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Live Review and Gallery: Roger Waters at United Center

| July 25, 2017

Roger Waters

“Us + Them” Tour

United Center, Chicago, IL

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Reviewed by Jeff Elbel; Photos by Ed Spinelli

Former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters’ first of three nights at United Center began with clockwork precision at exactly 8PM, with sounds of crashing surf and film footage of a hooded figure watching the tide come in – for 20 minutes. The message could have been received as “hurry up and wait,” but for longtime fans of Waters’ deliberate and meticulous art-rock, it was a signal to relax and prepare to take it all in.

The “Us + Them” show’s first segment began with a set of songs from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, including “Breathe,” “Time,” and “The Great Gig in the Sky.” Ecstatic vocals for the latter were sung by Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe of indie-pop group Lucius, who served as brilliant vocal foils to Waters and guitarist Jonathan Wilson (who sang most of the David Gilmour vocals for the Floyd tunes). Aside from an intense diversion featuring Waters’ ping-ponging bass guitar for instrumental “One of These Days” from 1971’s Meddle, it became apparent that the first set featured Waters’ statement about “us.”

“Welcome to the Machine” was re-purposed from its original story about a disillusioned musician. In Waters’ narrative, the song described identity-crushing abuses endured by faceless masses due to unethical corporations in blind pursuit of profit. The unsettling mood created by the song was amplified by Gerald Scarfe’s garish animation, originally created for Pink Floyd’s 1977 Animals tour.

During “The Last Refugee” from Waters new album Is This the Life We Really Want?, the patient woman from the beach returned on the film screens as an interpretive dancer, struggling to retain her beautiful dream despite catastrophic personal loss. “Picture That” from the album followed, with a grim pulse that dovetailed with the familiar Pink Floyd fare elsewhere in the set. Among a litany of spirit-crushing modern images, the song contained the most forceful political statement of the first set. “Picture a leader with no fucking brains,” sang Waters. If there was any doubt regarding which global head of state Waters meant, the screens soon showed imagery of  Donald Trump.

Following the melancholy folk of “Wish You Were Here,” the cathartic high point of the first set accompanied the arrival of a dozen youth who lined the stage to sing “Another Brick in the Wall.” The orange prison jumpsuits they wore were soon cast aside to reveal t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “RESIST” as they danced with abandon. “These are your kids,” said Waters, speaking at last before announcing an encore. “They’re all from here in Chicago. They did great.”

The band returned for the “Them” set as massive video screen were lowered to bisect the hall. With towering smokestacks rising above, the screens were transformed into Battersea Power Station as seen on the cover of 1977’s Animals. It was the album’s 40th anniversary, and Waters marked the occasion by playing all of side one’s epic “Dogs.” At one point, most of the 9-piece band retired to the side of the stage for a champagne toast wearing pig and sheep masks.

Waters pushed the political content to the max with Animals’ “Pigs (Three Different Ones).” Mocking images of Trump were splashed across the video screens during the venomous song, with the word “charade” stamped across the president’s face. A string of damning presidential quotes and tweets then scrolled, followed by the hammer to the head. The final quote on screen was Waters’ own, reading bluntly, “Trump is a pig.”

Many in the audience cheered, but not all. On the day following the concert, several heated arguments were described between Trump-supporting Floyd fans and those who were in tune with the artist’s message. No reports of actual brawls or rejections were reported, however.

Dark Side of the Moon classic “Money” was used for similar effect. Over the familiar introduction’s ringing cash registers, audio clips of Trump saying “I won” repeated. The dire funk continued as the band was joined by saxophonist Ian Ritchie, who stayed aboard for the soothing and majestic, but still troubled namesake of the tour, “Us and Them.”

The grim funk of “Smell the Roses” recalled “Have a Cigar.” “Come on honey, it’s real money,” sang Waters. Instead of the shallow dreams of record label wheeler-dealers from the Wish You Were Here album, the new antagonists were war profiteers – those with even more stunning pyrotechnics than Waters.

The set concluded with “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse,” as colored lasers, shafts of white light and fog were deployed to create a dazzling image of a pyramid over the room. Waters remained on stage, however, to introduce his band and address the audience a final time. Rather than speak on his political convictions apparent through his song selections, he talked about love. Waters cited the love in the room that the band could feel, and the love he had seen while traveling on the current tour. “There’s a lot of love in this country,” he said. “It needs to let itself out and get around the world.”

Following an rapturous encore of The Wall warhorse “Comfortably Numb,” Waters and band made their bows and departed. During Sunday night’s performance, the band were joined during the song by Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder.

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  1. John Monino says:

    Well Written Mr. Elbel. You captured the show so well!!!! Your truly a gifted writer! Thanks for the poetic read!
    I will look up old write ups! Thanks again!!!