in performance: roger waters

roger waters.

There is no irony lost in Roger Waters titling his current tour “Us and Them.” Sure, the name was appropriated from perhaps the most poetically elegiac tune he created for Pink Floyd. But the program he staged last night at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville took that theme quite literally with a stream of songs pitting besieged underdogs against the establishment – specifically, the political powers that be – and the division they have injected into everyday social order.

Us and Them? Us against Them was more like it. But, at heart, this was business as usual for Waters. At 73, his view of the world – well, actually, just of the people running it – is crustier than ever. Witness, for instance, the way he resurrected a piece like “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” from Pink Floyd’s forgotten 1977 descent into the social abyss “Animals.” Always one for spectacle, the tune let the trademark Floyd-ian balloon pig sail around the arena with x’s for eyes and a photo of our current President slapped on its side bearing the caption quote, “I won!” Back on the stage, Waters and his nine-member band hammered away at the tune’s dense, unrelenting jam while still more pictures of our commander-in-chief were shown on a massive video screen behind him with the word “charade” stamped over them.

Many cheered, a noticeable number booed. In short, the rock ‘n’ roll arena proved to be as divided as the political one.

More internally designed – and, frankly, more emotively moving – was “The Last Refugee,” the best of several previews offered from Waters’ new “Is This the Life We Really Want?” album (due out on Friday). Shown against a video dominated by images of a refugee living in squalor and an elegant flamenco dancer engaged in the same body movement, the song’s sense of loss and longing became beautifully eloquent. Outside of a still-arresting acoustic delivery of the masterful Pink Floyd eulogy “Wish You Were Here,” “The Last Refugee” was easily the most subdued moment in a performance that cared little for modesty.

In terms of repertoire, Waters drew from two distinct periods – the 1970s, for a slew of very faithful interpretations of Pink Floyd’s most commercially familiar hits, and the present, via the “Is This the Life We Really Want?” music. Nothing from any of Waters’ previous solo works was offered.

The band proved to be immensely capable – a good thing, too, as Waters’ musical role in his own shows seems to be shrinking. Guitarist Jonathan Wilson handled all the vocal duties on the Floyd tunes originally recorded by David Gilmour while Dave Kilminster delivered impressive recreations of Gilmour’s guitar leads and solos. Multi instrumentalist Jon Carin again gets the vote for Waters’ onstage VIP, fortifying keyboard fabrics throughout the new and old material and nicely tackling the volatile lap steel guitar lead on the oldest tune of the night, the still-fearsome 1971 instrumental “One of These Days.” Even the bulk of the bass duties, usually Waters’ instrumental domain, were handled Gus Seyffert.

Music from the benchmark Floyd albums “The Dark Side of the Moon” and “The Wall” kept audience members with a taste for troubled nostalgia happy. But, frankly, the “Is This the Life We Really Want?” tunes were as intriguing as anything else in the show. You would be hard pressed, for example, to find a more quintessential Waters reflection than the new “Déjà Vu,” where the evening’s headliner, in a voice that seemed to wear its weathered tone like a badge of honor, pondered being God in one verse and a drone in the next. Such is the burden of an artist still fashionably in league with uneasy times.

 



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