Roger Waters brings the Dark Side to Vancouver



By Steve Newton

British rock had a banner year in 1973. The Who released its Mods-versus-rockers masterwork, Quadrophenia, Elton John’s career peaked with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and David Bowie took glam to new heights on Aladdin Sane. But the album many feel ruled in ’73 was Pink Floyd’s cosmic prog-rock powerhouse, Dark Side of the Moon, the disc that sparked a million doobies.

The promise of hearing Dark Side in its entirety is what inspired most fans to pay upward of $150 to see original Floyd bassist-vocalist and main songwriter Roger Waters at GM Place. That, and his legendary status as a performer who always brings cutting-edge technology, intelligence, art, and politics to the stage. Qualitywise, last Thursday’s (June 21) sold-out show was right up there with the finest of Pink Floyd’s famously mind-blowing gigs.

Concertgoers may have wondered what they were seeing when they took their seats and checked out the stage. At first glance, it appeared as if a huge prop in the shape of an old radio had been constructed up there, along with other oversize items like a half-empty (half-full?) bottle of Scotch and a model of a Second World War airplane. It was actually an amazingly lifelike, high-definition film being shown on the immense screen that ran along the back of the stage. I couldn’t tell that it was actually a film until smoke started wafting up on the screen and a man’s hand came into view, flicking a cigarette into the ashtray beside the Johnnie Walker Red.

Vera Lynn’s wartime ballad “We’ll Meet Again” came bounding over the radio, and the hand poured itself a shot of Scotch. When ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” came on, the hand, comically, switched stations, zoning in on Chet Baker’s “My Funny Valentine”. Around this time, the 54-year-old Pink Floyd freak beside me lit up his own special cigarette. He’d seen Floyd at the Montreal Forum in ’69 and this time brought along his 18-year-old son, who proudly displayed his just-bought Dark Side of the Moon T-shirt.

Waters received a standing ovation when he took the stage with his 11-piece band, looking distinguished in a black blazer, his mop of grey hair stylishly coiffed. He immediately launched into “In the Flesh?”, from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and the marching cartoon hammers from Alan Parker’s 1982 film of the same name filled the video screen. (Shout-out to my cousin from Victoria, artist Sean Newton, who helped animate that sequence.)

When it came to the part in that song where Waters assumes the persona of a bloodthirsty fascist, selecting nonconformists who must be put “up against the wall”, he pointed at the crowd and hollered, “There’s one smoking a joint!” Chances are he was right.

Another Wall track, “Mother”, followed, and after asking, “Mother should I trust the government?” Waters emphatically shook his head. That would be the first of many well-placed shots at the political powers that be, George W. Bush and Tony Blair being the primary targets. Later in the set, Waters would introduce a new tune, “Leaving Beirut”, which was inspired by a trip he made to Lebanon as a teen, when he got stranded and taken in by an Arab family whose kindness and generosity touched him deeply. “Are these the people we should bomb?” he pondered in the autobiographical ditty. “Are we so sure they mean us harm?”

The jabs at Anglo-American foreign policy continued during “Sheep”, when an inflatable pig sporting graffitied slogans such as Fear Builds Walls, All Religions Divide, and Impeach Bush floated over the crowd.

The anti-Bush sentiments were allowed to percolate during a 15-minute break, after which the band returned for the much-anticipated run-through of Dark Side of the Moon. Highlights of that segment included the hit single “Money”, wherein former Thin Lizzy guitarist Snowy White traded soaring licks with Dave Kilminster, who specialized in the blues-tinged fretwork of estranged Floyd picker David Gilmour. The gorgeously hypnotic “Us and Them” was rolled out amid black-and-white footage of student protests and napalm bombs and was sung by keyboardist Jon Carin. (Waters avoids singing any Floyd songs that featured Gilmour on lead vocals.)

The Dark Side performance ended with a 3-D re-creation of the album’s famous cover art–a beam of light entering a triangular prism to create a rainbow of colours–and then Waters topped the stellar show off with an encore that included The Wall’s “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2”, “Vera”, and “Comfortably Numb”. And no, I didn’t get in the appropriate mood for the last song by sharing a toke with the ’60s survivor the next seat over.

Nice of him to offer, though.

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