Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Roger Waters Us + Them Tour Rehearsal



Sunday May 21 2017
Roger Waters Us + Them Tour Rehearsal
New Jersey, Meadowlands Arena
Disclaimer: As the tour has not yet started, I will minimize spoilers on content and details of the show beyond the group’s reaction to them. If there is anything I think constitutes a spoiler, it will be indicated. My definition may vary from yours, but the intent here is not at all to ruin anything who does not want it ruined. Read at your own discretion.
Simon and I woke up early Sunday morning, still fairly tired from tailgating and a Jimmy Buffett concert with my folks in Bristow, VA. (Actually, I thought that performance was one of the better Buffett shows I’ve been dragged to over the years, and the tailgate was mostly with work mates, so it was fun watching them do tequila with my parents.) (There was an incident with an inflatable shark, too.)
We rustled together snacks, drinks, chargers, etc., threw them in the car, and got on the road for 7:30. We listen to James O’Brien’s Mystery Hour podcast for 4 hours on the drive up to New Jersey, but the closer we got, the more excited we were getting to meet up with friends, enjoy the pre-show gathering, see the state of this “abandoned” venue, and, of course, see the show.
After picking Wendy and Matt up from their hotel, we drove to the nearby “Irish Pub” where, after drinks and a Full Irish Fry Up, we met up with Other Matt and his friend, Drew, Mike, Wes, Chris, Patrick, Ellie, Andy, Jackie, Kimberly, Chris, Marco, and Donna (representing everywhere from Canada to Hawaii and back). We discussed our love and preferences of the new Roger tracks. (Some people liked Déjà Vu best, some likes The Last Refugee best. I’m team Last Refugee.) As 4:00 approached, we peeled off and made our way to the venue—apparently everyone had a pretty fun time trying to find this no-longer-existent address on GPS. And because of the relative size and nature of the show, there was a fraction of a percent of usual event staff. There was literally one guy directing traffic that we encountered before we parked. How were we supposed to find a place to park in all that open space?!
Outside the entrance the venue had an obelisk with posters for Roger’s new album as well as a 10-ft pig specifically for the album. Wendy and Matt did an obligatory handstand as we waited for doors to open.
I met outside with my friend Oni and her husband, James. This would be their first ever Roger Waters show (what an introduction!) I was twice as much excited for them to see it as I was to see it myself.
Perhaps due to low staff levels and for crowd control, the venue only let people into the venue in batches of 100–150. It gave me a flashback to the old George Pal Time Machine.






























Once in the venue EVERY SINGLE ATTENDEE had to pick up tickets from will call. I have to give props to the skeleton staff for doing this relatively quickly and efficiently.
In the will call foyer, the pillars were covered in promotional flyers for the tour and another display for the album. Several of us… um… needed a closer look at those flyers. (None remained upon exit.) I mention all the décor, because it was stark against the otherwise completely bare venue. Usually there are advertisements for beer and concessions and local car mechanics and law offices. Not even a PSA against drunk driving—just the Roger stuff. The same conditions existed in the arena proper—there were no LED banner advertisements or colorful posters around the perimeter. It was stripped. That was nice in its own way—you could really focus on the stage setup—fewer distractions.
A scattering of chairs on the very left and right of the arena floor were speckled with a few first arrivers, but many people either made their choice of seat anywhere up the stairs either side of the arena or joined the *hopefully washed* masses standing centerstage. It was all “general admission,” and you really did have your choice of pretty much anywhere. Oni and James and I sat 5 rows back, stage left and gushed up until the show. The row was actually relatively empty! (And after two songs, I actually went up to the front where Simon, Matt, Wendy. Kimberly et al. were gathered right up on the front rail!)


SPOILERS!!!
The stage was setup with a large LED screen background approximately the same expanse as the “wall” from The Wall tour arena shows—so completely one side to the other. 15 minutes or so before the start, it played a mostly silent introductory video in the vein of Sean Evan’s “Last Refugee” short film. Perhaps it was only for the rehearsal, but the separate PA system was playing pre-show tracks, and I definitely caught “Strange Fruit”—a veteran track from The Wall tour. Will all following shows have a new, unique pre-show track list?































Lights went down . . . Speak to Me. . . band trickles on stage . . . . . . . . BREATHE. Roger and the band perform the first half or so of Dark Side without saying much—this was probably the weirdest and most surreal part of the show for me. Did I enjoy the music and the performance? Sure—I didn’t not enjoy it. But the gig wasn’t clicking with me. Maybe it’s my old-crotchety fan bias, but getting through all the Dark Side tracks at the beginning was a chore, like eating flavorless vegetables before digging into the the Kobe beef and cheesy potatoes. I mainly watch the performers, as the background video just doesn’t offer much once you’ve seen it already (correct me if I’m wrong rehearsal goers, but…) it’s the same video footage as used in Desert Trip and Mexico. Roger has a few scratchy words after “the old stuff,” then gets to “the good stuff.” Déjà Vu, followed by The Last Refugee. This was the first time I heard The Last Refugee live, and, yes, I teared up like a complete nerd. It’s such a beautiful song. (I heard Déjà Vu first when it was “If I were God” at his gig with G.E. Smith in Sag Harbor in October 2015.) I really do like both songs, and I actually appreciate both MORE live, even though Roger was clearly having voice/throat issues from the likely days of practice.
After The Last Refugee, we had a REAL treat. The new, as yet unreleased fourth track from the new album—Picture That. Well, *I* really enjoyed it. I want to listen to it a dozen more times, but it’s definitely as Simon described—one of his “list” songs. (I like his list songs...) I think it got the crowd a little fired up—in part because of the make-up of the crowd and their relation to Roger or the band—no half-time fans! (Except this one guy in the crowd who dissed KAOS.) It’s like everyone knew—“This is it! This is the new song he hasn’t released yet! We haven’t heard this yet! EEEEEE!”
Then? WYWH that rolled into Happiest Days, then Brick I and II. During Happiest Days, a group of school kids in orange prison jumpsuits lined the front of the stage staring downwards during the song, they rip these off to reveal black and white “RESIST!” shirts. Right in front of Wendy and I was a little boy who couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6, and I do have to say, the poor thing looked TERRIFIED. And it wasn’t even a full venue! I just wanted to give him a hug and let him know it was going to be great and he’d do great and how precious he was. Wendy and I waved and he quickly waved back before making sure he was looking down again like he was supposed to. Even though I’ve personally heard Brick I and II “enough” already, that made the song for me that night. I wanted him to see that we were there and enjoying it and he was doing a good job, so made sure to clap along and smile—Wendy and I gave him a thumbs up before he left the stage.
































Roger had a few more croaky words thanking everyone for coming to the special gig before intermission. Intermission in which we barely moved and just kept talking about the new songs and the performers and the setlist thus far. When would he play Smell the Roses?!
Intermission ended with my favorite part of the visual production—the Battersea Erection. Other than that, I’m not going to say anything about that aspect—I hope you go to see it for yourself at least once! Definitely damn cool production.
The band plays through Animals with some new arrangements to accommodate the new band members and the tweaked Desert Trip/Mexico graphics. Me personally? I’ll never get tired of hearing the Animals Tracks live. What can I say—their just so Orwellian and Rock and Roll and In-Your Face Lyrics and (Dave K’s) Guitar and Drums.
Roger transitions to the end of Dark Side set with Money (not my favorite, but some new “fun” graphics) then finally Us and Them—another favorite of mine live. Before he can start Brain Damage. . . . . SMELL the ROSES. I don’t know if I’d call the song transitions here smooth… feels like it would have been better fitting amongst the Animals set.
I like Smell the Roses. I really do. And performed live was better than the studio recording, definitely. My one little critique of that track in the show is that the graphics were a little OTT graphic for me. Footage from Cambodian political prisons and the killing fields, torture, violence. I’m not saying AT ALL that we should hide the existence of these things, but, very honestly, I felt like a bit like this:
 


























I just generally tend to be an empathetic person—I know those things exist and are really terrible… I don’t really want to see them again, (and again) because it hurts my heart.
Maybe this was Roger’s intent? But while he tries to provoke and affect the disaffected masses, I’m over here in tears T_T.
I pulled myself together for Brain Damage and Eclipse (extended edition!), but was honestly so distracted with trying to figure out what they were trying to do with a remote control orb that I didn’t really get an impression of the visual production here. The musical performance was great, though! (Maybe they’ll figure out the orb thing before Friday?!)
Roger ended with another croaky speech—but you could tell he was genuinely grateful for the turnout and the reaction. (super fans are good for something!) He (tried) to introduce the band, but is still learning the names of the new members. Whoops. We’ll see how that goes Friday in Kansas City. (They did a great job regardless!)
The ladies from Lucius and he sang Vera and Bring the Boys back home, and he entreated the crowd to sing with him. As I have said to friends, Lucius seems to be getting more comfortable with their vocals and have softened up from last fall. Their new arrangements are somewhere between the studio standard and the very experimental and sometimes jarring ones I remember from Mexico. (I like it better now, but I know others won’t because it’s not the “same”) Finally—Comfy Numb. Dave K’s solo is still spot on, couldn’t be faulted. Still gets to me. But admit… I was distracted. Roger did something that A) He’s never done as far as I know and B) I never ever thought he’d do. In the latter half of Comfy Numb, he walked down the front rail smiling, saying hi, and shaking hands. WHAAAAAAT. WHOA. I mean, that was cool. And then the ceiling exploded confetti.
END SPOILERS!!!


We were all a little bit stuck for words after the show. Was it good? Of course it was! It was awesome! Was it a little disappointing to the Roger fans who have really been waiting to see him preform his amazing solo work live instead of the more tired “Time and Money” tracks? Well, yeah. Are Simon and I going to follow it like we did The Wall tour? Probably not. We’ll be happy to see a handful of shows in places with lots of friends and good venues. Yeah, we’ll miss the cool, quirky nuances of each show, but we agree a more enticing setlist could have been fashioned. What about all of the amazing tracks from ATD which was remastered and rereleased in 2015? Which is not to say, again—and I can’t stress it enough—that the show wasn’t fantastic. The performers look awesome and so so so promising—I mean, the performers really make it—so much talent and emotion. I’m excited for that and I’m excited for the new material.
Simon and I had to rush off home (4-hour drive… definitely nodded off several times), but made sure we said goodbyes to all the friends we could. We also saw Ian (who does the fantastic sax solo) on the way out.
Rolled up our driveway at 2 AM, exhausted, happy, full of desire for everyone else to just go see it now so we can talk about it.