July 23, 1999
Story and Photo by Tony BonyataLast Friday night Roger Waters, one of the masterminds behind the art-rock band Pink Floyd, brought the spirit of his former band to Milwaukee without the aid giant inflatable pigs, extravagant laser lighting and explosive pyrotechnics. He seemed to let a little air out of the Pink Floyd myth by showing the audience that he didn't need all of the circuses that have always accompanied (and at times overshadowied) their live shows.
The visuals of the show were lean, with modest yet effective lighting and a huge screen that hung behind the stage which displayed old clips that Pink Floyd had used on previous tours, as well as newer inventive and colorful illustrations. Waters, with shoulder length gray hair and clad in a casually tailored black suit and black t-shirt, looked remarkably well for a man in his mid-fifties. He immediately won the attention and respect of the audience with two-sets that hung heavy on Floydian classics from their seventies and eighties rock masterpieces Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here , Animals and The Wall.
Waters, on bass guitar, along with his 8-piece band, which included Snowy White, Doyle Bramhall (from Jimmy Ray Vaughn's band) and Andy Fairweather-Low on guitars, drummer Graham Broad, two keyboardists and two shapely female Afro-American background singers, sunk their teeth into heavy classics such as "Another Brick In The Wall", as the audience cheered along with the angry schoolchildren, "We don't need no education!", "Welcome To The Machine", with Waters adding a warm, human element to this cold-slab of pre-programmed Floyd with his bone-chilling vocals, and "Dogs", from the album Animals, that found Waters and bandmates at the rear of the stage playing a quick hand of cards at a dimly lit table, amidst rhythmic percussions and spacey, swirling keys.
The highlights of the show were two songs from the 1975 album Wish You Were Here. Both the title track "Wish You Were Here" and "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" were moving tributes to Pink Floyd's first guitarist / singer / songwriter and madcap genius Syd Barrett, who was released from the band in the late sixties due to his mental illness brought on by excessive usage of hallucinogenics. Projecting old clips of Barrett on the screen, Waters and company sparkled with clean, crisp acoustic guitar lines and searing electric solos, as well as extraterrestrial keyboards and dripping gospel accompaniments. If Syd, who is currently alive and not so well in Cambridge, England, still had his wits, he would have been touched by Waters' homage to an old, lost friend.
The sold-out show in Milwaukee, Waters' debut for this tour, marks the first time he's toured in twelve years. He became disillusioned in 1987 when his tour to support his second solo effort Radio K.A.O.S. did poorly, while that same year he saw his former colleagues, David Gilmore, Richard Wright and Nick Mason, sell-out huge stadiums under the Pink Floyd name. Now with some of the ill-feelings of the past behind him, Waters seemed content to reclaim what has been as much his all along. Although he doesn't have a new album to promote on this outing (he's going into the studio for that in February of 2000) he felt the time was right to hit the road again after so many years.
Although three-quarters of the 24 numbers performed were from his Pink Floyd days, Waters managed to squeeze in a handful of songs from his own releases such as the bluesy soul of "What God Wants", the gospel-infused power of "It's A Miracle" as well as the plodding "Amused To Death", which unfortunately was the only moment that found the audience bored to death.
It didn't take long for Waters to wake them back up with a hypnotic and powerful version of "Brain Damage / Eclipse" (both from Dark Side Of The Moon). They left the stage on a high note with "Comfortably Numb", which showcased both White and Bramhall's dueling lead guitar solos, much in the grand tradition of seventies guitar-heros Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter.
While his former bandmates may have laughed all the way to the bank as their watered-down, Waters-less version of Pink Floyd raked in millions, it's comforting to know that the heart of Pink Floyd's music still shines on through Roger Waters.
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