Roger Waters’ The Wall: quite the spectacle

Looking back at last night’s opening performance of the four-night run at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena of The Wall, the stadium spectacular led by Pink Floyd great Roger Waters: what a triumph for staging.

Drawing heavily from both previous Floyd gigs and the movie of The Wall, there’s an aeroplane and an inflatable pig, giant marionettes, fireworks and gunfire; a performance stage that extrudes from the main stage and a living room that extends from a wall. There’s the trademark Pink Floyd circular screen above the stage, though the high tiers probably didn’t see much of it past the massive speaker stacks suspended from the ceiling. Fortunately, it was only really in play during the first half. And of course, there’s the wall itself: an extremely clever edifice stretching the width of the arena, constructed to full height — between 20 and 30 feet, I’d guess — during the first half, and then forming a backdrop during the second, until its eventual demise — almost an anticlimax, coming quite suddenly, as it does on the album, at the end of The Trial.

The wall, in all its stages of construction, acts as a massive screen for various film clips — some from the movie The Wall, most successfully perhaps the marching hammers — and effects, even a projection of various walls on the wall. A subway train is brilliantly detailed.

For ‘Hey You’, the opening song of the first half, there is only the wall: a gutsy bit of performance to have an entire song sung with no one on stage and fairly minimalist projections as well.

For ‘Comfortably Numb’, a real crowd favourite, Waters is alone in front of the wall, with a second singer doing some of the heavy vocal lifting from the top; he doesn’t have a hell of a lot to do, Roger, standing out from his black-suited compatriots due to his white trainers for the duration of that tune. He came across as a man in need of a guitar. Which he gets, on and off, and very nice it is, too.

flowers from pink floyd movie The Wall

For ‘Mother’, Roger sang to the backdrop of himself singing the song during the original Wall tour some 30 years ago. The voice doesn’t quite make some of those notes, but The Wall is theatrical enough to allow some licence. I do wonder how the mum sitting in the next row is going to explain that tune to her whippersnapper son; that or the big-screen naked boobs and crotch grabbing of ‘Young Lust’; the animation of fornicating plants might’ve gone over the young’un’s head this time around.

It really is a hell of a production, but the politics are a little dodgy. Trying to update the work, essentially a nightmarish autobiography about a wretched childhood, a dead solider father and the high cost of fame, into a plea for world peace feels like a stretch at times. Still, great art work; massive heart. ‘Bring the Boys Back Home’, indeed, but let’s not oversimplify here. There was at least one casualty of 9/11 on the memorial wall screened during intermission; the solutions aren’t as simple as we might like.

Still, I love the way that religions, warmongers and multicorporates are lumped into the same basket of Bad (a real game of pick your fascist!), although given I’ve just paid a hundred bucks to see it, there might be a degree of irony going begging there as Shell, Mercedes and McDonalds logos rain down amid dollar signs like 1000-pound bombs from hoopy Stratofortresses.

Highlights? Well, the album brims with them, but seeing the school kids on stage wagging their fingers at the giant school master is pretty cool; ‘Run Like Hell’ lifts the pace wonderfully. The sound is superb and the band and backing singers first-rate. Definitely worth a gander if you’re lacking a little rock opera in your diet. Hell, you might even leave with a sudden urge to donate to a famine-relief charity or buy a poppy on Anzac Day. Assuming you don’t already.

No support act, two halves of about an hour each, plus 20-minute intermission.

Meanwhile, here’s one of my favourite songs from the album, ‘Comfortably Numb’, and a spine-tingling moment of reconciliation when Dave Gilmour joined Waters in London to play it. Tear down the wall!

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