Welcome to the Machine

(Photo from neptunepinkfloyd.co.uk)


Concert review by Daniel Gawthrop

Published in The Nation (Bangkok) on April 13, 2002

An evening with Roger Waters “In the Flesh” was a trip down memory lane on Wednesday night. But that’s exactly how the audience at Impact Arena wanted it.

Waters, the 58-year-old, salt-and-pepper-haired co-founder of Pink Floyd, played a nearly flawless three-hour concert that was dominated by great moments from the Pink Floyd catalogue.

Backed by an 11-piece band including well-travelled session musicians such as Andy Fairweather Low and a trio of female vocalists, the legendary 70s rocker churned out classic after classic before a wildly appreciative audience in a show that was several seats short of a sell-out.

Opening with 1979’s “The Wall”, the man billed as the creative genius behind Pink Floyd appeared on a platform above his band mates, posing as the dictator figure from the crowd-taunting “In the Flesh” (“So ya’…thought ya’… might like to…go to the show/ To feel the warm thrill of confusion; that space cadet glow…”).

Waters continued the anti-establishment hits with “Happiest Days of Our Lives”, “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” and “Mother”, before moving on to the more topical anti-war themes of The Final Cut (1983), his last album with Pink Floyd.

The sonic boom of the fighter plane and exploding cruise missile preceding “Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert” was one of the more dramatic effects of the 360- degree surround sound system. The sonic architecture of this show was sprinkled with the trademark Floyd sounds of crying babies, barking dogs, thundering helicopters, jingling cash registers and laughing mad men.

Considering that the top seats were going for 3,000 baht [about $120 Cdn], the fans were grateful that Waters didn’t show up “unplugged”. While there was no onstage bulldozing of a giant wall, as in the famous Berlin concert of 1990, the aural effects were augmented visually by a constantly changing backdrop of animated imagery and psychedelic colour washes.

Dressed completely in black, Waters spoke very little throughout the evening. But like other Western performers making their debut in Bangkok, he was well briefed by PR staff and delighted the crowd by wai-ing them on several occasions. He seemed to enjoy making good use of the stage, wandering back and forth to make contact with hand and facial gestures while miming his lyrics.

Following two songs from 1977’s Animals, then Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun (1968), Waters closed the first set with four pieces from Wish You Were Here(1975), a tribute to Pink Floyd co-founder Syd Barrett, who left the band in a haze of drug-induced mental illness following its early success in the late 60s. During the final coda to the reprise of “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond”, a grainy photo image of Barrett’s face appeared, ghostlike, on the screen.

With three guitarists, two keyboard players and full rhythm accompaniment, Waters’ voice was occasionally drowned out on the low notes. But guitarist Chester Kamen did an admirable job of fill-ins for both Waters’ and David Gilmour’s original vocals, particularly on the extended acid-trip surrealism of “Dogs” and “Comfortably Numb”, the show’s crashing, dramatic finale.

Waters left the band 18 years ago after a nasty split with Gilmour. But the Pink Floyd material will always be his bread and butter in concert. The solo material in the second set (“The Bravery of Being Out of Range”, “It’s a Miracle”) was dwarfed in its impact by reproductions from Dark Side of the Moon (1973), the world’s all-time biggest selling rock album.

Classic progressive favourites such as “Breathe”, “Time”, “Money”, “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” instantly transported the over-30s in the crowd back to the dope smoke-filled basements of their teenaged years, turning the show into the kind of nostalgia act that Waters, a relentless social critic, must abhor. But then, his failure to generate big sales as a solo artist have a lot to do with the gloomy Armageddonism and pessimistic themes of his post-Floyd work.

Much of Waters’ solo material (“Radio Waves”, “Amused to Death”) has focused on the power of the media to shape opinion and dumb down the public. Television—especially on the album based on Neil Postman’s book of nearly the same title—has been a big part of the Waters muse. But much of this material in concert comes off as too cerebral to embrace. At Impact Arena it was likely over the heads of many in the second-language audience, which is sadly ironic given that Waters’ message about the numbing effects of TV and mass media could, if translated, seem like a poke in the face to media-addicted Bangkok.

But with the Floyd nostalgia machine working at full cylinders on Wednesday, none of this mattered at Impact. On this night, there was no doubt in anyone’s minds which one was Pink.

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