Roger Waters: The Wall Live – review

O2, London

A quarter of an hour into his solo performance of The Wall, Roger Waters unexpectedly calls a halt to proceedings and announces that, through the miracle of technology, he's going to sing Mother as a duet with footage of himself singing the song with Pink Floyd nearly 30 years ago. "If that doesn't sound too narcissistic," he adds. This rather prompts the response: mate, you're performing a 90-minute rock opera so extravagantly tricked out with 3D animations, pyrotechnics and inflatables that it has allegedly cost £37m to stage; what's more, it details how your parents, education, marriage and position in Pink Floyd all contributed to your increasing sense of alienation in the 1970s. Worrying about narcissism seems very much like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Then again, The Wall has always been the most problematic of Pink Floyd's multiplatinum albums. Written in the aftermath of Waters spitting in a fan's face during a Canadian gig, it sought to illuminate the psyche that could lead a multimillionaire rock star to do such a thing, although a cynic might suggest that the greatest insight it gave into the psyche of a multimillionaire rock star was unwitting: it variously pointed the blame at Rogers's mother, his teachers, his ex-wife, sundry groupies, the music industry, the government, the South Ruislip Girl Guides, etc – but noticeably failed to include a song called I'm Sorry I Spat In Your Face. Perhaps it's on the forthcoming seven-disc box set.

The staging of the new show suggests Waters himself understands that there are certain issues with the original piece: amping up the anti-war message, it attempts to turn a kind of lavish personal grumble into something more universal, with mixed results. The footage of soldiers back from Iraq greeting their children is powerful and heartbreaking, but sticking an image of torture in Abu Ghraib over a song about a rock star feeling fed up in a hotel room rather amplifies the sense of solipsism.

You could say the same thing about the music, expertly recreated by a vast band. The Wall drew on unlikely influences – doo-wop and disco among them – but the songs mostly highlighted the band's longstanding shortcomings and strengths. They couldn't rock, at least in the accepted sense, to save their lives. When they tried, as on Young Lust or Run Like Hell, the results were pretty much the same as on 1969's The Nile Song or 1973's Money: leaden, trudging, unlovely. Then again, they didn't need to, having patented a kind of sighing, elegiac big ballad that managed to maintain an intimate emotional punch while reaching to the back of vast stadiums: Hey You, Nobody Home, the peerless Comfortably Numb.

It's almost impossible not to be impressed with this show purely as a sensory experience: the animations look incredible and the sound effects whirl around the huge auditorium. More surprising is how Waters, always the most uncomfortable of rock stars, has flourished into a performer. He's genuinely chilling as a fascist demagogue: hand on hip, megaphone to mouth, he captures the horrible strutting arrogance you see in old footage of Oswald Mosley. Moreover, he seems to be enjoying himself, encouraging the audience to clap along. If they had any doubts about the appropriateness of clapping along to an extended treatise on isolation and despair, they don't show it. They happily do his bidding.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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