Roger Waters, the legendary co-founder and genius of Pink Floyd, announced in 2016 a new world tour called “Us + Them”, which kick started last year in the States. Little by little new dates were confirmed, including a show in Helsinki, the city where I live now. In addition, the maestro is visiting many European countries and also Latin America, playing in sold out arenas in front of up to 70.000 people. My worship for Pink Floyd’s music has increased through the years, and because of my short age, I never got the chance to see the original/classic line-up. I hadn’t had the chance to see any of the surviving members of the band playing live either. My expectations towards this gig were huge, giving the remarkable reputation of the visual spectacles that Waters has put together in the past, which seem to get better each time as technology develops.
In his previous tour, Roger played the classic The Wall back to back for the hundredth time, but this time he promised to deliver a setlist full of surprises, covering the highlights of his career with Pink Floyd but also some of his own songs from the acclaimed solo album “Is This the Life We Really Want?” released in 2017. The tickets for the Helsinki show sold out very quickly, since Waters is a living legend who, despite being 74 years old, remains very active as a musician and as a political activist. The venue chosen for this gig was Hartwall Arena, which seemed appropriate for such big an event, although even a larger place would have embraced better the massive visuals of the show. I couldn’t help to be surprised by the fact that numbered chairs were displayed in the floor level, which is so not rock and roll to me.
The evening started with a few minutes of delay, with a huge screen at the back of the stage showing the picture of a woman sitting at the beach with her back towards the camera and eerie music in the background. This lasted for about fifteen minutes, building an atmosphere of tension that was only broken by the first signs of the introduction “Speak to Me”. Then the band jumped to the stage to perform “Breath (In the Air)”, accompanied by visuals inspired in outer space and the dark side of the moon, with Roger looking in great shape for his age. Meanwhile, Jonathan Wilson fulfilled David Gilmour’s duties on guitar and lead vocals. Wilson’s soft voice worked perfectly as a replacement of the other creative genius of Pink Floyd, assisted also by the sweet backing vocals of Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe, members of the group Lucius.
Without a break, the set continued immediately with “One of These Days”, a key moment from the excellent Meddle. This instrumental piece helped a little bit to wake up a lethargic Finnish audience, who shyly accompanied clapping to the catchy psychedelic rhythm of the song, led by Waters’ groovy bassline. The lap steel guitar solo by Jon Carin gave me goosebumps and the surround sound took this performance to the next level. Sounds and images of clocks hinted the begging of another classic piece from The Dark Side of the Moon, “Time”, and we had the chance to hear Roger on lead vocals for the first time. The percussion arrangements by Joey Waronker during the introduction of the song were very interesting and gave this old song a fresh and modern twist. “Breath (Reprise)” served its purpose to give an ending to this odyssey through time and space.
Then it was time to shine for the backing vocal girls, who stole the show with their amazing duo performance of “The Great Gig in the Sky”, one of the highlights of the first part of the setlist. After this magnificent display of vocal talent, we were drowned by the powerful sound of synthesizer that gives entrance to “Welcome to the Machine”, one of the most heartbreaking and intense tracks from Wish You Were Here. Afterwards, Roger took the chance to present three songs from his latest solo album. “Déjà Vu”, a slow one that helped to decompress the atmosphere and also my bladder. “The Last Refugee” reminds a lot the sound of Radiohead. This is no coincidence, since Nigel Godrich, long-time collaborator of that band, produced the album. “Picture That” brought the intensity back to the gig with its provocative lyrics.
To end the first half of the concert, a parade of classics that started with the acoustic trademark theme “Wish You Were Here”, bringing some emotion to an audience that couldn’t wake up and offer something more in return that clapping respectfully at the end of every song. In moments like these, you notice the huge cultural differences, since no one was singing aloud the lyrics with passion like we Latin Americans do. The unmistakable sound of a helicopter and that exquisite bass riff marked the beginning of “The Happiest Days Of Our Lives”, with background images of The Wall coming from the big screen. “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 and 3” were mixed and featured twelve Finnish kids dressed first as prisoners and marching to the rhythm of these anthems, only to finally liberate themselves in the name of resistance. After an hour of music, the band left the stage for a twenty-minute break.
The second set begun with the display of a gigantic screen that divided the floor longitudinally into two halves. The visual content of this screen would set the emotional and conceptual tone of the next few songs. “Dogs” was the first of two references to the underrated Animals album, astonishing for the fans that are familiar with the whole Floyd discography. They took us for a long trip through all kinds of emotions, including a performance by the members of the band wearing animal masks and drinking champagne, while Roger protested against the pigs that rule us. Subsequently, the hypnotic keyboard intro by Bo Koster set the start for “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”, another of the truly memorable moments of the gig. An intense performance, which included a flying pig and a very acid critique without any restrains to president Trump, showing some of the most controversial quotes from the current USA leader.
Back in the dark side, the unequivocal cashier machine sound meant that it was time for “Money”. During this track the screens begun to slide according to the progress of the song, which included the first outstanding saxophone solo by Ian Ritchie. “Us and Them”, one of my all-time favorite songs, was executed with the sensitivity, passion and moving visuals that such a beautiful piece of music deserves, making it one of the most touching moments of the evening. Ian got to indulge us once more with his saxophone.“Smell the Roses” brought us back to Waters’ last solo album, with the artist hanging himself with chains that came down from the ceiling in a very dramatic gesture. The themes of the song were complemented by a weird smelling smoke that came from the towers displayed in the field. This special trick made many people cover their noses.
The last references to Floyd’s legendary album from 1973 would take shape in “Brain Damage”, including a floating dark moon traveling around the venue and the lunatic laughs that match the lyrics so well. “Eclipse”, on the other hand, had one of the most impressive visual displays of the night, with a triangular prism crossed by a series of multicolor light beams, just like in the original cover of the album. After this song, the audience finally woke up once more to give a long, standing ovation to this artist with over fifty years of experience in the business. The round of applause lasted for quite a few minutes, and Roger looked very moved by the effusiveness of the spectators. Then he took the time to introduce his band and to give a speech about the violations of human rights in Palestine, asking Lana Del Rey not to perform in Israel.
After a short brake, the encore started with another Waters solo track, “Broken Bones”, an introspective song, very critical of the current state of things. The cherry on top of this wonderful concert couldn’t be other than “Comfortably Numb”, featuring its mind-blowing guitar solo and closing in a perfect way this musical experience that extended for three hours and forty minutes. A very excited Roger came down from the stage to mingle with the first row of fans.
We don’t know for sure for how long we will have this progressive rock hero producing new music and touring, but I feel deeply satisfied to have seen him at least once playing live. This concert definitely makes it into the list of the best gigs I’ve ever seen, and settles an extremely high standard for musical shows in general. If you have the chance to see the guru during this tour, don’t miss your chance, you will for sure delight yourself with an experience beyond the imaginable.
Review written by David Araneda