Roger Waters review – raging at the dark side of the Earth

Manchester Arena
The former Pink Floyd bandleader is full of air-punching vigour as his Us +Them tour makes a stand for ethical resistance

Anyone who thinks pop and politics shouldn’t mix should steer clear of Roger Waters’ Us + Them tour, one man’s attempt to put the world to rights delivered as a giant spectacle. There is a flying pig bearing the words “Stay human or die”. There are slogans reading “Pigs rule the world” and “Trump is a pig”. There are surveillance satellites and rendition aeroplanes. During a thrillingly tumultuous Another Brick in the Wall, a multiracial group of local schoolchildren dressed as Guantánamo Bay prisoners sing: “We don’t need no thought control.”

The message of all this – which is written on the schoolchildren’s T-shirts and on confetti that showers over the audience during a superbly reflective Comfortably Numb – is “resist”. “Resist what or who?” reads a query on screen during the interval, to which the answers come in a blitzkrieg: “Neo-fascism”, “pollution”, “profits from war”, “Mark Zuckerberg” and other such bogeymen.

In fairness, Waters has been writing lyrics about authoritarianism, war, death, power and such for decades, but the Pink Floyd co-founder can probably scarcely believe how prescient those songs now are. Breathe’s “don’t be afraid to care” lyric sounds like a manifesto. Time’s ticking clocks perfectly capture the current creeping dread as we sleepwalk towards an unknowable future, because “hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way”. The mammoth setlist spans five Pink Floyd albums – Meddle, The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall – from 1971-79, but the mostly retrospective show feels alive and relevant.

Creeping dread... Roger Waters.
Creeping dread... Roger Waters. Photograph: Andy Von Pip/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

It helps that the sound is impeccable: a quadrophonic system means the cackle in Brain Damage suddenly emits from the other side of the arena. But Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig (from indie outfit Lucius) more than manage The Great Gig in the Sky’s tonsil-troubling wailing, and the musicians recreate and reimagine Waters’ old band’s sound impeccably. It’s not all Floyd, though. The Last Refugee – one of four recent solo songs – sounds eerily moving with the breaking news report of more than 200 migrant drownings in the Mediterranean.

Although Waters’ politics undoubtedly have refuseniks, issues close to his heart are mostly encouragingly received, although the massed cheering that suddenly spreads round the arena during the Orwellian, Trump-ridiculing Pigs (Three Different Ones) is for news of England’s penalty shootout success, not the revolution. Other ovations come thick and fast for the mock-up of Battersea power station (the cover star of 1977’s Animals) across the stage, or the gigantic, laser-powered Dark Side of the Moon prism. For all such stunning visuals, the focus never quite drifts from the music. Eclipse is wonderfully weightless. Money chugs timelessly on its groove of cash tills. Us and Them – illustrated by Black Lives Matter protests and riot police – is heartbreakingly beautiful.

Waters doesn’t speak much during the performance but ends it with a stirring, hopeful speech asking people to “rise up” for human rights. In Floyd’s turbulent heyday, he infamously became so alienated from live crowds that he spat at a fan and built his Wall. But here, the rugged 74-year-old grins, air-punches and even seems to wipe a tear from his eye at the audience reception. If it weren’t for all those audiovisual runes of oncoming war and apocalypse, you’d think he was having the time of his life.

• This article was amended on 6 July 2018 to correct the year Animals was released from 1976 to 1977.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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