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Saying that I'm a fan of Pink Floyd and of The Wall doesn't see to really cover exactly how I feel about their work and this particular album. To this day I remember the first time I really listened to it in it's entirety and the mixture of awe, identification and absolute confusion I felt afterward. That moment left me wanting more and this particular Pink Floyd album has been a subject of fascination for me ever since, one who's themes of isolation and the subsequent effects of such isolation continue to speak to me on a very personal and guttural level to this very day.
When anyone from a generation that wasn't around when the album first debuted first discovers The Wall though, I think there's always eventually a moment of realization. Maybe it comes when someone else exposes them to the film version, or when they seek it out themselves, research the live productions etc, but it's a moment of realization that The Wall was never intended to be “just an album”. I remember when I first saw the film and the power of the imagery throughout. It was a little shocking and I remember promptly going home and listening to the album through in its entirety over and over again for like a week trying to absorb all the thematic details that just aren't as overtly conveyed without the imagery.
Seeing the film also pushed me to do a little research into the live shows because as much as The Wall wasn't meant to be “just an album”, it also wasn't meant to be “just an album and a film” either. Unfortunately though, the live adaptation was never able to be fully realized as originally intended back in 1979-80 when it was originally attempted. There isn't even a whole lot of film footage from those shows (at least there isn't to my knowledge) and so for many like myself, the live production of The Wall remained just a legend and seeing such an event just a dream... at least until now.
2009 represented the 30th anniversary of this album and in remembrance and celebration Roger Waters, original bassist and primary writing force behind Pink Floyd throughout their heyday, decided to create a live stage production.
And so it came to pass on September 2010 that I finally achieved one of my lifelong dreams: To see Pink Floyd's The Wall performed live in it's full theatrical production.
The tickets said the show started promptly at 8:00 and so I made sure to get there early, ready to go. Sure enough at right around 8:00 down on the ground floor of the venue appeared a figure dressed as a homeless man with a shopping cart and a sign that read something to the effect of “Homeless, Please Help, Need Money for Booze and Hookers”... nice. Although I was too far away to see for sure, I believe this was Waters himself out mingling with the crowd. Sure enough he made is way to the stage and it isn't long before we hear the opening erupting riffs of “In the Flesh?”, complete with all the appropriate crossed hammer banners and paraphernalia.
Saying the next two+ hours is an emotional whirlwind is a bit of an understatement.
The band Waters assembled for this gig are top notch without a doubt. They stretched a couple of the songs out from their original versions leaving room for extended solos and expression, and then fell right back into tight precision, capturing the music nearly perfectly in every respect. Waters himself surely put in some time getting into vocal shape as his singing sounded just as powerful as ever and perhaps in some cases, like the standout performance of “Mother” or the powerful “Bring the Boy's Back Home”, even better. He was also joined by local school kids to sing and dance (and fight off giant marionette school teachers) on the appropriate “Another Brick in the Wall Pt2”... a nice touch.
All the while the wall is being built brick by brick across the stage... each one almost fading into existence as the wall is used as a backdrop for multimedia images and production throughout. Technologically this really impressed me as there are several times throughout the show where each individual brick was used separately without any shaking or movement, aplus as I said, the bricks would almost fade in. They would be placed and then the image being projected would fade onto them, in the darkness almost giving the impression that these bricks are coming from nowhere.
As the wall went up, there were occasional holes left to see the band through, but their separation becomes more and more apparent throughout. By “Goodbye Cruel World” and the subsequent intermission, the wall was complete... a massive barrier between the band and the audience... the album's iconic and striking image even more powerful when physically fully realized.
The second half of the show began with what I think was one of the night's most powerful images: the wall, with just a projection of stone bricks, standing intimidatingly and unmoving as the band played “Hey You” from behind it. You could see the lights continue and the spotlights in use behind the wall, but this immovable mass cuts it off you of from it, opening only briefly mid song for the inner creature to lash out violently before slamming shut again.
Waters took his seat in front of the television in a small living room set that folds out of the wall for a stellar version of “Nobody Home”. It's 'Bring the Boy's Back Home” that really stood out in my mind though, not only because of a fantastic and musical vocal performance, but also because of the incredibly powerful images projected on the wall throughout.
As in the original stage productions, “Comfortably Numb” was performed with Water's out front and his accompanying guitarist (not David Gilmour in this case unfortunately, but still a great guitarist) appearing at the top of the wall. It's was a great performance, of a great song... I don't think anyone expected anything less really.
The show reached a fevered pitch once again returning to the Neo Nazi-esque rallies with “In the Flesh”, a driving powerful “Run Like Hell” and the massively dark and foreboding of “Waiting for the Worms” with the band now out front of the wall. These scenes seemed to come alive in the stage production, their social comment and satire really becoming apparent with the banners and hammers projected on the wall behind the band. With a black floating pig adorned with statements like 'Us vs Them” and “What's Wrong With People!?” and the band dressed in to fulfill the Neo Nazi, fascist imagery it was difficult not to get sucked in as the rally took on an almost frightening realism.
In fact, that's true of the entire show. It was extremely compelling and easy to get sucked in, forgetting to an extent that many of these scenes in the story are being played out in the main character Pink's (that's Pink Floyd's) head and are products of his neurosis, hallucinations and feelings of isolation. That actually makes them more effective as if you know it's all in your head, it becomes easy to break loose and just dismiss it as just a dream, or a nightmare.
Although this isn't intended as a critique of The Wall as an album or a concept it's worth mentioning that I think this is where many people miss the boat when it comes to this work: they either refuse to, or mentally can't lose themselves in the concept and the emotions of the character. Instead they see it as a narcissistic or self absorbed story about a rock star who blames everyone else for his problems.
That's a pretty shallow viewpoint in my opinion... or maybe I'm just narcissistic and self absorbed as well. So much of the story was born out of real life events including Roger Waters broken marriage, loss of his father in WWII, guilt over spitting on a fan in a fit of rage and watching his friend Syd Barrett's descent into madness, but I see the work as having a much more broad purpose One must allow themselves to identify with Pink and to realize that it's those feelings of isolation and alienation that lead to so much hate and violence in the world... that those feelings and that potential for such destruction exists in all of us. Seeing that concept played out live, I think it's easier to let yourself go, but it still requires the audience to be open to it and to allow themselves to become engrossed for it to have the maximum effect. I guess that's true of all art actually, but I digress.
As the show continues, most of Pink's trial took place in the form of animations from the film projected on the wall, but that didn't diminish the power and it was still a massive built up to the final climax. As the calls to tear down the wall grew, just like in the original productions, the physical wall on stage came toppling forward into a massive pile of bricks. It was a pretty intense moment that left the audience standing in applause all the way through the band's acoustic rendition of “Outside the Wall” to close the show.
Overall, definitely a pretty unique concert experience... or perhaps it's more appropriately described as a theatrical production.
As I've briefly mentioned already, I was quite impressed by the sheer technical accomplishments of creating such a show of such exquisite detail, but the complete effect of the music, multimedia elements and stage performance was intensely moving. Maybe a big part of that is because I'm such a fan of The Wall to begin with, but I think a lot of the credit should go to Roger Waters, the band and the crew. They've really done an excellent job bringing this album to life on stage again... or perhaps as it should have been the first time.
So, if you're a fan of Pink Floyd's The Wall, this is a show to see... without question, this is a show you should see. Those who have a hard time really being adsorbed into this work as an album may find themselves converted by the live show if they let themselves lose themselves in the emotion... then again if they don't they might end up even more confused and disappointed than before... who knows.
I'm definitely thrilled that I got to see this show and I think a lot of other people have been/will be as well... like I said, for me, it was fulfilling a livelong dream. Now if only I could get Led Zeppelin to reunite, I could die a happy man.