A bass player isn’t usually the member of a band that you’d most likely want to follow. But most bands aren’t Pink Floyd.
Roger Waters, Pink Floyd’s bassist, and to many the creative heart of the band for many years, famously split with his band decades ago, but he is, still, very much a member of the band that he led and that made him famous, and last night’s show at Spark Arena — the first of two nights in Auckland, with a third New Zealand date to follow in Dunedin next week — was less a Waters showcase and more, much to the delight of the audience, many wearing Floyd and even David Gilmour T-shirts, a trot through Pink Floyd’s finest Waters-fronted moments.
The show started slowly, opening with mid-period Floyd tracks like Breathe and Time, the audience nodding along politely as Waters and his band noodled their way through the more twiddly moments of One Of These Days, his blood finally rising as he snarled through Welcome To The Machine. But when Jonathan Wilson, “the hippy in the band,” started to tease out the opening chords to Wish You Were Here, the audience, and the band too, became significantly more animated. It’s a beautiful song, but it is, however, David Gilmour’s song, and while Waters and his band played it perfectly, Waters’ voice wasn’t quite up to the task, lacking, slightly, the passion of the original. No matter — the audience more than made up for any shortcomings from the stage. The tempo of the show now raised, a line of children from the charity Variety lined the front of the stage in orange prison jumpsuits and hangman’s masks to chant the chorus to Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2), a very strong close to the first half of the set.
Twenty minutes later, the second set began and the show started in earnest. Four black cubes descended from above the crowd to just above the heads of those seated in the very centre of the floor; from each these four cubes with red “police lights” a whitish tower began to rise, and by the time they’d nearly reached full height the overall effect became discernible as a replica of the Battersea Power Station, eventually completed with side projection screens for walls. The inflatable pig was, at this stage, almost inevitable. Screens descended from the cubes, and became a part of the set as the whole show transformed from terrific concert to an audio-visual immersive masterpiece. The screens were filled with bright, sometimes psychedelic colours and effects, visual overlays of live footage from the stage inter-mixed with forceful political messages, very strong anti-war and anti-corruption and anti-hate imagery, lots of viscerally scathing anti-Trump imagery, all selected carefully to blend with, lift, enforce and underline the messages of each of the songs of the second session.
It’s clear that Waters’ politics are increasingly as important to him as his music, and he made a point of singling out Lorde for attention, praising her for her recent cancellation of a planned concert in Israel and her solidarity with the Palestinian people. But the politics dovetailed with the music, which remained the focus of an exceptionally powerful show. Waters himself is more the curator of a remarkable back-catalogue and less an integral part of the music; real credit goes to Dave Kilminster, who played the Gilmour solos in Comfortably Numb and Another Brick In The Wall with astonishing fluidity and elegance and power.
The show was billed as a Roger Waters solo show, but in reality many in the audience were there to see a Pink Floyd concert, and they would not have left unhappy. While Waters was, ultimately, only one member of the band, he was, obviously, a very significant member, and the songs he, in many ways, owns deserve to be played by a band with the skill and passion clearly possessed by the musicians on stage last night. Waters will be back on stage in Auckland on Friday 26th January, and then at the Forsyth-Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Monday 29th. If you can, get a ticket — now. You’ll be glad you did.
Thanks to Mike Thornton for help with the review.