“F#ck Off To The Bar”: Roger Waters Returns To Boston

The former Pink Floyd bassist goes big on the fourth stop of his This Is Not A Drill tour

Roger Waters in concert 2022 (Image: Columbia Records)

When Roger Waters hits the arenas, he does not do it small.

It was, of course, a spectacle of sound and sight.

I’ve never seen as much information – musical and visual – as I did July 12th at Boston’s sold out TD Garden, the fourth stop on the former Pink Floyd co-leader’s massive This Is Not a Drill North American tour. It was a sensorial barrage.

But since Waters threw this challenge of a message up in your face before it all began, I guess we should deal with it here, too. Before anyone took the stage, a statement on the big black screen overhanging the stage read: “If you’re here because you like Pink Floyd but you can’t stand Roger Waters’ politics, fuck off to the bar.”

This brought, naturally, some laughter – who many arena artists suggest you fuck off before the show even starts? – but also a few thoughts: The Floyd’s main lyricist, Waters has hardly been silent about his politics – going back to albums like Animals – and extending into the 21st century via his music and public statements. So, really, no one going to this big whiz-bang of a show (two sets, two-and-a-half hour show with a 20-minute intermission) should be shocked.

Also: If we don’t like the politics and indeed fuck off to the bar, can we get our money back? (No.) Are Roger’s politics that integral to enjoying the show – you know, entirely post-Syd Barrett Pink Floyd plus solo material? Probably not – especially if you’re on board with the central premise that the rich are in it for themselves and fuck the poor. (I apologize to those easily offended by casual profanity here, but I’m fresh outta the show and no one uses “fuck” or “fucking” – in chat, in song or on the huge digital screen – as much as he, so he’s infected me, for fuck’s sake.)

But, as some of you casual fans may be wondering, what are Roger Waters’ politics that might cause you to fuck off to the bar? 

Without a deep dive or dissection – which is not the point of this review – suffice to say that Rog is virulently anti-war and reliably checks most every left-wing box there is. The message that blared on screen as “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 3)” was played: PERPETUAL WAR AT ANY COST TO HELP THE RICH FUCK THE POOR.

 

AUDIO: Pink Floyd “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 3)”

I’m on board with most it, with the two big bumps in the road being his harsh criticism of Israel vis-à-vis its treatment of Palestinians – the occupation – which is neither a left/right dichotomy and one highly debatable issue, and his fondness for Julian Assange and Wikileaks, which is also neither left/right and highly debatable.

First, the stage: It was billed as “in the round” but more accurately, it’s a rectangular stage (with walkways jutting out) placed in the center of the Garden, with four large overhanging digital screens facing each side of the crowd. The stage did not rotate. Waters and his bandmates took very specific positions to face certain portions of the crowd, so you may have seen Waters straight on or his backside, and the same with other players. If he wasn’t facing you, chances are his visage was up on screen at some level, maybe intercut with all the other visual fire coming at you. For years, Waters has been mixing music and video, one reinforcing the other, but I think never so much as now. I probably looked more at the screen and less at the red-lit band than I ever have.

It was, to be sure, immersive, passionate and take-no-prisoners rock. Waters, the singer-songwriter-bassist-sometime-acoustic guitarist, and company put on a show that ranged from delicate intimacy to bombastic assault and from expressions of resisting authoritarianism and embracing love to flat-out rage and anger. It was classic rock ingeniously brought into the modern era, via a young(ish) nine-piece band and a message that addressed pressing issues of the day. To his credit, Waters played most of the key parts the post-1972 Floyd catalog – a chunk of Dark Side, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall – but shook up the set from his last “Us + Them” tour in 2017-18.

Roger Waters in concert 2022 (Image: Katie Izor)

You got: Load of text on screen, garish animation, live shots from the show, clips of bombings, drone strikes and police beatings, a sequence of U.S. presidents with WAR CRIMINAL splashed over their red faces (Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, Trump … and Biden with the note “just getting started”), old back-in-the-day Floyd photos, lotsa villains, a few heroes up there. Oh, and the floating pig is back – it hovered right over our heads! – with messages on its hide suggesting the rich were in it only for themselves and the poor, well, fuck ‘em.

That’s Waters’ core message. If you take home nothing else, take home that. And don’t be passive about it.

The show was split into two sets and Waters judiciously placed his less familiar solo (or unrecorded) bits – quieter, more piano-based or acoustic-guitar based, mostly – amidst the familiar crowd-pleasers in both sets. That’d be “The Powers That Be,” “The Bravery of Being Out of Range” and “The Bar” (new) in the first and “Déjà Vu,” “Is This the Life We Really Want?” and “The Bar (reprise)” in the second. Waters cheekily noted he’d plagiarized some of Bob Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” in the reprise, noting (correctly) I’m sure, “that Bob doesn’t give a fuck.”

It opened – accompanied by the sounds of thunder and bombs on screen – with a more delicate, more deliberate and lugubrious “Comfortably Numb.” In years gone by, it’s been the usual set-closer, but was re-imagined in a radically different context. On screen, bombed out buildings – Ukraine, I’m guessing. The wailing solo segment once occupied by David Gilmour was now mainly covered by organ, with the sounds of female voices wailing on top of it. That’d be Amanda Belair and Shanay Johnson, who provided wonderful backing vocals throughout.  An odd arrangement, perhaps, but it was emphatic and it worked. And put us right away into the sad/mad trajectory of Barrett’s musical and personal life, a theme that would resurface in concert, as it has throughout Floyd’s history.

Waters didn’t play any Barrett-era material (or for that matter anything from Meddle or Atom Heart Mother). But on the screen, text popped up. First, about Cambridge kids Waters and Barrett seeing a rock bill the Rolling Stones were on and deciding then and there to form a band when they went to college in London. Brief glory days of early Floyd. Then, Waters says, “it went pear-shaped,” telling a story about his first hint that Barrett was losing his mind. They were in L.A. in 1968, at Hollywood and Vine, and Barrett remarked about them now being in Las Vegas and then spat out the word “People!”

Syd surfaced in “Wish You Here Here” (of course), with Waters singing “Did you exchange a walk-off part in the war for a lead role in a cage?” (Answer: Not by choice, I don’t think.) Said Waters: “When you lose someone you love, it does tend to remind you this is not a drill.” Then, more Syd in the achingly gorgeous “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX),” which segued into the fiercest, most ferocious song of the night, “Sheep” from Animals. “My homage to George Orwell,” said Waters.

It was here where I recalled something I wrote years ago about this period – Pink Floyd had become Punk Floyd. It’s a deep dive into Waters’ most cynical side. And it really was slashing, staccato guitar-stoked rock that railed against the sheeple who were oblivious to the danger posed by dogs and pigs. (You know who they are.)  “What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real/Meek and obedient you follow the leader/Down well-trodden corridors into the valley of steel/What a surprise!” Kudos to guitarists Jonathan Wilson and Dave Kilminster.

Before sitting at the piano to play “The Bar,” Waters talked about the comfort and solace that being in a room of like-minded souls could bring, where Trumpian trolls were absent. He had a point – I did not spot one Kid Rock or Ted Nugent t-shirt – though I coulda done without the two burly bros behind us in the loge, talking loudly through soft songs they didn’t know and bellowing vocals out along with ones they did. (These assholes show up at every show, I know.)

The second set kicked off with a pair of scorchers from  The Wall, “In the Flesh” and “Run Like Hell,” Waters, who’d been in black T-shirt and jeans, donned dark sunglasses and a long black leather coat. Then a couple from Waters’ solo records and into the home stretch of Dark Side – “Money,” “Us and Them,” “Any Colour You Like,” “Brain Damage” (more Syd) and “Eclipse.” Nearly a half-century after release, these songs retain their power and resonance.

Roger Waters in concert 2022 (Image: Katie Izor)

At the end, they played “Outside the Wall,” huddled in a small, intimate semi-circle, with banjo and accordion brought out. A quiet, folksy little exit jam and then band members names came up on the screen – just like film credits – as they marched off stage, single file, Waters stood by as they passed, introducing all by name. Both methods – on screen intro and live acknowledgement – were dignified and well-synchronized, eschewing the tired “Let’s hear it for [whoever]!” stage introductions.

Final thought: Waters, at 78, reminds me of the late George Carlin, a comic whose material got harsher and more left-wing (while still being very funny) as he aged. It’s a reversal of the usual “mellowing out” process that comes with age, the settling back and watching the world pass by as the clock ticks and you withdraw. Roger Waters has most definitely not withdrawn and I’m pretty certain when he dies it will be with his boots on.  

 

VIDEO: Roger Waters This Is Not A Drill Tour video

 

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Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan has written for The Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, the Boston Herald, Boston Common, the Christian Science Monitor, and Creem. Follow him on Twitter @jimsullivanink.

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