“Is there anybody out there?” cried Roger Waters, all alone in front of the massive wall stretching brick by brick across the entire outfield of Yankee Stadium. Tens of thousands of fans filling the stadium roared in response, and the sublime introduction to Comfortably Numb brought the crowd to their feet for one of Pink Floyd’s most timeless and passionate songs.
It was a moment repeated twice over the weekend, as the Pink Floyd frontman and voice of The Wall brought his concept album to life for two mind-blowing performances on Friday and Saturday, equal parts rock concert excess and Broadway-style production. The tour, which had previously played our local arenas in 2010, is revamped and doubled in size for this summer’s stadium jaunts, and fans packed the new Yankee Stadium to experience the gritty album in all its raging glory despite the weekend’s stifling July heat.
Longtime Pink Floyd fans are intimately familiar with the double album, which tells the story of a troubled rock star attempting to wall off everyone from his life only to discover the horrors of solitude within. Radio anthems like Another Brick in the Wall, Hey You, and Run Like Hell move the plot along, and Waters spared no expense or effort to bring that story to life with stunning video animations against an actual towering wall, built up throughout the concert until it formed a formidable barrier between the band and audience, stretching to the very edges of peripheral vision for those seated on the field.
Waters’ presence was almost maniacal, the musician running about the endless stage with the stamina of someone half his age. His former bandmate David Gilmour quietly retired several years ago, but shrieking rockets blasting off the stage and a crashing, flaming fighter jet as Waters roared through opening song In The Flesh was an emphatic statement that this pioneer of rock concert extravaganzas is still in his prime and ready to impress.
Much of the physical wall was prebuilt when fans entered the stadium, leaving a large gap in the center for Waters and his band to play the opening songs. Images were projected over the blank white bricks with stunning high definition clarity, layering ever-changing photos, graffiti slogans, and even a moving subway car across its length, and matched by surround sound audio effects of fighter jets and foreboding chants that completely immersed the stadium inside the dark drama of The Wall.
Plenty could be said about the political, psychological, and metaphorical implications of both the original album, and Waters’ current touring production (read my review of the 2010 tour by clicking here). But amid all the messages and protests was a wild rock concert featuring some of the best songs ever written, and led by an enthusiastic performer arguably responsible for a generation of psychedelic rock n’ roll.
Mr. Waters played with a gleeful energy, jamming out on his bass guitar for an extended The Happiest Days Of Our Lives and mega-single Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2). That radio stalwart, with its infamous refrain of “We don’t need no education,” saw a cadre of local schoolchildren coming on stage to sing along as they and Waters were menaced by a monstrous, 50 foot puppet of the dreaded schoolmaster. It was one of several fearsome puppets that would appear throughout the night in a masterful merging of music, video projections, and physical props which combined for a hyper-realistic, multi-sensory experience continuously blurring the lines between fantasy and reality (likely even more so for those enjoying the skunky smelling smoke ever-present throughout both night’s performances).
Waters added an acoustic coda to Another Brick in the Wall, followed by a brand new song dedicated to Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian man mistaken as a terrorist and shot dead by London police. It was the only significant deviance from the album’s original track listing, but Waters’ fury against injustice and “state terror” permeated almost every minute of the two hour show.
His anti-war, anti-religion, and anti-corporate messages were hammered home during Goodbye Blue Sky, as images of warplanes dropping crosses, stars of David, dollar signs, and logos for Mercedes and Shell Oil played out across the wall, which was slowly being built up brick by brick by black-clad workers. The band was soon only visible through the slowly closing gaps in the wall, and the animated “sex-flowers” of Empty Spaces wrapped their long stems across its expanse as the show gradually became just as much seen as heard.
The raw, sexual riffs of Young Lust were matched by images of dancing girls and unbridled libido, and led into one of the slower portions of the album, the plot-heavy One Of My Turns and Don’t Leave Me Now. Brilliant green tears drenched the wall as Waters cried out for his lover, followed by the violent Another Brick In The Wall (Part 3) and impressive illusions on The Last Few Bricks, projected bricks appearing to float in and out, rotate, and fully defy the rules of 3D space.
The first half of the show ended as Waters placed the final brick to complete his 40 foot tall wall, whispered “Goodbye,” and the stadium lights gently brought the crowd back to reality. Intermissions aren’t particularly common for rock concerts, but with the gravity of The Wall’s heavy messages and intensity, it was a welcome respite.
If the night had started loud with fireworks and guitar riff bombast on In The Flesh, the acoustic arpeggios of Hey You kicked off the second set in a decidedly mournful, somber tone. The stage remained empty, with only the gray, scarred wall visible for the entire song. That wasn’t long to last, however, as Waters used Vera and Bring The Boys Back Home for one last powerful message against war and oppression. It’s hard to believe a single eye in Yankee Stadium was dry as heartwrenching videos were played of children reuniting with their soldier fathers arriving home from overseas, supported by forty foot tall quotes from Dwight D. Eisenhower railing against waging war while children starve.
Waters deftly played that emotional gutcheck right into one of the night’s absolute peaks, the always-stunning Comfortably Numb. The enthusiasm could be felt in almost every section of the stadium on both nights, as the familiar verses led into sing-alongs on the chorus, and powered into one of the most iconic and defining guitar solos ever written. This was perhaps the only moment where David Gilmour’s presence was truly missed, but guitarist Dave Kilminster did an admirable job nailing the scorching notes, dives, and cries of the guitar as he perched atop the wall, while Waters pounded on the bricks below until they exploded into flying shards of psychedelic colors, timed with the peak of the guitar solo in a climatic, even orgasmic audio-visual moment.
The final chapter of the show, side 4 for those who may have grown up with the original LPs, was a whirlwind of energy and activity as Waters, now playing the fascist Pink character, led the audience through the fist-pumping Run Like Hell and Waiting For The Worms. Whereas the projected animations had previously been subtle background effects and video screens, the wall was now a living, writhing creature full of marching hammers, threatening images, and an impossibly high definition feed of Waters barking orders and firing a machine gun at the audience over the foreboding guitar riffs.
The Trial featured updated versions of the iconic animation from The Wall feature film, and Waters did a masterful job of acting out each character’s quirky dialogue and mannerisms as the story’s central character was sentenced to “be exposed before your peers.” After two hours of music, plot, and gravitas, it was immensely satisfying to once again hear the singer scream “Tear down the f*cking wall!”
Amplifiers hidden throughout the stadium blasted chants of “Tear down the wall!” and the entire stadium joined in, 50,000 voices strong that surely must’ve been audible over the Harlem River into Upper Manhattan. The wall shivered and trembled, rumbled and shook, rolling through images and words from the entire night like one’s life flashing before their eyes, and finally the center bricks of the wall tumbled over onto the stage as the massive wall came down for an immensely satisfying conclusion to the finest rock opera ever written.
Fans seeing The Wall for the first time must have been blown away; even return viewers like this Examiner never fail to be left breathless by the overwhelming energy and emotion of Roger Waters’ defining production. Even Stadium vendors and security members, many of whom were likely previously unfamiliar with Pink Floyd, could be observed bouncing around in delight to uptempo songs like Run Like Hell and cheering the final destruction of the facade.
The Yankee Stadium version of the show differed from the 2010 tour by adding an wide extension to the wall on both sides, almost tripling its length. The additional space was used to project camera feeds of the band playing, a nice bonus for those too far away to see with the naked eye and adding a grandiose effect overall. Somewhat anticlimactically, though, Waters chose to animate those portions of the wall coming down at the end rather than bringing down the actual bricks, cheapening the overall effect of the wall coming down as compared to the indoor shows.
That, however, could be the only complaint for what was otherwise a flawless production that exceeded every expectation. Waters was gracious to the audience both before Mother and at the conclusion of the show, spending a little more time after Saturday night’s ending to thank the New York crowd profusely. While Saturday night’s show was not fully sold out, all but the uppermost sections were filled with fans of all ages, including entire families enjoying the generation-spanning music.
Roger has said that he expects this to be the end of his musical output; if so, this tour is a deserving and satisfying conclusion to an unparalleled career and genre-defining discography. After following up his 2010 arena tour with such a stadium spectacular, one would be hard-pressed to think of anything that could top the weekend’s stunning performances. Either way, every fan in attendance on Friday or Saturday (or both) was witness to something that will surely be remembered for the rest of their lives, and of course will live on in the thousands of Youtube videos and the inevitable DVD release.
Those who missed the shows, or are desperate for one more fix, can head down to Philadelphia this weekend to catch the final date of the tour at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday. After that, it seems, The Wall will be torn down forever.
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