PINK Floyd founding member and creative lynchpin Roger Waters is already more than 70 dates into his Us + Them world tour, and if he’s experiencing any fatigue he surely isn’t showing it on stage.
As the houselights at Brisbane Entertainment Centre fade, the sound of seagulls echoes through the venue as a video of a solitary figure sitting on a beach with her back to us projects on to the giant screen behind the stage.
While the stadium fills, eerie vocal chants and bird squawks are replaced by the unmistakable soundscape from Speak to Me, and as the “I’ve been mad for f—ing years” sample plays over the speakers, Waters – dressed in his ubiquitous black T-shirt and black jeans – and his band take to stage and launch straight into Breathe, with vocal duties adeptly handled by guitarist Jonathan Wilson, the “resident hippie in the band”.
As a giant animated sphere traverses cityscapes on the screen behind, Breathe seamlessly transitions into One of These Days and Time, which includes a reprise of Breathe. To describe vocalists Jessica Wolfe and Holly Laessig – from indie-pop band Lucius – as backing singers does them a great disservice, with the platinum-wigged duo’s soaring vocal harmonies on the otherwise-instrumental The Great Gig in the Sky giving the song a superior edge to its studio counterpart.
During the throbbing bass Welcome to the Machine, a spotlight follows Waters as he struts back and forth across the front of the stage, clearly revelling in the rapturous response from the crowd. As the seven-minute opus draws to a close, the stage darkens, and as a pulsing beat fills the arena, Waters swaps his Fender four-string for an acoustic guitar and takes to the mic for an emotionally wrought rendition of Déjà Vu, the opening from last year’s Is This the Life We Really Want?
After a near-album-perfect replication of The Last Refugee – which features suitably restrained drumming from Joey Waronker and is accompanied by its poignant music video – and the acerbic, expletive-laden Picture That, the band launch into the title track from Wish You Were Here, which garners a predictably rousing response. Although his former Pink Floyd bandmate David Gilmour sang the track on the album, Waters wrote the track, and he handles the vocals – in the same key as the studio version – with aplomb, and adds extra emotional resonance in the process.
As the sounds of choppers fill the venue and a simulated searchlight sweeps the crowd, the darkened stage again lights up to reveal a row of hooded figures in orange jumpsuits. They stand motionless, with heads bowed, as Rogers and his band tear through The Happiest Days of Our Lives, and as the “we don’t need no education” refrain from Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 begins, the figures remove their masks and begin marching on the spot and singing the chorus.
The figures turn out to be students from Ipswich West Special School, and as the song and progresses, they remove their jumpsuits to expose black T-shirts emblazoned with the word “RESIST”. Waters is full of praise for the students’ efforts, and as Another Brick in the Wall Part 3 draws to a close, so does the first half of the show.
After the intermission, many are likely questioning how Waters will top the spectacle they have just witnessed, but as giant screens unfurl from the roof above the main seating area to reveal a rendering of the Battersea Power Station, which adorns the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1977 album Animals, any doubts are quickly put to rest.
The Orwellian themes of that album seem even more relevant today than they were when the album was released, and as a stunning visual display adorns the screens to accompany Dogs, it’s difficult to know where to look. But as Pigs (Three Different Ones) kicks off, everyone’s eyes are trained to the screens, which are emblazoned with anthropomorphic sheep, dogs and pigs and interspersed with Donald Trump’s own quotes and tweets and digitally altered images of the US President that run the gamut from sardonic and comical to graphic and unsettling.
Money is repurposed as another attack on Trump, before a heart-rending Us and Them lulls the audience into near-silence. Recent track Smell the Roses and Floyd classic Brain Damage both get an airing, and as the set draws closer to its conclusion, Waters, who has let the music do the talking for most of the evening, seems overcome with emotion.
“I can’t hear anything that you’re saying but it feels positive, so come on let’s hear it,” Waters tells the crowd, extending his arms skyward and lapping up the resultant applause.
Waters introduces his band – which also comprises guitarist and bassist Gus Seyffert, multi-instrumentalists Jon Carin and Dave Kilminster, saxophonist Ian Ritchie and keyboardist Drew Erickson – before telling us “there’s a big message in this show and it’s that love has the transcendental ability to affect everything in our lives, even romantic love can change our lives”.
“I was looking at the schedule and thinking this may be the last time I ever come through Australia … I won’t get this chance, probably to talk to people in Brisbane again for the rest of my life; one has to remember there is a finality to all of this,” 74-year-old Waters tells the crowd before finishing with Mother and a rousing Comfortably Numb.
And as ribbons of confetti slowly spiral through the smoke and lights of the laser pyramid and the crowd rises to give a standing ovation, there’s an overwhelming sense of unity, and suddenly it doesn’t feel like there’s an “us and them”, only an “us”.
Last year, Waters told Marc Maron on his WTF podcast that his “major contribution to rock ’n ’ roll … was really to develop the theatre of arena rock” and last night’s show proved, 40 years later, that his ability to meld theatricality with musical prowess in live performances remains unrivalled.
Roger Waters performs at Brisbane Entertainment Centre again tonight, with tickets still available at the box office.