I’m lucky to have seen two shows of Roger Waters’s ‘Us + Them’ tour, the first at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and the second at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. It was magical to hear all those iconic songs live, plus four new ones from the recently released album ‘Is This the Life We Really Want?’, performed by a legendary musician and his magnificent band. But there’s more to the show than just the music – we’re talking about the man who’d introduced theatre to rock ‘n’ roll, after all.
The tour is named ‘Us + Them’ for a reason: the main theme that’s present throughout is the need for rebellion against injustice, oppression and bigotry. Waters has long been outspoken about his conviction that there’s no “them”, only “us”, and anyone who tells us otherwise has malevolent intentions. Indeed, it seems that the message of the classic song from the 1973 album ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ is more relevant today than ever.
But ‘Us and Them’ is not the only song on the set list that hasn’t lost its meaning over the decades. For instance, the 40-year-old ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’ was originally inspired by three British politicians, but this is easy to forget while looking at the cartoonish images of President Trump accompanying it. One of these pictures show Trump as a baby in Vladimir Putin’s arms, and others depict him giving a Nazi salute and being dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member. I understand that these illustrations could offend many people, just as the words “fucked up old hag” must have offended the supporters of Margaret Thatcher, about whom the second verse of the song was written.
Although there are plenty of references to today’s Western politics all through the show, one of the most profound statements made again and again is the opposition to war. We’re shown the horror of drone strikes, given a close look at the tragic life of a refugee and invited to contemplate the role of money in promoting war. There’s a personal angle to this message: Waters’s father died fighting the Nazis at the Battle of Anzio when he was only five months old.
I’m aware that many believe that artists should keep their political opinions to themselves – if you think this way, then it’s best for you not to go to a concert by a musician who’s lyrics have always included a great deal of social and political commentary. Being very passionate about freedom of speech and a fan of political satire, I personally don’t think that the show overstepped any boundaries. But I must admit that I also don’t think that Waters accomplished his goal of helping bring people together. A recurring visual theme of ‘Us + Them’ is two hands reaching slowly towards each other, at one point shattered into pieces, but finally meeting in a handshake at the very end. This is a beautiful symbol of hope and people getting along, for both of which there’s much need in our world. However, it’s impossible to deny that all the show really does is further divide the crowd that’s watching: those who agree with the current American government’s policies will feel uncomfortable, while those who despise Trump as much as Waters does will love every moment of it.
What I thought was missing from the narrative is the message that we should all at least try to accept and tolerate each other, even if we happen to disagree about politics. But this detail did not stop me from enjoying the concert in the slightest, and I’m sure that most true Pink Floyd and Waters fans will feel the same way.
A noteworthy highlight of the show is the gigantic laser prism projected above the audience towards the end, recreating the iconic album cover. Another unique element is the massive wall of screens, which descends above the arena floor at the start of the second set, with four chimneys on top to resemble London’s Battersea Power Station from the ‘Animals’ cover. Although spectacular from all angles, the view of this middle screen can best be enjoyed from the side of the arena. In Vegas I had a floor seat, while in LA I was sitting to the side close to the stage, and the latter was by far the better choice (despite being the same price category). See the below photos I took from the two different spots:
All in all, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to give this incredible show as many stars as I could. If you’re a Pink Floyd fan and not easily offended, I can personally guarantee that this concert will be one of the most memorable evenings of your life.