By Mark Guarino
Your last album made with your band came out in 1983. You have no new music to promote. You’re currently writing operas.
This is not a formula for selling out arenas. Yet Roger Waters, the self-proclaimed creative genius behind Pink Floyd, did just that Friday at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre. Up to 30,000 fans paid a lot of money to hear Waters, 63, recreate the visual and musical spectacle of his former band in a two-hour and 40-minute show that also included a complete performance of the band’s massively popular 1973 album, “Dark Side of the Moon” (Capitol).
Nothing today can compare to Pink Floyd’s endurance after all these years. “Dark Side of the Moon” held steady on the Billboard charts for 724 weeks, the longest run ever for an album. Over 30 million copies have sold since its release and a quarter of a million copies sell each year. In today’s iPod world, where singles dominate albums, a full-length concept album about madness, greed and mortality might be considered a relic. Yet here were waves of people, spanning teenagers to fifty-year-olds, applauding every nuance of the album, from cheering for the cash registers preceding “Money” to mimicking the persistent madman’s laugh.
“Dark Side” took up the show’s entire 45-minute second set (the album itself runs 42 minutes). Waters, the band’s chief lyricist and songwriter, did not sing most of the songs, so the vocals sung by his former partner David Gilmour were shared among his 10-member band. Gilmour’s ethereal guitar solos were also dutifully recreated. Like any cover band, the real star became the music. “Dark Side” is considered the archetypal rock album for its breadth of textures, dark themes and use of suspense. Despite the faithful renditions of its most popular songs, the performance shed new light on its lesser moments. “On the Run,” an instrumental, was ominously dark, with the band, cast in the dark, playing to a video of lightning fast images. The power hungry themes of “Us and Them” was revived to comment on the current White House, a picture of President Bush in a flight uniform proclaiming mission accomplished.
Although Pink Floyd is often lumped in with other British bands of the prog rock era, Waters was not as interested in folk mythology. His albums kept returning to the affect of war on future generations, the rise of false heroes and how the industrial age destroys individualism. Rather than sounding like an old crank, he retooled the songs ó and many from “The Wall,” the band’s other rock opus ó to comment on current global strife.
“The Fletcher Memorial Home,” originally written about the Falklands War, was updated to illustrate a war hero’s disillusionment with the leaders in the present administration. On “Perfect Sense, Parts 1 and 2,” he imagined modern warfare as a gladiator sport. Both sides exploded in fire the same moment Waters sang with pure cynicism, “it all makes perfect sense.” “Leaving Beirut,” a new song, was a warning directed to the audience against the Christian Right.
A requisite pink pig floated out (with “Impeach Bush” scrawled on its rear end) as did a spaceman, but they were clunky remnants of his former band’s knack for spectacle.