Everybody has an opinion and should be free to express it, Roger Waters told the crowd midway through Wednesday’s first of two nights at TD Garden and there was certainly no doubt what the former Pink Floyd mastermind thinks of our leadership and the extreme to which he’ll share.
His comment came after kids from Seekonk’s School of Rock lined the stagefront, first in hoods and prison jumpsuits and then RESIST T-shirts, for “Another Brick in the Wall,” marching to the anti-authoritarian chorus “We don’t need no education.” And Waters, 74, followed his little sermon — which touched on justice and equality for all — by taking a knee, akin to recent NFL protests.
Fans cheered, some booed, and the show broke for intermission to mull it all over. Yet that was nothing next to the visual venom the English rocker spewed against our president in the second half of the two-plus-hour show. It was almost enough to forget an earlier video-accented swipe in “Picture That” (the most Floyd-ish of a few songs from new album Is This the Life We Really Want?) where Waters cried, “Picture a leader with no fucking brains.”
Yes, the night’s conceptual tour-de-force came in “Pigs (Three Different Ones).” A huge porcine inflatable with Trump’s face and the words “Piggy Bank of War” circled the Garden while screens flashed a Putin-cradled baby Trump and much more unsavory depictions. A string of controversial Trump quotes set up a final statement: “Trump is a Pig.”
That song’s lyrics (“Big man, pig man. Ha, ha, charade you are”) haven’t changed since Floyd first performed it at the old Boston Garden 40 years ago. But much of what that now-extinct band’s songwriter Waters railed against in the ’70s has come to roost with a larger-than-life target. And you can’t find a larger-than-life rock show than what Waters still offers in the Floyd tradition, a wall of visual and sonic spectacle.
Even the grotesque animation hasn’t changed in four decades for the foreboding “Welcome to the Machine,” which centered a first set largely pulling from the first half of the 1973 classic Dark Side of the Moon, before a pithy closing taste from 1979’s The Wall (with Waters fist-bumping the kids).
Of course the band had changed, with Waters shuffling his nine-piece backup to feature name talent in Lucius singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig (who levitated “Great Gig in the Sky”), My Morning Jacket keyboardist Bo Koster (whose Lucius-aided group backed Waters at the 2015 Newport Folk Fest), loose-limbed Beck/R.E.M. drummer Joey Waronker, and hip(pie) producer Jonathan Wilson, who assumed Floyd foil David Gilmour’s vocals and split stinging solos with lead guitarist Dave Kilminster. Keyboardist Jon Carin, on the other hand, goes back to late-era Floyd.
Politics aside, the second half still took the concert to another level. Moveable screens topped with smoking turrets stretched down the middle of the Garden floor, recreating the look of the Battersea Power Station seen on the cover of 1977’s Animals. And it all became an extended video wall as Waters’ band built the atmospheric growl of the 15-minute “Dogs,” from harmonized acoustic to electric guitars, with band members donning pig masks around a table for a champagne party at the end. The mood was oddly broken by the pacing Waters, who removed his mask to toast the crowd – before he unleashed the album’s far more polarizing “Pigs.”
Dark Side returned for a sax-iced “Money” and “Us and Them” (scenes of modern-day protests writ large on screen), “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse,” which unveiled a pyramid over the Garden floor with a hovering orb and laser lights at the apex. But before the obligatory (and confetti-capped) finale “Comfortably Numb,” Waters pulled a last surprise both nostalgic and topical as ever: “Mother,” another track from The Wall that he acknowledged not playing very often.
“Mother, do you think they’ll drop the bomb?” Waters sang to a nervous buzz. Then fans roared when he added, “Mother, should I run for president? Mother, should I trust the government?” and put an extra bite into the strings of his acoustic guitar. For all of the concert’s over-the-top dressing, a hushed moment struck the same note.