The Austin Chronicle

Comfortably Numb

By Austin Powell, November 23, 2010, 12:46pm, Earache!

Not even AC/DC’s Black Ice steam engine or U2’s 360 Tour can compare to the scale of Roger Waters’ The Wall, a brick-for-brick re-enactment of Pink Floyd’s 1979 landmark album, erected at the sold-out Toyota Center in Houston on Saturday. It’s the world’s largest one-man show, a tyrannical two-act descent into madness and ultimate stadium-rock triumph.

For starters, there’s the wall itself – 36-feet high and 240 feet across – assembled one piece at a time, after a WWII British Spitfire crashed the opening scene “In the Flesh” and finished right before the intermission send-off “Goodbye Cruel World.” The canopy’s incorporated to sublime effect, serving as a projection screen for Gerald Scarfe’s eyelid, animated surrealism and a stunning slideshow of war and famine accompany the bull-charge of “Bring the Boys Back Home.”

That’s only a fraction of the spectacle. A homeless character worked the audience before the first curtain, and a local children’s choir led the eternal rallying chant of “Brick in the Wall, Part 2.” From the giant inflatable praying mantis/vixen puppet for the mad organ groove of “Young Lust” and gun-fire pyrotechnics to quasi-fascist political rallies and pan-stereo sound effects (circling helicopters, marching hammers, etc) The Wall tickled every delightfully juvenile impulse.

Waters basked in the spotlight throughout the near two-hour drama, his spiteful, thinly veiled autobiography and magnum opus, as ruled so in the courtroom divorce of Pink Floyd – David Gilmour retained the rights to the name while Waters won the sole ownership of The Wall. The lanky, 67-year-old bassist owned each character. He voiced all of the sinewy co-conspirators (the worm/judge, the wife, the schoolmaster) in “The Trial,” acted out the words to “Comfortably Numb” with convincing distress, and performed “Nobody Home” as a confessional soliloquy in a bedroom that folded down from a section of the wall.

The show seemed a pilgrimage of sorts for Waters, returning to the scene to not only cement his legacy but to make peace with it. That was most evident in the regressive, unnerving acoustic ballad “Mother,” where he harmonized with footage of himself on the original tour, or as he put it, “that poor miserable Roger of all those years ago. ”

The live soundtrack, provided by the six-piece band and four background vocalists, proved a spot-on time capsule of the double album’s original late Seventies production, almost too perfect really, but to his credit Waters tried to expand the scope of The Wall. Countless casualties of war and terrorism were paid tribute to during the intermission, with photos and brief biographies submitted by fans. And, in the new animation sequence accompanying “Goodbye Blue Sky,” fighter pilots dropped Stars of David, crucifixes, and crescent moons alongside dollar bill signs and Shell oil logos, exploding any possible distinction between church, state, and corporate interests in this regime.

“When I first started writing this… it was because I was feeling alienated and separated from the audience,” Waters explained after the finale, referring to Pink Floyd’s 1977 Animals tour where he actually spit on a spectator. “I feel very close to you guys.”

Such was the grand irony of the evening. Neither of the two (sometimes three) guitarists nor stand-in session singer Robbie Wyckoff could ever adequately replace the aurora-like glow of David Gilmour, much less original drummer Nick Mason or the late Richard Wright. Waters wants to tear down The Wall, to convince the audience, as proclaimed in the chilling highlight “Hey You,” that “Together We Stand, Divided We Fall.” Yet, he wants to do it alone and on his exacting terms.

Some things never change.

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