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Roger Waters in the Flesh
By Ram Samudrala
(more articles from this author)
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"So you thought you might like to go to the show."

The first (and last) time I saw Pink Floyd in concert was when they were promoting The Division Bell, in 1994. The band comprised of David Gilmour (guitars), Nick Mason (drums), and Richard Wright (keyboards) (and a whole bunch of supporting musicians), but Roger Waters, one of the lead architects of the band, had left years before. When I heard that Waters would be playing at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA, a couple of days before it happened, I couldn't wait to "complete the circle". As usual I thought I'd go over to the venue and deal with scalpers, but I checked at the ticket window and to my surprise was able to get surprisingly good seats in the centre section in the reserved seating area.

"To feel the warm thrill of confusion, that space cadet glow."

It was an amazing show that raised goose bumps (though that partly had to do with the coolness of the evening), thanks to Waters' defining vocals and lyrics. Waters and his band opened with In the Flesh, and went on to play a most excellent set consisting of The Happiest Days of Our Lives, Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2), Mother The Final Cut, Dogs, Pigs on the Wing (Part 1), Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (a welcome delight), Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Wish You Were Here, Breathe, Time, Money, Brain Damage, Eclipse, Welcome to the Machine, and Comfortably Numb.

The sound was incredible! Waters fully utilised the capability of the many speakers and often the effects were such that it seemed as though the sound was travelling around one's head. The visuals themselves weren't the greatest (and I'm being kind). There was a screen (which looked like a bed sheet) upon which images were constantly projected, some of which were slowly animated. This was most effective when scenes from The Wall were shown and were most mundane with the oil-in-water type of effect.

Even though I'm very familiar with Pink Floyd, I'm not very familiar with Waters' solo material. Having heard some of it live, I have to say that it sounds a lot like Pink Floyd (of course) and I definitely must check it out.

"Tell me is something eluding you, Sunshine? Is this not what you expected to see?"

One of the most interesting things was that Waters worked as much as any of the other musicians. He played bass and guitar throughout the show, besides doing the vocal duties. The band, consisting of two lead guitarists, one rhythm guitarist, one keyboardist and one drummer, were competent. The keyboard work by Jon Carin was particularly good. The guitar work wasn't as emotive as Gilmour's (how could it be?), but there were high points (particularly in the solo to Comfortably Numb, where the guitarists played off of each other which worked brilliantly). Gilmour's playing isn't necessarily technically hard, but it is so expressive that it is difficult to reproduce.

The backup singers were terrific! They improved on the existing tunes and were better than the ones that performed with Pink Floyd in concert. There was a lot of jamming going on, and at times, I felt as though I was in a serious rock show compared to what one would expect from listening to the cerebral music put out by Pink Floyd. This illustrates the nature of the music by the band: even though a lot of it is mellow, and dare I say, spacy, parts of it are very aggressive and intense, on par with the heaviest of music.

"If you want to find out what's behind these cold eyes, you'll just have to claw your way through this disguise.

There has been a lot of talk about the rift between Waters and the other members of Pink Floyd. While I was up to now willing to give the members of the band the benefit of the doubt (the court case he brought about against the band didn't help), I do have a new view of Waters. Waters' show was received extremely warmly and enthusiastically by the crowd, and he's not the depressing git I thought he'd be. In fact, the performance was quite optimistic and hopefully, almost preachy at times. Waters is a powerful and moving writer of both lyrics and music, even when he is not in his prime. (The same also applies to Gilmour, particularly with regards to his guitar work.) The last song (the one encore) they played was a new song, Each Small Candle, about a Serbian soldier helping an Albanian woman. This was clearly not Waters at his peak musically, but the lyrics were poignant. What he needs to do is work on that song with Gilmour since the guitar work definitely doesn't do the song justice.

Waters mentioned during the show that he was bemoaning the fact that Pink Floyd had lost its connection with the audience (apparently he has mentioned this at almost every show). That was certainly true when I saw them at the RFK Stadium. They put on a spectacle, but Gilmour barely cracked a smile. I personally feel such a "connection" is over-rated. The bigger the spectacle, the better, and it pleased me to no end to see a show where the music and the light show were bigger than the band itself. That wasn't the case with Waters--he constantly made contact with the audience, and he definitely basked in its applause and mentioned at the end that there indeed was a connection (also said at all shows).

The reason I say all this is because it is strange to me that Waters, the conceptual mastermind of the band, would be the one to embrace a route that favoured audience connection (as much as that can happen in a large venue like the Shoreline) compared to Gilmour and Co.

While I've not seen Pink Floyd in one of its original incarnations (I think few people can lay claim to having seen them with Syd Barrett, one of the founding members), I am very pleased that I've seen the two major facets and in a way, that's an added plus: I get to see two of the driving forces of the band perform the tunes live in somewhat novel ways.

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