The Great Gig at the Exhibition Centre – Roger Waters at Earl’s Court

“Did you know Roger Waters is touring and playing the whole of Dark Side of the Moon?” our friend and confidant Steve Roberts remarked one night at Pizza Express. Myself and young Barry, my other half, being very longstanding Pink Floyd fans, cogitated for mere moments before rushing to a computer to buy tickets.

Let’s get it out of the way early: the pig made an appearance. Beautifully bedecked with a set of udders to legally distinguish it from the not entirely dissimilar pig still used by Dave Gilmour’s Floyd, it soared majestically over the audience during a spirited rendition of “Sheep” from Animals. It was good to see it again.

And good to see Roger too. After his appearance with his former bandmates at 2005’s Live 8 extravaganza, I was less than convinced of his remaining ability to play live. His voice audibly cracking and his hands shaking on the bass, he seemed to finally be succumbing to the rigours of age. But my favourite era of Pink Floyd was Roger’s; the majestic combination of poetry and music on Dark Side of the Moon, the savage satire of Animals, the bloated bombast of The Wall (my favourite album when I was seventeen). So trepidation notwithstanding, I was happy to see the old curmudgeon for what might be the last time.

This turned out to be just as well, as Roger is still capable of delivering a storming show. Short on between songs banter, he kicked off with a high-octane rendition of “In the Flesh”, his Oswald Mosley satire from The Wall. I was initially rather worried that the pissed up, shaven headed geezers in front of us might take his mock fascist rant seriously, especially when the spotlight rove around the auditorium as he yelled “Are there any queers in the theatre tonight? Get ’em up against the wall!”. But thankfully, even pissed up geezers can obviously recognize satire, and were just as loudly applauding during Rog’s many anti-Bush rants of the evening.

There were plenty of them, too. Roger’s material has always been politically charged, but there’s always been something rather safe about hearing him lay into distant 70s figures like Harold Wilson or Mary Whitehouse. With the faithful back-projection screen subtly (and sometimes glaringly obviously) transforming the old Floyd songs into things of relevance to the mess in the Middle East, it became clear that Roger’s idealism (and occasional naivete) remained undimmed. A heartfelt rendition of anti-Falklands song “Southampton Dock” from The Final Cut spoke for itself, but as he followed this with the same album’s anti-politics anthem “The Fletcher Memorial Home” fleeting images of Bin Laden, Bush, Blair et al moved across the screen, together with graffitoed political and philosophical quotes on the nature of war. Even the pig got in on the act, its inflatable sides emblazoned with graffiti condemning the war, religion, George Bush, and most savagely, Dick Cheney, whose name was vivid under the pig’s arse.

Politics aside, this was also about the music, and it didn’t disappoint. Having the memory span of a goldfish and being unwilling to purchase the rather expensive programme, I didn’t catch the names of all the musicians involved, but they did a credible, occasionally inspired job of recreating the Floyd sound. And of course, underpinning it was Roger’s familiar voice, sometimes wistful, sometimes angry. Mindful of what his audience wanted, he concentrated on old Floyd classics, delving into his solo work only once; for an absolutely sensational performance of anti-war anthem “It All Makes Perfect Sense” from Amused to Death. Which was, rather marvellously, accompanied by a life-sized astronaut floating above the heads of the audience. The old showmanship’s still there!

The Floyd stuff, of course, was heavily slanted towards their “remembering Syd” era, after the recent death of their mercurial founder member. From the unexpected arrival of psychedelic classic “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, Rog went on to play about half of melancholy requiem for Syd Wish You Were Here. A slightly truncated version of “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” did nothing to blunt its power, as giant images of Syd floated across the screen. The there was a surprisingly ballsy version of the same album’s “Have a Cigar”, a song which, originally, Roger didn’t feel he could sing and handed over to Roy Harper to record. Finally, he went on to title track “Wish You Were Here”, and as the delicate guitar melodies backed by the heartfelt lyrics wafted over us, I found myself welling up. A bit. It was all rather like being seventeen again, smoking a joint on a summer afternoon, listening to the song and reflecting with melancholy that, nonetheless, my whole life was still in front of me.

Perhaps slightly less successful was the new song Roger brought out for the evening, another hand-on-heart anti-war rant called “Leaving Beirut”. Based on his experience of Arab hospitality as a hitchhiking teenager and illustrated by some actually rather amusing comic-style drawings on the screen, it suffered from not being a tune that the faithful could sing along to. Nonetheless, it’s nice that he is doing something new.

After a short interval during which I managed to cram in three cigarettes, it was back to the stalls for the bit we’d all come for. Dark Side of the Moon. In its entirety. Truthfully, I would have thought I’d got my money’s worth if I’d just seen the first half, but this was even better. Performed as a single, coherent piece, it seemed to just fly by. The old Floyd back-projections reappeared on many occasions, notably during “Time”, one of my strong contenders for the best song ever. The beauty of this song is not just in its music but its lyrics; as a non-musical English graduate, I’ve always held lyrics to be very important. “Time” is a song blessed with lyrics reminiscent of great English poets like Betjeman and Larkin. It beautifully sums up that horrible realisation that you’ve wasted your life – “And then one day you find, ten years have dropped behind you, no-one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.” All wrapped up in a great rock tune, with some amazing guitar and that bit at the beginning where all the clocks chime, which is great fun to play on pub jukeboxes.

Classic instrumental (well, sort of instrumental;there’s no actual words) “Great Gig in the Sky” was as magical as ever, the beautiful keyboard solo building up to the soulful wail of one of the redoubtable chorus, illuminated in the spotlight to thunderous applause. It almost made me forget its irritating use in a painkiller commercial some years ago… Album showstopper “Money”, which is fun but always seemed the weakest bit of the whole thing to me, was performed with gusto, Roger surprisingly laying off the vocal duties in favour of the impressive lead guitarist. Still, I suppose he might have been concentrating on the very heavy use of bass here!

The swelling epic “Us and Them” saw vocals shared between the keyboardist (for the verses) and Rog (the chorus) and saw some sterling saxophone work from a man whose name I… didn’t quite catch. Sorry, mate, but you were excellent! Then, as the album approached its climax (and it really has one, like an epic-length version of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit), the lasers came into play. I was familiar with the swirling effect as the multi-coloured beams cut through the deliberately smoky atmosphere, but staggeringly impressive was the laser formed prism that rotated to form the album’s logo, as a beam of white light shot through it to be split into rainbow colours on the other side. This, like the appearance of the pig, was heralded by the other light show you get at a big modern gig; literally thousands of cameraphone displays lit up all over the audience as they tried to photograph it!

But a light show’s only as good as the music, and as Roger warbled his way through a superb version of “Brain Damage” towards the tumultuous conclusion of “Eclipse”, I found myself moved to tears all over again. Dark Side of the Moon is an album I’ve lived with and loved for more than half of my life, and I’d just seen an amazing performance of it by the guy who wrote the lion’s share of it!

Back in the heady days of The Mary Whitehouse Experience, David Baddiel held forth on the phenomenon of “the phony encore”. He summed it up thus: “You’ve been to see EMF. They haven’t done “Unbelievable”. Will there be an encore?”
And so it held true. We’d been to see Roger Waters, and he hadn’t done “Another Brick In The Wall”. Would there be an encore? Well, of course. But unlike my compadres, who seemed vaguely aware of the setlist already, I was genuinely surprised to see him wheel out “Vera” from The Wall. As on the album, it was followed by the relevant-again “Bring the Boys Back Home”, which seemed to have the whole audience singing along, and then it became clear that, as on the album, he would follow that with “Comfortably Numb”. It’s a testament to how good the rest of the show was that I’d all but forgotten this perennial Floyd show-closer, used by Mr Gilmour as well. And so it should be; it’s a song written in virtually equal parts by them both. This was a cracking version with a long but not indulgent guitar solo at the end, and a fine conclusion to a gig that, overall, I think I’ll look back on as one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever been to.