Roger Waters’ Us + Them tour is a brilliant, beautiful and high-intensity assault on the senses – more than two hours of extraordinary music delivered with enough visual and audio extras to ensure even the most attentive concertgoers missed something.
Inside a virtually sold-out Nationwide Arena in Columbus, the former Pink Floyd bassist and his impeccable band – three guitarists, two keyboardists, a saxophone player, a drummer and the two vocalists from Lucius – played 24 songs culled from Meddle (“One of These Days”); Dark Side of the Moon (all of it but the instrumentals); Wish You Were Here (the title track and “Welcome to the Machine”); Animals (a significant chunk of it – that is, two songs); six cuts from The Wall and five from Waters’ just-released Is This the Life We Really Want? (numbers that worked much better in the context of the show than they do on the record).
All of this was delivered through a 360-degree sound system that filled the hall with not only music, but all of the delicious effects that color Pink Floyd’s decadent discography, plus ambient sounds that rendered the 140-minute performance as much a tone painting as a concert.
Though he did plenty of singing, Waters wisely ceded most of David Gilmour’s vocal parts to one of his guitarists. While he was away from the mic, Waters busied himself on bass or six-string guitar and engaged the crowd by mimicking the lyrics and cheerleading.
Clad entirely in black, the band played before a gigantic, high-definition screen that showed images that illustrated Waters’ songs—and his disdain for the current political environment and the current president —with vivid clarity for those who didn’t know the words already.
There were flying pigs and floating satellites hovering around the arena; a three-dimensional pyramid of lasers; a recreation of the power station that graced the cover of Animals and children who lined the front of the stage and doffed orange prison jumpsuits to reveal black T-shirts emblazoned with RESIST in white, which was the first of many times I felt goose bumps and a had lump in my throat.
The children filed onstage as a helicopter spotlight searched the arena just before the first-set closing run of “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” and parts 2 and 3 of “Another Brick in the Wall.” When this climax to the 14-song opening stanza ended, the arena fell dark and the crowd—save for a relatively small number of displeased Trump supporters—roared as RESIST appeared in huge letters behind the band.
Waters and company had eased into the show an hour earlier with a languid and faithful run through “Breathe.”
A thumping bassline signaled the chaotic “One of These Days” that followed before the band returned to the Dark Side for “Time,” with the sound of clanging and banging clocks echoing from all corners of the house.
The energy continued pulsating through the subsequent “Breathe (Reprise”) and “The Great Gig in the Sky,” which found the women of Lucius facing off at the front of the stage, wailing away in wordless beauty and demonstrating the power of the human voice to communicate beautifully even when it’s saying – or in this case singing – nothing.
Politically charged new songs like the delicate, foreboding “The Last Refugee” and the angry anti-Trump screed “Picture That”—“picture a leader with no fucking brains,” Waters spat, as he stalked the front of the stage—blended in perfectly with the even-more revolutionary feel of set 2, which showed how little has changed in the four decades since Pink Floyd released Animals.
With the house lights still on, the sound of a riot and police action to quell it flew at the audience from all corners of the arena. As the lights dimmed, a bank of horizontal screens descended to just above the patrons on the floor and divided the hockey arena in half; smokestacks slowly rose from the faux power plant and billowed white steam as the band kicked into “Dogs.”
For the next 30 minutes, through this song and the following “Pigs (3 Different Ones)”, Waters and his band took performance art to a new level as they cranked out virtually flawless recreations of the prescient songs; donned pig and dog masks to have a small party for the wealthy at a table set up on stage; and generally gave 45 a ginormous, musical middle finger with pictures of the president depicting him with a tiny penis, with vomit spewing out of his open mouth and the word Charade flashing across his grinning face. Some his most egregious statements shone in white letters on a black background while a pig flew overhead and the band just sizzled.
It’s impossible to overstate the power of these performances and the electricity carried through the versions of “Money” and “Us and Them” that followed as the screens expanded and contracted above the audience before being sucked back up into the ceiling.
Before long – after the new “Smell the Roses”—a 3D, multi-colored pyramid appeared for the set-closing twofer of “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” while the sounds of madcap laughter ricocheted around the arena.
Without leaving the stage, the players moved into what served as the encore, as Waters, strumming an acoustic guitar, and Lucius gathered for sparse, gorgeous renditions of “Vera” and “Bring the Boys Back Home.”
Confetti was wafting from the rafters by the time Waters began wading through the audience to trade fist bumps with the first few rows while the band vamped in the coda of “Comfortably Numb” and a feeling of stunned disbelief settled over the crowd. Waters had just proved age—he’s 73—and the maturity that comes with it don’t necessarily lead to mellowing.