Roger Waters could, at this point, spoon-feed fans an entire show of Pink Floyd classics accompanied only by trippy psychedelics and lasers. However, he’s as likely to do that as to contribute to President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.
At the Smoothie King Center on Saturday night, during the first leg of his Us + Them world tour, the 73-year-old challenged his audience with a smartly conceived and executed show heavy on substance. As a result, his decades-old Pink Floyd catalog found fresh life.
Credit in part his nine-piece band, a mix of veterans of past Waters tours and fresh faces. They did not just replicate the likes of “Time,” “Welcome to the Machine” and “Wish You Were Here” — they enlivened them.
The audio was pristine, loud but not oppressively so. Thus, the contributions of drummer Joey Waronker could be fully appreciated as he sketched in familiar fills. Ian Ritchie’s tenor saxophone was spot-on. The voices of Holly Laessig and Jessica Wolfe of the indie band Lucius soared, wailed and harmonized, frequently lighting up the audience.
Two musicians filled in for David Gilmour, Waters’ long-estranged Pink Floyd bandmate. Dave Kilminster ably recreated Gilmour’s guitar solos. Second guitarist Jonathan Wilson replicated Gilmour’s breathy voice.
Roger Waters didn’t build The Wall by himself. Or the Dark Side of the Moon tour. Or his cur…
Waters and his creative team have produced an immersive experience. A zen-like, 20-minute film of a woman sitting alone on a beach opened the presentation. Shape-shifting roll-drop screens altered the entire arena space in the show’s second half. An eye-popping laser pyramid illuminated “Eclipse” as the lunatic’s laugh bounced around the surround-sound system. A 20-foot, remote-controlled pig buzzed the arena’s lower bowl. (Technical issues grounded the silver orb that normally takes flight as well.)
Approximately 10,000 people turned out for Waters’ first New Orleans performance in 47 years. He last held forth on a local stage when Pink Floyd spent two nights at the old Warehouse in May 1970. He’d left the band by the time it played the Superdome in 1994. None of his post-Floyd solo tours came this way until Saturday.
His two previous outings were based on “Dark Side of the Moon” and “The Wall,” two of the most revered rock albums of all time. On the current tour, four songs are culled from “Is This the Life We Really Want?,” Waters’ first rock album in more than two decades.
In “Déjà Vu,” he strummed an acoustic and imagined himself, alternately, as God or a drone; onscreen, an SUV, seen through a targeting lens, was obliterated via a drone. “Last Refugee” showcased a beautifully shot video of a woman, living grimly in an abandoned factory, dancing and imagining herself as a ballerina. Of the new songs, “Picture That” was the least successful, substituting a sneer and snarl for subtlety and sophistication.
No matter. After “Picture That” came the familiar chiming, dual-acoustic intro to “Wish You Were Here.” The final notes gave way to the helicopter searchlight that signaled “The Happiest Days of Our Lives”/“Another Brick in the Wall, Part II.” A dozen local children stripped off orange jumpsuits to reveal black “Resist” T-shirts.
Following intermission, eight 40-foot-tall panels unspooled from the rafters, effectively cleaving the room in two. Projections transformed the screens into the power station depicted on Pink Floyd’s 1977 album “Animals,” complete with working smokestacks.
During “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” a procession of profane images of the current American president filled the massive screens: Trump as a baby, being held aloft by Russian President Vladimir Putin; Trump as a statue with an exceptionally small penis. The parade continued for several minutes, followed by examples of infamous Trump quotes.
Finally, the words “Trump is a pig” filled the screens, as if the point hadn’t already been made. It had, repeatedly, with a sledgehammer. When the anti-Trump barrage carried over to the subsequent “Money,” it felt like overkill.
There was some booing, but any offended Trump fans who walked out missed the highlights that followed.
The marriage of music and message was especially powerful in “Us and Them,” the seven-minute “Dark Side of the Moon” opus from which the tour derives its title. As Ritchie caressed the song’s signature tenor sax line, a military drone leisurely took flight on the giant LED screen behind the band. The bracing chorus, with its soaring harmonies, contrasted with real-world footage of military helicopters, abject poverty and children without a chance. The message was clear: They are us, and we are them.
The new “Smell the Roses” gave way to two more “Dark Side” essentials: a meticulously built “Brain Damage” and the epic “Eclipse” laser show.
“The Wall’s intimate “Vera” and stark “Bring the Boys Back Home,” lit up by the Lucius duo, rebooted synapses before the final “Comfortably Numb.” Originally part of “The Wall,” “Comfortably Numb” is anything but joyous; it traces the isolated rock-star protagonist’s descent down the rabbit hole of self-medication.
But as a culmination, “Comfortably Numb” felt cathartic. As Kilminster carved out one of rock’s great guitar solos, confetti rained down from the rafters. With that concert cliché, Waters allowed himself, and his audience, some well-deserved fun.
And yet even the confetti contained a message. Each piece was stamped “Resist,” something Waters can't do when given the opportunity to provoke and inform.