Waters hides nothing behind his Wall
BY RYAN SNYDER | firstname.lastname@example.org
An epoch from now, when other civilizations are picking over our electronic fingerprint and piecemealing together a globalized framework of our planet’s common culture, there’s likely to be one work of art that they recognize as the most pervasive, the most magisterial of anything ever created. When Guernica has disintegrated to dust and there are no legs left to convey The Rite of Spring, there’s a good possibility that Pink Floyd’s The Wall will be among the human race’s most comprehensive post-apocalyptic missives to whomever comes after. With well over 3 million tickets sold in 28 countries since 2010 and one of the most liberal amateur media enforcement policies ever enacted, Floyd founder Roger Waters’ spectacular update to an already immense production of his legendary album has placed itself among the most viewed, most recorded and most profitable creative endeavors in history.
The only distinguishing traits between the eye-popping constructions of Waters’ wall in Raleigh and Charlotte, and certainly of every performance, were the names of the city he used when addressing the audience, and the local schoolchil dren who joined him on “Another Brick In the Wall (Part 2).”
Every other moment — from the prop plane whizzing overhead and crashing into said wall during “In the Flesh?” to the to the gigantic marionette teacher with sinister, glowing eyes to the swanky apartment that projects outward during “Nobody Home” — is choreographed with military precision. Even the kids’ appearance for the album’s iconic chorus is directed from the pit by one of the show’s dozens of stagehands. There’s never a moment of calm during the three-hour set. It rarely gives its performers consecutive off-days, which is why no one should be shocked, and especially not appalled, to discover that Waters relies heavily on tracked vocals during his performances.
From afar, it’s almost impossible to tell. You’d have to inspect his asynchronous lip movements during “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” or catch the quick cough during Charlotte’s “Mother” to really be aware of what’s afoot. An impossibly loud and clear megaphone during “Waiting for Worms” might have been the most obvious technical giveaway. That said, why does it matter?
The 68-year-old Waters has said outright that he uses vocal tracks live, and given the sheer daunting number of times he has built and torn down The Wall, there’s a certain degree of irrationality at play among his detractors. If the PNC and Time Warner Arenas that hosted his North Carolina runs had only mediocre turnouts, a case could be made to scale down his tour to allow for more genuine performances. But they weren’t; they were near capacity on a Monday and Tuesday night respectively, well within sight of the 98.5 percent seat turnover rate he’s achieved over the last three years.
As important as honest vocals are to most normal scale rock concerts, The Wall is no typical rock concert.
It almost seems faulty to call it a concert; it’s more like psychedelic theater of the most visually stunning degree. Waters is the centerpiece tasked with juggling the show’s mélange of moral dictums, some of which resonate more deeply with the average Joe Ticketholder than, say, the psychology that might drive an artist-turned-demagogue to imagine inflicting harm on his fans. Others — abandonment, vulgar materialism, class despair — are all fleshed out through 15 skyward LCD projectors and onto to the ever-growing wall, set to a note-perfect sonic rendering by his 11-piece backing. His show can disturb with the Wikileaks footage of US Special Forces gunning down two Iraqi journalists, or it can rip your heart out with scenes of servicemen returning to their children while the Wall screams out “bring the boys home!” There’s so much to absorb in one sitting that, frankly, the matter of his disingenuous vocals is ultimately a footnote.
What is important to note is that Waters makes no effort to obscure the hundreds of accounts that spawn from every show. Professional, credentialed photographers are given well beyond the standard three songs to shoot. They aren’t forced to participate in the despicable and increasingly popular industry practice of signing away all rights to their work. Each show breeds innumerable fan-shot videos of varying length and whereas an artist like Prince would sic his legal team on every digital account of his show, Waters gives practically unlimited license to flout their one-in-a-lifetime experience. More shrewdly, Waters embraces what’s often considered discourteous behavior by fans in 2012 — his frustration with the 1977 version of which spawned The Wall — and uses it to persist his finest achievement for ages to come.