If you’re one of those “I love Pink Floyd, but I can’t stand Roger’s politics” people, you might do well to fuck off to the bar right now.
With that confrontational message, spoken by an announcer with a cheerful English accent, Roger Waters begins the shows on his This Is Not a Drill tour. Fair warning. If you’re one of those people who want him to just shut up and play all the hits, you’re in for a shock. Or, well, probably not if you’ve ever paid any attention at all to the actual content of those hits, but…
The 78-year-old former Pink Floyd frontman has some grievances, and he’d like you to know about them.
But first, the music. Waters does indeed play all of the hits (or, well, enough of them… it’s probably not even possible to play them all in one evening). If you’ve come to this show looking to hear Pink Floyd, you’re in luck, because the setlist is heavy on tracks from The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall. With even a track from The Final Cut thrown in for good measure. Sprinkled amongst them are a few – but only a few – songs from Radio K.A.O.S., Amused to Death, and his most recent solo release Is This the Life We Really Want? There’s one new song titled “The Bar” which makes an appearance early on and then again in a reprise toward the very end. But if you know the core of the Pink Floyd catalog, you’re bound to be delighted.
Then there’s Waters himself. Using a word like “spry” would sound condescending, as if we expect him to be an invalid at the ripe old age of almost-eighty. But the amount of energy that Waters puts into his two-and-a-half hour performance would be astounding even for someone years his junior. And unlike many aging singers, his voice sounds as good as ever. He’s put together an excellent band as well, who successfully pick up the soaring dynamics that Pink Floyd was known for. A particular highlight is guitarist Jonathan Wilson, who also covers the vocals for a couple of songs that had been sung by David Gilmour in their original incarnations.
All of this occurs on an absolutely massive stage which fills the center of the arena, a huge cross-shaped monstrosity with multiple levels and the band standing in the middle. Above them, another massive, similarly shaped screen looms. The in-the-round format may not always be quite as successful as it was probably envisioned – at times it feels like the whole band has their backs turned, and Waters disappears for whole stretches while he’s on the opposite side – but no one would say that it isn’t impressive. There are flying sheep and pig balloons, and lasers that form triangles going nearly up to the ceiling. Waters notes that he has a crew of 140 people – 140 people! – touring with him to build it up and take it down at each tour stop, along with an additional 120 local crew members. No expenses spared on this tour! (no wonder the t-shirts are $50…)
Which brings us to the politics. It’s surprising, after all of this time, that people are still surprised by Waters’ politics. Yet there are still people exclaiming “I knew he was political, but I didn’t expect…” during the intermission. And toward the end of the show, between songs, Waters even seems to get into a brief verbal conflict with a (former?) fan. So fair warning, if you didn’t already know, the show is political, and if you go in not expecting it, that’s all on you.
Of course, as previously mentioned, much of Waters’ work even back into the Pink Floyd days was very much political, if you were paying enough attention to hear it. And unfortunately, many of the issues that he was writing about then are still with us now.
When Waters last toured, on his Us + Them tour in 2017-2018, much (though not all) of his ire was focused firmly in the direction of then US President Donald Trump. With that particular orange cloud no longer hanging over him, Waters is much more free-ranging in his topics, with everything from drone strikes, to climate change, to equality and human rights issues, to Jeff Bezos meeting his ire. To be clear to the “shut up and play the hits” crowd, Waters actually spends relatively little time speaking directly about these issues. Instead, words and images, slogans and statistics, are projected onto the screens above as the songs play. It all honestly gets a little overwhelming, but maybe that’s the point. Waters doesn’t expect anyone to come out of his show an expert on nuclear proliferation, but he at least wants you to think about it.
If you’re a Pink Floyd fan, this is a show well worth seeing. Unless you can’t stand Roger’s politics, that is. In that case, you’d better just fuck off to the bar.
Roger Waters setlist
Comfortably Numb The Happiest Days of Our Lives Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3 The Powers That Be The Bravery of Being Out of Range The Bar Have a Cigar Wish You Were Here Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX) Sheep
In the Flesh Run Like Hell Déjà Vu Déjà Vu (reprise) Is This the Life We Really Want? Money Us and Them Any Cooler You Like Brain Damage Eclipse Two Suns in the Sunset The Bar (reprise) Outside the Wall