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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Roger Waters: The Wall Live In Berlin


1) In The Flesh; 2) The Thin Ice; 3) Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 1; 4) The Happiest Days Of Our Lives; 5) Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2; 6) Mother; 7) Goodbye Blue Sky; 8) Empty Spaces; 9) Young Lust; 10) One Of My Turns; 11) Don't Leave Me Now; 12) Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 3; 13) Goodbye Cruel World; 14) Hey You; 15) Is There Anybody Out There?; 16) Nobody Home; 17) Vera; 18) Bring The Boys Back Home; 19) Comfortably Numb; 20) In The Flesh; 21) Run Like Hell; 22) Waiting For The Worms; 23) Stop!; 24) The Trial; 25) The Tide Is Turning.

General verdict: So-so performance, priceless historical document.

On July 21, 1990, hundreds of thousands of people got to watch The Wall live — merely due to a lucky accident in which President Reagan involuntarily quoted the verdict of a character from a rock opera by Pink Floyd. In fact, I was all set to write about how it is actually pretty hard to find artistic parallels between the plot/message of The Wall and the horrible history of a divided Berlin — well, you can if you try hard enough, but most of them will be indirect (by way of Pink mutating into Hitler, etc., and even Hitler had little to do with the Berlin Wall). Still, the fact stands that the Wall show is one hell of a piece of inspirational entertainment, and if it needed this kind of pretext to be resuscitated just this once, what would be wrong with that? Watching the whole thing live was a once-in-a-lifetime event for Berliners (particularly Eastern).

For those people who did not exactly live through this, in time or space, Waters' show will at best remain a historical curio, seriously marred by the circumstance of not really being a true Pink Floyd show, and by Roger's choices of guest stars. Not being able to get mega-stars like Peter Gabriel, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, and Joe Cocker (all of whom had been considered at one point or another), Roger had to settle for second-rate performers — such as the likeable but not very distinctive Paul Carrack on ʽHey Youʼ, or the blandly unsexy Bryan Adams on ʽYoung Lustʼ. It is, in fact, amazing how many wrong or uninteresting choices were made. The Scorpions to play the bombastic arena-rock of ʽIn The Fleshʼ? A vocally failing Joni Mitchell on ʽGoodbye Blue Skyʼ? An obnoxiously unfunny Cyndi Lauper for ʽAnother Brick, Pt. 2ʼ? A sacrificial Sinéad O'Connor on ʽMotherʼ (for some reason, backed up by members of The Band because one thing ʽMotherʼ had always lacked, of course, was Garth Hudson's friendly campfire accordion?).

In the end, I think, the only person who got some acclaim was Van Morrison with his not-too-Gilmouresque delivery on ʽComfortably Numbʼ — but even that is totally spoiled by The Band's backing vocals, which seriously dilute the solo prayer-like attitude and take away from the pool of awesomeness. Because of this, I guess I have no choice but to award top prize to the Red Army Choir on ʽBring The Boys Back Homeʼ, due to both the sheer novelty factor and the fact that you just do not mess with the Red Army Choir.

As for the music, at best the players struggle to reproduce the energy and moodiness of the original tracks; at worst, they fail to capture its subtleties — for instance, the deep corroding sorrow of ʽDon't Leave Me Nowʼ is all but lost on stage, replaced by loudly wailing blues guitars that do not quite pack the same punch. Two solo guitarists on ʽComfortably Numbʼ (Rick DiFonzo and Snowy White) play tastefully and respectably, but still do nothing to bring out the song's cathartic power properly (I actually enjoy their acoustic duet at the end of ʽIs There Any­body Out There?ʼ a bit more — it helps when they do not have to strive to scale those Olympian heights). All in all, though, it is more of a nothing-to-lose, nothing-to-gain kind of case, even if you are watching the video rather than just listening.

We can forgive Roger his little ruse when he sneaks in ʽThe Tide Is Turningʼ at the end of the show — for one thing, it was too good an opportunity to pass in terms of extra publicity for Radio K.A.O.S.; for another thing, here was actually a song that was totally perfect for the political occasion. This sort of singularity does not magically transform ʽTideʼ into a better song, but if you let yourself go, it can feel pretty emotional — even more so than the rest of the show; and at least Roger still properly finishes things up with ʽOutside The Wallʼ, never letting go of the implication that what has come to pass once can and will happen again: a message that was not likely heeded in the optimistic climate of the early 1990s, though.

For a long time, The Wall Live In Berlin presented the only chance for people to witness the spectacle live — in either audio or video form. But after the archival release of the 1980-81 tour recordings in 2000, there was little remaining reason to listen to the album; and after Roger managed to resuscitate the show once again for his 2010-13 tour, there were even fewer reasons left to watch the video, unless you really really need to see The Scorpions and/or Cyndi Lauper, or think that Garth Hudson's accordion on ʽMotherʼ gives the song a whole dazzling new direction. As a document from a fascinating era of new breath and hope, though, the whole thing is probably up there with footage from Moscow's earliest rock festivals, or Bernstein conducting the 9th from the Branden­burg Gates — a nostalgic treasure for those of us who did live through this, and a useful history lesson for those who did not. 


  1. The song that better defines the historical moment was Wind of Change by The Scorpions.

    1. Perhaps, but it was too good a historical moment to have the memory of that particular song attached to it. Please do not ever mention it again.

    2. As an antidote I offer you this video.