Monday 16th September
Who’d have thought a blank brick wall could ever symbolise one of the most ingeniously-conceived concept albums of all time, and arguably the most exciting and ambitious live show ever staged? Rock-opera The Wall was released by Pink Floyd in 1979 and is performed in full tonight by bassist Roger Waters. It tells the story of fictional character Pink, whose traumatic experiences through adolescence and early adulthood cause him to build a metaphorical wall, isolating him from the rest of the world and sending him into a spiral of mental decay.
Rocketing fireworks accompany the first thunderous chords of opener ‘In The Flesh?’ as Waters takes to an enormous stage already housing the beginnings of a colossal brick wall. ‘The Thin Ice’ brings proceedings down to a gentler level, with soothing harmonies providing a stark contrast to its foreboding lyrics. During the song, images of fallen loved ones lost in the war that fans sent in prior to the show are projected onto the bricks, until the whole wall stands as a monument to their sacrifice. It’s the first appearance of an anti-war theme that permeates through the music for much of the night.
Gone are the days of corporal punishment and intimidating, dogmatic school teachers, but “We don’t need no education” is a sentiment that will always be shared by future generations. Indeed, ‘Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2’ is met with rapturous applause, as a huge puppet descends from the ceiling, revealing itself as the terrifying headmaster character so brilliantly designed by Gerald Scarfe in the ‘70s. Its slinking limbs move in a spider-like fashion, towering over both the band and a group of children from a local secondary school. It is perhaps the most disco-like Pink Floyd have ever sounded, with an infectious guitar riff leaving no doubts as to why it became their most successful single.
As the show progresses and the tone darkens, audience and band become increasingly separated as bricks get added to the wall. ‘Goodbye Cruel World’ sees the final brick put into place just before the brief intermission, signalling the beginning of a much darker, unsettling second half. The scale of the performance, both literally in terms of the wall size and logistically in terms of constructing a 400-brick wall while a twelve-piece band perform, is stunning to behold. A marriage of music and technology, the bombardment of sights and sounds brings the brain-child of Roger Waters to life, with the wall being employed as a projection screen for much of the show. It takes widescreen to a completely new level.
Musically, the highlight of the night is ‘Comfortably Numb’, the rousing guitar epic tailor-made for arenas. A huge spotlight illuminates guitarist Dave Kilminster in dramatic fashion as that electrifying guitar break rings through the stadium. Taking on a Gilmour guitar solo is no mean feat, but Kilminster executes it with aplomb. Midway through the meandering second guitar solo, Waters slams his fists on the wall and some clever projection tricks see the dull, grey wall shatter to reveal a psychedelic canvas of bright colours.
‘Waiting for the Worms’ and ‘The Trial’ bring the show to a rather theatrical end, with projections of Scarfe’s animated clips lifted straight from the film. Iconic imagery of the marching hammers and disturbing Judge character (who is, quite literally, a giant asshole) work to combine all three mediums of The Wall: the music, film and live show. It truly takes on a life of its own in a live environment, and concludes in a spectacular nature when the 40-foot wall collapses in a cloud of dust and heap of bricks.
The greatest compliment to the whole production, and the 1979 album itself, is that even after so long, the political and social commentary remains more ominously relevant than ever. Imbued with themes of isolation, abusive teachers, overprotective mothers, the horrors of war, and societal segregation, the show is relatable both on a personal level but also on a wider cultural level.
From mere bricks and mortar in the mind of one disgruntled bassist in the ‘70s, to a fully-fledged live experience the likes of which no other artist has attempted, the development of The Wall is something very special. “So ya’ thought ya’ might like to go to the show” Waters sings on The Wall’s opening line. After this performance, you’d be mad not to go.