Roger Waters: The Wall, Vienna Ernst Happel Stadium, 23 August 2013

I’ve never shed tears at a concert before, but I don’t mind admitting that a few burned my eyes during Roger Waters’ performance of The Wall in Vienna. They didn’t come because of the concert itself, though, but rather because my son was a member of the 15-strong children’s choir that graced the stage for “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2”, singing and dancing his heart out to Waters’ bilious diatribe against the excesses of the British educational system. While that was, naturally enough, the emotional highlight of the show for me, this epic, vast piece of music theatre was also overwhelmingly powerful as a whole.

Those interested can go here for a brief history of my liking for Pink Floyd and Roger Waters in particular. Little did I imagine, when I wrote that piece, that I would indeed be seeing The Wall live three years later, albeit as a Waters show rather than a Floyd show, and in a stadium rather than the arenas for which it was originally designed. There was apparently some talk, a couple of years ago, of putting the show on in the Stadthalle, but in the end that soulless barn proved too small to cope with the massive scale of this concept. For years Waters held out against playing The Wall in stadiums, saying that by imposing such a distance between performer and audience they represented exactly what he was railing against in the piece. Recent advances in audio-visual technology, however, have made it possible to mount the show in large venues and still provide audiences with a viable concert-going experience. And certainly from my vantage point a mere seven rows back, the Ernst Happel Stadium was just fine as a setting for the grim psychodrama being played out on stage.

Unusually for me, I seem to have backed a winner in throwing my lot in with Waters rather than with his nemesis David Gilmour. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the way Waters, at the age of 70, has kept the spirit of Pink Floyd alive by taking a scaled-up and redesigned version of The Wall on tour around the world for the last three years. Meanwhile the inveterately lazy Gilmour, who made such an almighty fuss in the 1980s about being allowed to keep the rights to the group’s name, put out two mediocre Floyd albums (which were really Gilmour solo albums in all but name) and since then has sat back in Sussex counting his money. If, as is rumoured, this summer’s Wall shows are to be the last, then Waters will certainly have earned a good long rest of his own, although I wouldn’t bet against him coming back with another project before too long.

That unswerving commitment to the value of live performance was evident in every moment of this monumental concert, in which Waters proved himself to be a remarkable showman as well as a strikingly powerful singer. Prowling the length of the enormous stage, gesticulating wildly to the audience or just to himself, caught up in the mad-eyed terror of the Pink character, Waters is the charismatic centre around whom the whole show revolves. The Bleeding Heart Band, who famously become gradually invisible during the first half of the show and are hardly seen at all in the second half, make up for their enforced lack of stage presence with playing of incomparable energy and toughness.

As for the visual aspects of the concert, there were just too many devastating scenes and images to take in. I was particularly affected by “Mother”, which saw Waters framed by a ghostly image of himself singing the song with Pink Floyd in the 1980 concerts; by the nerve-shredding symbolism and stunning pyrotechnics of “In The Flesh”; and by my favourite Floyd moment of all, “Comfortably Numb”, in which singer Robbie Wyckoff and guitarist David Kilminster appeared on top of the wall to join Waters in performing this most incendiary and soul-searching of songs. What impressed me most, however, was the way Waters has transformed this supposedly self-obsessed piece into an impassioned howl of rage against conflict and a lament in memory of its victims. Proceeding with ominous and tortured inevitability, its haunted solipsism disturbed by livid imagery of tragedy and death, The Wall is a deeply moving and humane intervention.

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