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Story and photos by Andy ArgyrakisOn his first solo project in nearly 25 years, "Is This the Life We Really Want?," Roger Waters simultaneously returned to Pink Floyd's rich atmospheric textures and the outspoken political commentary that's characterized his career ever since he said goodbye to the band. But during the first of three shows at the United Center (where he returns on Sunday, July 23 and Friday, July 28) on the "Us + Them" Tour, the singer/songwriter/bassist and all-around conceptual mastermind didn't forsake the material that first gained him fame, but rather, reinterpreted it with the same vigor that characterizes the current collection while drawing thematic parallels to current events.
The first set gave Waters, his seamless band and background singers plucked straight out of the indie rock band Lucius a chance to cast a hypnotic spell on the nearly sold out crowd. Classics such as "Breathe," "One Of These Days" and "Time" ingeniously intermingled with the recent "Déjà Vu" and "The Last Refuge" (amongst others), many of which were accompanied by the iconic imagery that has almost been as integral to Pink Floyd's bloodline as the music itself.
"Wish You Were Here" and "Another Brick In The Wall" were just a few additional examples of the group's monumental place in the art/psychedelic/progressive/classic rock annals and they've clearly made an impact on the younger generation. In addition to the all-ages crowd, the latter selection featured several young kids from the area joining Waters in chants of "we don't need no education," while busting out their most playful dance moves.
However, as worthwhile as that all may sound, it was barely an appetizer compared to the second half, which started with screens inspired by the "Animals" album sleeve rolling down from the ceiling and spanning the entire width of the arena, followed by fully functioning smokestacks landing right on top of them to the soundtrack of "Dogs." It would've surely had even the highest budget Broadway set designer salivating and the audience of course ate it up, especially as the artwork's flying pig popped out from backstage and made several laps during "Pigs (Three Different Ones)."
In addition to the unbelievable display, the segment was also met with the most biting political commentaries scrawling on the screens, from defaced images of Donald Trump to some of the president's more inflammatory quotes cast against scenes from equality marches. Yet outside of his lyrics and projections (met with both cheers and hints of dissent), Waters never preached his opinions or really spoke much at all other than to show express appreciation or to suggest "there's a lot of love in this country, it just needs to let it out and spread it all over the world."
Adoration continued to be heaped upon the headliner (at least as far as his performance was concerned), especially when he sewed together the fresh original cut "Smell The Roses" with the timeless "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse" (complete with a grandiose laser formation that replicated the prism on "The Dark Side Of The Moon" cover). A closing suite from "The Wall" hearkened back to his previous excursion that played the very same building and also Wrigley Field, though no matter how monstrous the imagery, "Comfortably Numb" in particular found Waters and company focusing on their meticulous musicianship to cap off what could quite possibly be his grandest statement and spectacle to date.
Roger Waters returns to the United Center on Sunday, July 23 and Friday, July 28. For additional details, visit www.unitedcenter.com and www.ticketmaster.com.
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