Five thoughts: Roger Waters at T-Mobile Arena (June 16)

Roger Waters performs at the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas on Friday, June 16, 2017.
Wade Vandervort

Roger Waters June 16, T-Mobile Arena

Four and a half stars

1. Roger Waters has no trouble levelling a crowd. He’s accomplished it through masterful musical execution (his live re-creation of Pink Floyd’s 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon album exactly 10 years ago at MGM Grand Garden Arena), jaw-dropping visual spectacle (his 2010 gig at the same venue for his reinterpretation of another Floyd tour de force, 1979’s The Wall) and, as evidenced June 16 at T-Mobile Arena, grandiose thematic presentation. No matter your political views, Friday’s 140-minute presentation was such a broadside of political invective and social criticism that it’s impossible to fathom anyone having left the arena unprovoked in some manner. It’s also hard to imagine a show more relevant to or reflective of our turbulent times. Surely many among the nearly sold-out crowd sought musical escape, but instead they got catharsis.

Roger Waters At T-Mobile Arena

2. Of all the subjects addressed and projected during the show—which included economic disparity, drone warfare, the refugee crisis, among others—none burned an impression more than Waters’ lacerating disparagement of Donald Trump. During a fiery suite comprised of “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” and “Money,” the former Floyd songwriter/bassist/vocalist skewered the billionaire president with perverted, Warholian imagery (Trump giving the Nazi salute, holding a giant dildo, wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit, driving a child’s Little Tikes Cozy Coupe, et cetera), a slideshow demonstrating human greed, a barrage of embarrassing tweets and a giant, screen-filling projection of the phrase “Trump is a pig,” the latter earning one of the loudest roars of the night.

If more conservative onlookers closed their eyes, they would have least been able to appreciate the skillful work of pianist/organist Drew Erickson and keyboardist Jon Carin, Waters’ steady basslines and, especially during “Money,” that sax solo from Ian Ritchie. But then they would have missed the iconic, inflatable pig—branded with an image of Trump and the words “welcome to the machine” and “piggy bank of war”—looping the arena above the crowd.

3. The drone-controlled blimps and omnipresent screens—one backdropping and spanning the entire stage, and several shifting above and bisecting the arena audience, often taking the shape/look of England’s Battersea Power Station (depicted on the cover of 1977’s Animals)—dominated a stunning production display that would seem to have no equal in live music. Waters used the enormous, high-resolution stage screen to show either simple images (a woman on a beach used multiple times, a mesmerizing tapestry of stars during “The Great Gig in the Sky”), illustrated graphics (the cascading clocks during a rollicking “Time”) or videos complementing the songs’ narratives (harrowing and cross-haired drone footage during the new“Deja Vu”). The laser-and-light recreation of the prism from Dark Side during “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” was particularly stunning. And even Waters himself isn’t above a confetti drop, though he subverted the practice by printing the word “RESIST” onto his pink tissue slips.

4. Normally, all that would be enough to overwhelm the rest of the show. But Waters never lets the audible element play second fiddle to the visuals—and the surround-sound system he has employed for this tour makes sure of it. The impulse to turn around and see where various samples and recordings were coming from arose several times during the show. The clarity of the acoustic guitars featured in “Wish You Were Here,” “Vera” and “Bring the Boys Back Home” brought intimacy to the cavernous T-Mobile. You could easily discern each guitar during the exhilarating instrumental “One of These Days.” And there was no straining to understand Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig (who comprise the remarkable duo Lucius) during their rafter-busting, wordless vocal passage in “The Great Gig in the Sky,” enhanced by Erickson’s gorgeous piano melodies.

5. Anyone looking for Waters to take a deep dive into his older solo or Floyd material was likely disappointed. That being said, the setlist was clearly thematic, curated from the most philosophical and politically charged portion of Waters' considerable oeuvre. The welcome inclusion of “Pigs” and “Dogs” from Animals befit the concert’s strident polemics—as did the handful of songs from recently released album Is This the Life We Really Want?, including the funk-tinged “Smell the Roses” and the snarling, climactic “Picture That.” “Welcome to the Machine” soared, as did an otherwise despondent coloring of “Us & Them.”

And to prove he’s up for a good time, Waters ended the first set with the groove-accentuated “Another Brick in the Wall” trilogy, highlighted by a chorus line of local kids wearing prison jumpsuits. After tearing off the prison garb to reveal black “RESIST” shirts, the kids bellowed the famous choral refrain from “Part 2” and danced alongside the Lucius singers and Waters himself. It was an absurd sight that nonetheless provided some celebratory relief. It took some edge off the evening’s unrelenting dystopia—and suggested to those in post-election despair to heed the buoyancy and idealism of our youth.

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