Roger Waters: The Wall Live – review

Wembley Stadium, London
Pink Floyd's Roger Waters becomes something of a benign dictator of rock to build his Wall bigger than ever

There are not many rock musicians who could fill a venue this large, and even fewer grey-haired, 70-year-old ones who could. What's particularly remarkable is that Roger Waters wasn't even the most charismatic member of Pink Floyd, a band who achieved global renown despite being utterly anonymous. And yet here he is, the original grumpy young man – one of his cues for writing the double-album opus that is being staged tonight was an increasing antipathy towards his audience – revelling in his role as master of ceremonies, commanding the attention of tens of thousands and fronting a spectacle with the authority of a benign dictator.

This is an even more tricked-out version of the show that Waters has been touring since 2010, one that made him the third most successful live artist after Bruce Springsteen and Madonna last year. The contrast between colourful multimedia visuals and the music itself is now even more stark: Waters' highly personal, bleak, dour and downbeat musings on the alienating effects of conflict and stardom here become a series of hi-tech bombardments of the senses. And with this stadium Waters has a bigger canvas than ever on which to make his points, enabling him to enlarge the Wall concept with visuals critiquing the corporatisation of culture while also demonstrating the awful majesty of war: the fighter plane crashing into the wall, and the resulting explosions and pyrotechnics, is as impressive (and doubtless expensive) as anything you'll see at a pop concert.

The Wall might be partly about Waters' loathing of systems, whether of the school or military variety, and the triumph of despots within them, but he plays the part of the totalitarian rock star with aplomb. If anything, tall and rake-thin, all silver mane and shades, he suits the part better than he did when the album was first performed in 1979. And when he dons a black trenchcoat and, with a look of manic glee, takes a machine gun to rapid-fire bullets into the night, the crowd lap it up.

The audience – younger than you might expect, a sign that the Floyd are probably cooler today than at any time in their history – respond ecstatically to Waters' every simplistic attack on tyranny and hegemony, but it's not his political acuity they're applauding, it's his ambition, and the bang for their bucks he provides. At the end, the musicians and singers, who have been behind the wall throughout, are brought on for individual bows; but this was a triumph of theatrics and the will to realise grandiose schemes, not a musical one. Waters is a prog-rock Andrew Lloyd Webber, with a capacious imagination and the talent and wherewithal to bring his ideas to life. One almost feels cowed into appreciation.

• Did you catch this gig – or any other recently? Tell us about it using #GdnGig


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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