Roger Waters @ Air Canada Centre

. : : September 16th, 2010 : : .

In retrospect, I’m not really sure why I bought a $275 ticket to see Roger Waters.

I should give that statement some context: I’m not a hardcore Pink Floyd fan (let alone a Roger Waters fan), and the only album of theirs I’ve really been able to get into is The Wall. I knew what a big deal it was that Roger was finally going to be able to tour his concept rock opera, and out of curiosity more than anything, I checked the availability of tickets and managed to more or less stumble upon a decent floor seat. Because I honestly did love The Wall, and I knew this would be a unique once-on-a-lifetime opportunity, I grabbed it. For weeks before the show, I wasn’t sure if I’d really follow through and go or sell the premium ticket on Craigslist. After all, $275 is a lot of money to me, and I’d just spent a similar amount on Paul McCartney, an artist whose history and back catalog I have a significantly deeper and more thorough appreciation for. Now, I’m not trying to start a Beatles vs. Pink Floyd debate in the comments; it is just I was exposed to Pink Floyd very late and superficially and I never pursued them much further. That being said, obviously, I ended up going to the show (or else this would be a rather short and meaningless blog post, wouldn’t it?).

The Wall was being performed in its entirety at the Air Canada Centre, a stadium; a very unusual setting for me to see a concert. In fact, the first and last time I’d been was six weeks prior for the aforementioned Paul McCartney show. Getting recording gear into a stadium when an eviction costs you almost three hundred dollars is stressful, let me tell you. Especially since I’ve taken to carrying my gear around in a little side pouch that every security guard inspects. I’ve gotten pretty cleaver about hiding the goodies beneath little notebooks, folded up scraps of paper, pens, ipods, ear buds, etc. But credit where credit is due: the security at the front gates of ACC that night was more thorough than any security I’d yet come across. He actually dug a little bit into the bag, and all but certainly saw at least my battery box. I’m sure they were mostly looking for alcohol and drugs, so a few gizmos amongst mp3 players didn’t set off any alarms (thank god for the digital revolution!).

So, with a quickly pulsating heartbeat, I made my way to my seat. Mere feet away from the soundboard — a promising position for audio recording, unquestioningly. However, the board is flanked by a security guard, and he’s looking in my direction. The easy route would be to go to the bathroom, set up, and come back and take my seat, but knowing the washrooms will be uncomfortably crowded, I take my chances. I ever so slowly unbag my gear, unravel my cords, snake the mics under my shirt and plug in. The security guard must think I have fleas — every time he looks in my direction I play it off like I’m itching. And in a way, I am. Itching for the show to start, to be secure under the blanket of darkness. I pull my hoodie up over my mics, hoping to obscure them, and shove excess wire in my pocket opposite his view. I seemed safe and breathed easier. I was confident I was in the clear, and it would all be smooth sailing from here on in.

When the show started, however, I was immediately dismayed. The mics weren’t working again, with the same symptoms as my last concert. As In The Flesh got going, I desperately tried wiggling the mics, unplugging them, replugging them, turning, tightening, straightening… Nothing. I was frantic. The show was about to start and little to no sound was coming through. Ugh!! I gave up for a couple of songs, then in a last ditch effort, tried again. No dice. I sighed in frustration, and stuck my recorder in my breast pocket. Luckily, the R-09hr has internal microphones, which have only been tested once, in a very, very different setting. But in a pinch, it would have to do.

The sound was good for a stadium show. A bit boomy, but what can one expect in a room designed to hold some 18,000 people? It became clear quickly The Wall tour is more of a show than a concert. Fantastic, improbable stage props, including a wall that gets built throughout the first half of the show until it spans the entire width of the stadium, sprawling even further than the stage itself, and growing several stories high throughout the set. Before long, the band is entirely eclipsed behind this wall, upon which we get politically charged videos projected upon. The band sounds extraordinarily tight for being so early in the tour, but in a spectacle of this size, it would be unfair to expect any less. The setlist will be familiar to any fan of the 1979 album — it plays throughout without significant pause, excepting a twenty minute intermission between “discs”. In fact, Waters doesn’t even acknowledge the audience until the last lyric is sung, the last note rung. It was not unlike the close of a Broadway show where the cast comes out and takes their bows, finally breaking the 4th wall. The songs themselves were produced with fair accuracy to their recorded counterparts, deviating only occasionally — mostly in guitar solos — but not significantly. The only real trouble was replacing Waters’ Pink Floyd companion, David Gilmour, whose absence was felt achingly every time the session replacement stepped up to the spotlight. Emotionless and overly showy, his vocal performance seemed like it belonged on American Idol or at a high end karaoke bar, and not on a stadium stage. Alas.

After the twenty minute intermission, pockets of the floor decided they wanted to sit. Was this a rock concert, or a geriatrics ward?! I stood defiantly, while berated by a group of frustrated drunks behind me. I knew how this story goes: soon, everyone will be standing and they will shut up, I tell myself. To get the best recording, I needed to stay a) still and b) elevated, but I couldn’t tell them that without ruining the recording (and perhaps drawing attention to security — not something I wanted). One of them started tapping me on the shoulder to try and get my attention. I turned my head to acknowledge I heard him, but continued standing regardless. The shouts started to get vulgar and even more aggressive. The same one started shoving and pushing me. Great. Just what I didn’t want. I barked at him firmly not to touch me, but he sounded ready to pick a fight. I turned back to the show, and move slightly forward to try and stay out of easy reach, but no luck. I heard his friends encouraging him to calm down, and am glad, but uneasy. Seconds later, as predicted, the entire floor was back on their feet — but the experience one of my favourite Pink Floyd songs was ruined. Ugh.

Although it has several highlights, the second half of the Wall isn’t as strong as the first and the show started to drag by the final quarter. The band performing unseen behind this enormous wall didn’t help hold my waning interest, although the show becomes more about the projections, giant puppets and flying inflatable pigs and confetti at this point, anyway. It was a pretty cool spectacle, but not a mind blowing epic 30-plus years in the making. The night was proving the memorable, but not necessarily for all the right reasons.

One obvious highlight was Waters himself, who for the most part sounded great and although there were a handful of notes he just couldn’t hit anymore, he sang them in a lower register with such flair and conviction you’d almost believe it was always meant to be performed that way.

The recording, on the other hand? Well, not as bad as I expected considering I didn’t have any mics, and it was haphazardly shoved in my shirt pocket. It’s definitely not going to become the Holy Grail amongst Pink Floyd collectors, but hopefully it’s enough to satisfy them until better recordings come out of the tour.

01. In The Flesh
02. The Thin Ice
03. Another Brick In The Wall (Part I)
04. The Happiest Days of Our Lives
05. Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)
06. Mother
07. Goodbye Blue Skies
08. What Shall We Do Now?
09. Young Lust
10. One Of My Turns
11. Don’t Leave Me Now
12. Another Brick In The Wall (Part III) / The Last Few Bricks
13. Goodbye Cruel World


14. Hey You
15. Is There Anybody Out There
16. Nobody Home
17. Vera
18. Bring The Boyds Back Home
19. Comfortably Numb
20. The Show Must Go On
21. In The Flesh
22. Run Like Hell
23. Waiting For The Worms
24. Stop
25. The Trial
26. Outside The Wall

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Young Lust (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Thanks to Roger Waters and his massive band and crew for a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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