Released way back in 1979, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, is an undeniably significant piece of modern music history. State was a mere glint in the milkman’s eye back then, and still more interested in Lego and Boy Scouts when its seminal performance – the incredibly poignant 1990 celebration in Berlin – came around. We were brought up, however, protesting when ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ took preference over ‘Noddy Goes To Toyland’ on drives to Tesco, and the iconic substance of the show has been ingrained in us since well before we had any inkling of what it means, let alone how deep its concepts run.
Tonight’s show, then, was something of a coming of age for us, and it took all of five minutes to deduce that seeing Waters and his caricature, ‘Pink’ come to life in front of your very eyes is one of the great musical sights. Of course, we know exactly what to expect – the theatrical plot would be somewhat lost if the set list offered any variation – but from opening track ‘In The Flesh?’, which sees row after row of fireworks blazing across the arena and a plane smash into a corner of the stage’s already substantial wall, we’re utterly captivated.
As the bricks slowly stack up from the side of the stage, the kids of St Joseph’s Co-Ed School take the lead in ‘Another Brick In The Wall Part 2’, while Waters flitters around the stage, backed by 30ft fabric puppets and Chinook helicopters seeming to circle the entire arena with their thumping, intoxicating sound affects. During ‘Empty Spaces’, Scarfe’s infamous animations show two swirling flowers embrace in a sexual thrust, while ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ depicts bombs falling from planes in the shape of the symbols of Christianity and Islam, the dollar sign, and the corporate logos of Shell and Mercedes.
If you’ve seen any of the ample media associated with the production, none of this emphatic symbolism will be news to you, but it’s the sheer scale of things that really overwhelms. The show transfers exceptionally into a live arena, with the towering wall complete at perhaps 60 metres long and 15 metres high come the interval. The entire length acts as a screen that Waters and his band – poking through the gaps in the stonework towards the end – flash forth updated graphics on deaths in Iraq, the shooting of unarmed civilians in Tehran and London, and hints at the modern day war on fear.
The harrowing darkness of ‘Is There Anybody Out There’ sees ‘Pink’ descend into pure isolation, with Waters performing through one final open panel in the wall, and from here on, the theatrics of the performance are nothing but pure intensity. Waters takes up position in front of The Wall, bashing it in time with the graphics or exalting before it. ‘Comfortably Numb’ sees characters appear forlorn along the bricks peaks, before ‘Run Like Hell’ transforms the wall into a psychedelic storm of flitting emotion, one that fits right in amongst the faint scent of marijuana wafting through the inside of the O2, and pushes much of the audience into dazed, enraptured states. The performance aspect is sublime: there’s no doubting that it wouldn’t work without Waters cleverly developed sounds, but The Wall is what dominates your attention.
We don’t mean to make out that Waters is flawless. He’s a genius, and there’s no denying the expanse of his stage set up, but an album that’s riddled with anti-corporate slogans doesn’t sit well next to a well-promoted €25 program. Then there’s the early sound, which for at least a song or two is well below par, and a rambling story early on that’s utterly lost in the depths of the arena. While such minor glitches deserve a mention, though, to suggest the Waters is anything other than an exceptional performer backed by quite possibly the best visuals the live music circuit has to offer would be nothing short of stingy.
Come the finale, when Waters’ ‘Pink’ escapes his own psychopathic, semi-hallucinogenic world, a flying pig (really) emblazoned with capitalist slogans has circled the audience, Pink has become fixated with the soaring, Third Reich inspired isolation that his lonely mind has conjured up, and the audience represent his inner consciousness, with an impassioned chant of ‘tear down the wall’. And so they do, with 80 metres worth of white bricks – perhaps 600 in all – crashing to the O2 stage and leaving behind a triumphant band. It’s more than just good theatre: this is evocative, emotional in the extreme, and by the time the intricate, multi-faceted plot has weaved its way to a crescendo, utterly untouchable. Marching flags, aging glamour and a presentation that somehow pushes exceptional musicianship into a mere subtext for something still stronger… our only regret is that we didn’t go to the first night, and have the chance to somehow find our way in once again.
Photos by Kieran Frost.