When pigs fly!

I went to my first Roger Waters concert last night with my friend Larry (who has seen every show in town, no matter how rare, unavailable, and hard to find the music is). The show was spectacular! I have never been to a Pink Floyd concert either, but I’ve heard about what incredible shows they are for years. As a founding member and the main songwriter of Pink Floyd, the show Waters produced last night exceeded all my expectations. The band was well rehearsed and, other than missing David Gilmour’s distinctive vocals, the music sounded as good as the studio work.

The show was in a beautiful outdoor amphitheater set against the side of a hill in south Orange County—you can’t ask for a better venue on a mild spring night under the stars. The wheelchair seating is excellent, at the back of the Orchestra, so it’s close enough to the stage for a good view without binoculars, and raised high enough so that those of us who cannot stand from our wheelchairs (which also applies to Larry, who happens to be the one who convinced the venue’s management to make the seating unobstructed) can still see when the rest of the crowd stands. I was in section 1, six seats from the inside aisle. The amphitheater seats about 16,000, and was chock full of enthusiastic Pink Floyd fans last night. It has a very large stage, a couple of jumbotrons, and an excellent sound system.

I’ve been a Pink Floyd fan for decades, so I was looking forward with great anticipation to see Roger Waters. I’m not the type of person who takes notes at a concert, I just sit back and enjoy, so I can’t reel off the song list, the opener and the encore. However, I can say that Waters opened with a set about an hour long of all the classic Pink Floyd songs I was hoping to hear and some more esoteric material that I didn’t know by heart but enjoyed all the same, along with some of Waters’ solo music—a new one called Leaving Beirut being the most memorable for me.

Then after a fifteen minute intermission, Waters played Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. They did a great job of synching all of the recorded sound effects that are so inherently inextricable to the piece with the band’s live performance. Being the first CD I ever bought about a quarter of a century ago, Dark Side of the Moon is probably still my favorite album, so it was wonderful to experience it performed live end-to-end in order. Besides, as good as some of the songs are individually, Dark Side of the Moon is really designed to be a cohesive piece, so I was very pleased that Waters performed it that way. Eclipse was followed by a bow and a three or four song encore.

As great as the music was last night, it was not the stand-out part of the concert experience. I’ve had countless memorable concert experiences over almost thirty years of concert-going. The music is usually what makes a concert great. However, all of the production effects outside of the music were what made this show special for me. As spectacular as they were, they did not distract from the music; they enhanced it.

The stage was backed by an immense high-definition television screen. The concert opened with a close-up shot of an old radio on the screen. Periodically, a hand would reach into the shot, pick up a cigarette, and tune the radio. This was a recurring element in the show, with the hand “tuning in” the first couple of the songs the band played, then later clips pulling back and showing more of what was going on with the man in the room who was tuning the radio. However, there was plenty of other video material played on the screen over the course of the concert, including some of the footage from The Wall. The high-definition resolution made the video component very special.

The video wasn’t the extent of the effects. The sound reinforcement in the amphitheater was Surround Sound especially for this show, and Waters made extensive use of it with all the sound effects that are Pink Floyd’s trademark. The show had impressive on-stage pyrotechnics, a particular set of them which were so bright that they left green blind-spots in my eyes for a few minutes. The producers even deployed an innovative contraption which projected a three-dimensional laser light show.

However, the most surprising production effect was when a huge pig suddenly appeared floating over the audience. It was pink and a little bigger than one of those short yellow school buses. There was graffiti all over it, some of which made it clear what some of Waters’ political positions are. The words “Impeach Bush” were emblazoned across the back end of the pig, and the words “What an asshole!” were painted on its ham with an arrow pointing to where the pigs asshole would be—except that the aforementioned word “Bush” was already there at the end of the arrow. After making a circuit around the amphitheater, the pig was released and floated up with a spotlight on it during the intermission until it disappeared from sight. I wondered what would happen when it would finally lose its helium and float back down, likely landing in the middle of the 5 freeway somewhere in Norwalk this morning.

All in all, last night is sure to stand out for many years as one of my favorite concert experiences. I love Pink Floyd music and it was performed with excellent musicianship. Waters included all of my favorite Pink Floyd songs in what turned out to be a long show (showing great stamina for a 63 year old man). The venue and weather cooperated to be wonderful hosts. The stage production was incomparable. The next time someone tells me, “when pigs fly,” I’ll remember that, hey, it could happen.

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