When you talk to a friend about a concert, you usually tell them something along the lines of “I saw the Arctic Monkeys last night" or "I'm seeing J. Cole next week.” However, while you may phrase it that way, most concerts are really about hearing: being blown away by a loud song, bass so low that it makes you vibrate, or singing along with tens of thousands of other fans.
But when it comes to legendary Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters, seeing is just as much a part of the show as hearing. Don't get me wrong, the music is still amazing. When Waters played last week at PPG Paints Arena as part of the Us + Them Tour, he performed songs from the classic albums The Wall, The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and Animals, as well as material from his recent solo album, Is This The Life We Really Want? But, while the music is a key component of the show, it is the visual spectacle that will stick in your memory long after the last chords have faded away.
Waters divided the concert into two parts, both literally — there is a brief intermission after the first 13 songs — and thematically. The concert started with some of Pink Floyd's psychedelic classics from The Dark Side of the Moon: “Breathe,” “Time,” and “The Great Gig in the Sky.” These songs are accompanied by trippy graphics, as colorful shapes and lines danced their way across the massive screen that looms behind the band. Waters and his band are not the liveliest group — there's no jumping off of amps like Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day — but this is for the best. Not only is Waters 74 years old, but his laid
back performance suited the more relaxed cadence of the music. As a result, the audience spent more time watching the screens than the band, since the captivating visuals and calming nature of these songs invited the audience to
simply sit back and enjoy the show.
Even when Waters moved onto more explicitly dark tracks, the concert's vibe remained the same. During “Welcome to the Machine,” a vivid landscape appeared on the screen, with shining silver towers flying through and an insect-like creature crawling about. During “Wish You Were Here,” two hands reached out for each other through a fog across the screen, only to slowly crumble into thousands of tiny pieces. These stunning animations made it feel like being at a movie with an incredibly loud soundtrack. In fact, I was tempted to splurge on
overpriced popcorn during intermission.
I'm glad I didn't, however as the second half took a darker turn that would have made such a frivolous activity feel out of place. Waters hinted at this shift with the final song of the first half, a haunting rendition of “Another Brick in the Wall
Part 2.” As he has done in the past on his “The Wall” tour, he brought out school kids for the background vocals. However, this time they were dressed in orange prison uniforms, and as the songs came to a close, they tore off these outfits to reveal shirts reading “RESIST,” the first of what would be many, far more direct, digs at President Trump.
The more political edge of the second set did not mean, however, that the visuals became less prominent — in fact, Waters used the screen as a device to create the politically defiant atmosphere, as opposed to giving speeches like other artists have. Waters opened the second set with the 17-minute “Dogs,” and as the band played a line of screens descended to hover about the floor section, creating the factory found on the cover of Animals, complete with smoldering smokestacks. Gigantic dogs viciously barked on the screens throughout the song, and at the song's end, Waters and his hand creepily gathered about a table donning dog masks.
The next song, “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” a criticism of the leaders who run society, took the darker, more political theme one step further. When Waters
sang the first line, “Big man, pig man,” a photo of Trump filled the screens, and Waters continued to bash the President throughout the rest of the 10-minute track. The screens displated photos of Trump's head on a pig and as Vladmir Putin's baby, as well as a series of Trump's most controversial tweets, such as "If Ivanka weren't my daughter, I'd be dating her." As the song concluded, “TRUMP IS A PIG” appeared across the screens in bold caps. While supposedly some fans stormed out of the concert, cheers rang out throughout PPG Paints Arena. While many other artists have given speeched, Waters' approach to political commentary, letting the music and visuals speak for themselves, was a refreshing take.
Waters did return to the more psychedelic visuals of the first half, using lasers to create a massive three-dimensional version of the prism from the cover of The Dark of the Moon during “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse.” For the final song, however, Waters chose the eerie “Comfortably Numb,” a song about falling into a drug-induced trance.
While Waters spends most of the concert just performing the music, he used “Comfortably Numb” — and the ominous “Welcome to the Machine” that was played earlier — to interact with the audience, raising his fist and urging the fans to follow along. However, the songs he chose for that interaction raise questions about the message Waters was striving for. By selecting a song that compares the music industry to a machine and a song about giving up control, his ability to easily make a packed arena follow his commands suggests that he might have been making a point about social conformity and becoming “comfortably numb” to the control of others.
It is hard to know if this was really his message, or if it was just a way of engaging the crowd. However, what was clear is Waters' political message, and he ended the concert with yet another unforgettable visual display. As the final notes of “Comfortably Numb” rang throughout the arena, the word “RESIST” returned to the screen, reminding concert-goers what they must do to prevent the pigs of this world from hogging and abusing power.