More than 30 years ago, Pink Floyd’s main songwriter Roger Waters endured a legendarily difficult creative birthing process in order to unleash The Wall, a complex, highly theatrical rock opera based on some of the most painful experiences of his life.
The double album reached No. 1 and became one of the best-selling records of all time. Songs like “Comfortably Numb” and “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” have turned into classic-rock staples. The album spawned a 1982 movie and inspired the most elaborate concert spectacle ever attempted by a rock band. Pink Floyd literally built a wall onstage each night, performing behind it, on it, and above it as animated films and giant inflatable characters bustled around them.
It was a technical marvel that perhaps pushed too far. The band was never really pleased with the visual presentation of the show, to the point where plans for a concert movie were eventually scrapped. The shows were so physically complex and emotionally draining that only a couple dozen performances were ever attempted, which, combined with high production costs to run such a behemoth, ended up losing the band a lot of money.
The Wall also pretty much killed Pink Floyd creatively, fracturing the relationship among the band’s members and ending a decade-long collaborative roll between Waters and guitarist David Gilmour. Plus, the album is often cited as the point where Pink Floyd’s prog-rock crossed the line into bloat, with Broadway-ready string sections and onstage trial scenes replacing the sonic guitar explorations of the past.
So why is Waters digging all this up again, with nearly 100 concerts in a brand-new worldwide tour called The Wall Live? Considering the story is based on his father’s death in World War II and how the loss turned his mom into an overprotective mess and Waters himself into an isolated jerk, you’d think he’d want to keep this material and these memories buried.
Despite its flaws, The Wall remains a fantastic, singular piece of art that reveals new secrets with each listen and deserves to be celebrated in concert.
“I always loved the production values on that record,” raves Tim Daugherty, longtime DJ for Akron’s 97.5 WONE-FM. “If you listen really closely, the very first thing you hear on the record is a man saying ‘ … we came in?’ And then, all the way at the end, the last thing you hear is the same voice starting the question: ‘Isn’t this where … ’ It turns the whole story into a cycle with no beginning or end.”
Over time, the work has taken on new meanings for its creator too. Waters says he was a “frightened young man” when he wrote The Wall. Over time, his story of fear, loss, shame, and punishment has become an allegory of sorts, diving into various aspects of nationalism, racism, sexism, and religion.
But exactly what kind of shame and punishment are we talking about here? According to Akron psychologist Faye Smith (because of the nature of her work, her real name has been changed), a violent loss like the one Waters’ mother endured “can often lead parents to build up a child’s fears of the outside world in order to protect them from perceived dangers, which can result in stunted emotional growth for the youth.”
Or, as Waters puts it in “Mother”: “Momma’s gonna keep you right here under her wing/She won’t let you fly, but she might let you sing.”
Apparently recovered from that experience, Waters is now expanding the show from its original personal focus to more universal issues, like the role government, religion, and the media have in creating fear and escalating conflict in our lives. Waters is even asking fans to submit photos and stories to his website for use during the concerts.
It also helps that concert technology has advanced to the point where Waters’ vision can be easily and more elaborately presented. In 1980, three images were projected across 80 feet of the wall; the rest of it was blank. The new version features 230 feet of wall — and all of it is used.
Eric “Eroc” Sosinski, frontman for local Pink Floyd tribute band Wish You Were Here, can’t wait to see all of the new bells and whistles onstage. “Roger has always been a groundbreaking master of merging multimedia with music,” he says. “And with today’s technology, it will be even more spectacular and awesome. People rightfully expect all that from him, and I’m sure he’ll deliver." —Matthew Wilkening
ROGER WATERS — THE WALL LIVE. 8 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena. Tickets: $58-$202.
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