wars past, current happenings and even a few shots of Obama thrown in for good measure being displayed onto it. They were now playing in between spaces in the wall, rather than being between it like the first half of the set. Random guitar solo’s from Waters’ tenured guitarist Snowy White would happen across the stage, through a whole in the wall, and I wouldn’t be able to see them because of the angle. On the other hand, when a brick would feature someone on our side of the stage, we’d have a full-on view. This was until it came to set-closer “Goodbye Cruel World,” which found only a sparse few bricks remaining, eventually finishing with Roger peering out of the final brick located in the absolute center of the stage up until the final notes when the last brick was placed quickly into the center. Some seriously powerful shit.
After about a half an hour, where the audiences took to the halls to replenish their beers, smoke a ciggy or two and try to wait in line for overpriced merch. The intermission was the perfect time, not too short so people could get everything done, but not too long where people would forget about the powerful ending of the first set that we all just experienced. As soon as the half hour was over, though, the music came back on strong as could be. “Hey You” was masterfully performed, but lost a lot of it’s power by being performed completely behind the wall with no visual stimulation. Soon, though, Waters reappeared in front of the wall with only a microphone during “Is There Anybody Out There?” Disappearing back behind the wall toward the end of the song, Waters next appeared when a big chunk of the wall folded out to find what looked to be a scene from a cheap motel, much like the movie, where Waters sang “Nobody Home” from a chair while staring at a TV showing old war footage. One of the most powerful vocal performances from the night came with “Vera,” showing the audiences that Waters still has it, even in his late 60’s. After a short “Bring The Boys Back Home,” the moment that most in the audience were waiting for, “Comfortably Numb,” started with cheers from all around. It was definitely the biggest sing-a-long of the evening, and found Waters pacing around in front of the wall, while his David Gilmour fill-in (who looked a helluva lot like Rob Thomas) stood at the top of the wall singing his part next to Snowy White ripping the signature guitar solo along with every air-guitar toting 55-year old guy in the audience.
The second half of the second set was what we all paid for. It was the climax of the set, and didn’t end until the very end. The grandiose “The Show Must Go On” was pushed right into “In The Flesh” which found Waters, with the help of a giant spotlight, pointing out the “oddballs” in the audience telling them to get “up against the wall.” While the Nazi/Communist regime that this is partially based off of isn’t really pertinent to our current culture, the separatism that is displayed is something that will always be current and real. That led it’s way into “Run Like Hell,” which is the beginning of the turn-around, and a precursor to the falling of the wall. Some last intensity came during “Waiting For The Worms” which featured the marching hammers made popular by the film, as well as “Stop” which was no more than a scream. The conclusion to the set, which found the falling of the wall, was an impressive musical and vocal performance of “The Trial.” Waters put all of his heart into this song, and you could tell that it held a ton of meaning not only to his world of fans, but also to himself.
After the falling of the wall, when the true production of the whole event was done and over, the entire cast of players came to stage, out of costume, to sing through the final track of the double album, “Outside The Wall,” in acoustic format. It was a great way to finish such a fantastic show, and a perfect opportunity for Waters to introduce the entire band. I found this the perfect time for me to beat the crowd and find my way to the exit, mind-blown. I am kind of glad that I experienced this show by myself, as it allowed me to pay attention to it rather than a group of friends. I do wish, though, that more of my BOT buddies would have seen the performance, as it was one of the best I’ve ever seen in my life. I see a ridiculous amount of bands on a weekly basis, and sometimes there is a show that stands out above the rest – this show not only stood out above the rest, it blew them all out of the water. I’ve seen numerous grand productions in the musical spectrum, but not one (even Roger Waters’ Dark Side performance a few years back) has matched what I witnessed at Toyota Center last Saturday night.
Nothing is going to touch this show in a very long time, and I’m alright with that.