Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Roger Waters' The Wall Live, Yankee Stadium, July 7th, 2012

Photo Credit: 2012 Roger Waters Music Overseas Limited (NY TIMES) 

A hot summery day in July, a few days over 12 years ago, a concert moment would change my life forever. Something that most certainly leads me to the concert going fiend and desired inker of such moments I am today. Legacy cemented…

Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, MI was hosting the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There was an opening act and the sub headliner was a growing band by the name Foo Fighters, rising to newfound heights on their new single, “Learn to Fly.” I wasn’t even going to attend this concert as I wasn’t a Foo fan yet and I did love the Chili Peppers, but for some reason I hadn’t acquired tickets until I ran into my buddy Ben downtown on a bridge (like that?) on the 4th of July. He had tickets for the next night and despite what seemed like a steep price, I had nothing else to do, so I joined. I didn’t live and die by concerts at this time in my life, and I attribute that transition to when the Foo Fighters took stage that faithful night. 

I knew a few of the Foo Fighters songs like “Everlong” and “Big Me,” but they continued playing song after song that I knew and loved, which made me continuously scream out that famous line when you’re surprised by a band you know, but don’t really know, “they sing this song too!?” There was a real up-and-down song, “For All the Cows” in which Dave Grohl would walk to opposite ends of the stage and take shots with Chad Smith, drummer of the RHCP, before laying out big screamer parts of the song. It seemed a tad unorthodox, and to this day I’ve never seen anyone so freely meander through stage time as an opening act.

It came time to dust off a cover. Not just ANY cover, but the Foo were about to play “Have a Cigar” (link: not the G-Rap performance) by Pink Floyd. A song at the time, for me, which meant more in spectacle of the name than anything else: Is there anything more badass than the notion of “having a cigar?” Has anyone in your life commanded you to have a cigar? I’d think if it happened, you’d have to oblige, or fear turning in any potential you ever had of being a badass. And really, that’s any boys/mans/human beings dream, right?

Cigar tangent aside, Dave Grohl, lead singer of the Foo Fighters took over as drummer and Taylor Hawkins, Foo Fighters drummer, took center stage and the microphone. I state this very simplistically, because this concept blew my mind. 1) I only really knew DG at the time as drummer of Nirvana that started his own band 2) It seemed weird to give this unknown drummer the center stage. 3) Not anybody can get up there and sing 70’s rock and get away with it! To this day, all the concerts I’ve been to, I don’t know if I’ve seen anything like it on that level. It makes sense logically, but it was just not something I expected.

Grohl was KILLING it on the drums as that seemed like the spectacle to watch, but really, it was Hawkins voice that really made it totally badass. These fuckers knew what they were doing. In hindsight, it’s easy to look at Hawkins future solo albums and use in future Foo albums, but at the time, I don’t think anybody had any idea what they were in for. It’s not like the Eagles where everyone sings. This was a fucking rock show and the main act could step behind the kit, and somehow that UPS the ante.

Over the years, I’ve heard Taylor Hawkins sing Floyd a number of times. It’s honestly one of my favorite concert delights. Pink Floyd was more “my dads’” music at that time, and was recognizable, but I couldn’t really fathom the scope. More so, I didn’t realize how classic that voice was until I heard Hawkins doing it. Perhaps it just took someone of my era to give me the frame to classify it, but when I hear that voice, there’s no way for me not to transport into the 70’s and drench myself in fake nostalgia. I love the notion of hearing something through someone else’s realm and how it brings the true meaning of something to your own table.

Bringing it back to today, The Foo Fighters on their latest tour for Wasting Light rolled “This is a Call” and transitioned into “In the Flesh?,” and it was fucking amazing! Pretty much the perfect selection of a cover I’d love to hear them do. On Jimmy Fallon, in almost a salute to this decision, Roger Waters joined the Foo Fighters in a performance of the same song. Wow.

Which leads us full circle, Roger Waters’ The Wall at Yankee Stadium.

Roger Waters, Pink Floyd bassist, 68, took over the main songwriting and concept duties for Pink Floyd in the early 70’s. The result: A four album run that rivals if not tramples any other band in the history of music. Think about it!? Dark Side of the Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), Animals (1977), and The Wall (1979). What are you going to put against that? The Beatles? Perhaps. I’d argue the Kinks or Zeppelin, but really, all things considered this sets the standard for stringing together albums. I always had, without proper research, given credit to guitarist David Gilmour for the legacy of Floyd, but thanks to a push from a friend, I forked over the ridiculous amount of dollars it took to get to this concert—and don’t recall why I didn’t make this a priority, sooner.

This was a show of epic proportions to say the least.

Roger Waters is a pimp! Cool and cleansing like his namesake, yet proven, wise, and larger than life like his legacy. Because I’m an idiot, I arrived to the show a little late, and when I heard the opening notes to “In the Flesh,” I found myself sprinting up the Yankee Stadium escalator to my ‘tweener level seats all the way stage right. The first image I saw from the show was fireworks and Roger Waters’ grill adorned with sunglasses that must have been about 150 feet per shade in aviator circumference projected on what seemed like a 2 kagillion foot wall. Whoa.

Let’s take a separate paragraph to discuss the wall. Not, The Wall, but the wall itself, not metaphorically or sonically. Literally. There was a projection-laden wall that covered approximately 70% of the Yankee Stadium outfield about 40 feet high that transitioned piece by piece throughout the set. The wall started with a broken brick “V” opening to which you’d see the 13-piece backing band, which featured G.E. Smith on guitar (you might remember from SNL), building itself to full force by mid-show (perhaps the Tenacious D “Roadie” song was about the never-ending job these guys do) creating the metaphoric barrier between artist and fan. Ha-ha! And finally, well, you know the story, it gets torn down. That process itself is spectacular, but if that’s not enough, the white wall also serves as a dynamic video screen of war propaganda, idealistic imagery and references to anything against the system. Big Brothers’ (referenced) worst nightmare!

Ok, back to The Wall. Born out of Waters’ frustration with audience perception, he imagined building an actual wall between the performers and the audience. This happens during the show and it’s kind of surreal. If the screen wasn’t so entertaining just in its grandiose stature this ideology may have reigned supreme, but honestly, the wall is so awesome, you could almost lose yourself looking at just the wall. Perhaps, I’m just easily amused. That ideology of imposed isolation is documented throughout the rock opera’s plot. Loss of a father in World War II, an over protective mother, loss of marriage, loss of confidence through ridicule of teachers and the loss of self through rock star excesses. It’s quite a journey, one that weaves in and out through some of rocks most famous songs, “Another Brick in the Wall”, “Hey You”, “Comfortably Numb”, “Young Lust,” and of course “In the Flesh.”

In music, artists’ losses are typically a win for the fan. It’s unfortunate, but most of the music I seem to really enjoy comes from a great deal of pain. Waters was the first to point out, when he sang a duet of “Mother” with a video of himself from the early 80’s, that he was indeed a 36 year-old “poor, miserable, fucked up little Roger.”  It was then impossible for any thinking man not to ponder about how this show has evolved over time. To think of how early on, they must have moved many of the wall pieces by hand (I guess they still do at parts), or how imagery projected onto the wall has changed itself, with political culture. References to Mac lingo (i____..., i____...) were countered with bios of soldier’s that lost their lives without blinking. I’ve always been a fan of the overall font and brand The Wall has created. I’ve had The Wall poster in my room before I knew shit about shit and/or anything remotely interesting about this album, other than it looked cool and it’s legacy is prominently heralded in high regard. It mostly is an insanely colorful red dominated charge-up-the-mountain with sweat on the brow and a setting sun fist-pumping imagery.

In fact, during the show, when Waters was giving props to the kids and ranting about terrorists, the New York natives (as a Michigan boy, they are still fodder, even after seven years) took it upon themselves to scream obscenities, interjecting the word terrorist every few seconds, just so they, themselves would feel like they were helping the show. It was a classic NY moment in which I could say to myself, “only in New York…do fans get inappropriately belligerent and boisterous…even when high.”

I mean, this was the same audience that found a way to catch and destroy my favorite prop (well, besides the wall) from the show--the inflatable pig with fake slogans. Man, they really ripped that thing apart. It really got out of control, fast!

The sound was another monumental achievement. I was incredibly worried, because my seats were as far to the right as you could get, outside the main speaker stacks, which is usually the first sign of trouble. But, true to the professionalism of the set up, the sound was loud, clear and impeccable. When he brought a “choir” of kids for “Another Brick in the Wall,” their voices were so loud in my ears it was almost piercing. I can only imagine what that was like to be close and dead center. Also, the show was in surround sound, so when there was laughing, gunshots and other high jinks you come to associate with Pink Floyd depth of sound, the noise would move right to left and/or directly behind you. The effect was unreal. Even if you weren’t high.

I’ll never forget the little moment late in the show when the full wall had been created, a piece about half way up unfolded like a hide-a-bed. Sure enough, it was Roger Waters, the pimp in command, coming from behind the wall 20 feet in the air on an easy chair and makeshift living room set. I can’t remember if he had a glass of wine or not, but the scene was set. He was chill, with one arm on the arm of the relaxing piece of furniture he was sitting on, casually serenading the audience. In direct contrast to when he walks along the entire wall, with the backing band covered, with the spotlight on him, projected his live image on bookends of the wall, with half a baseball outfield on either side to work with—putting on a show, with space cadet glow.

The thick and richness of Floyd’s arraignments are hard to match. After re-watching the Foo Fighters version of “In the Flesh,” (only three live guitars?) and listening to the 13-piece version (twice) during Roger Waters’ The Wall it’s just majestic in sonic triumph. I won’t go on record and say “it’s the best concert I’ve ever been to,” but I have no problem saying it’s the most expensive show I’ve ever been to, therefore I expected it to be, and it did live up to my lofty expectations. I just don’t have the history with the music to justify the “best ever” superlative.

My internal wall, however, has been knocked down, allowing me to pursue this not quite uncharted, but under-pursued, delight, with the reckless abandon personified in “Young Lust.” When you think about it, is there a better trajectory to unbridled fun then the freshness of a new addiction…with a map?

The album, The Wall By Pink Floyd

Writers note: The picture at the top was taken from the NY Times piece. Yeah, I know that’s kind of lame, but it seemed like the best possible picture for my obsession with the majestic wall. It seemed like I could credit it pretty easily. Also, Yankee Stadium doesn’t let you in with a Kindle, so taking in my big camera was an easy no-no. I need to work on getting a small digi-cam. In due time. Either way, I saw the perfect image and I wanted it. 

Also, I have no idea why my first chunk of paragraphs are double spaced and I can't fix it. I'm not going to spend all day on it. 

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