Wish you were here?
From baby boomer to barely pubescent, rock fans across the country poured into Bangalore last weekend to pay homage to Roger Waters, whose erstwhile band Pink Floyd has shaped the thinking of generations of teenagers. The concert itself was a celebration of the genius of Floyd, says MUKUND PADMANABHAN.
HAVING got my indulgent (and perhaps puzzled) editors to commission a visit to Bangalore to attend the Roger Waters concert, the rest was easy.
Dig out the old Pink Floyd audio cassettes in my collection and mine memory for the numberless hours spent listening to them during what seems like an infinity ago.
Just as it was for many thousands of others, Floyd were a college staple. A buddy back in those days, who loved to sound off about rock music in an infuriatingly cerebral way, was fond of peddling the theory that the genre could be cleaved into two distinct halves. There was the music (or so he would say in his all-knowing way) that energised the body and there was music that fed the mind.
The Stones, The Doors, Zeppelin and Steppenwolf fell in the former category. Rick Wakeman, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie and Mahavishnu Orchestra fell in the latter. (You guessed right. He liked to think of himself as a mind type.)
I asked him once where he would fit Floyd and I recall he was stumped for an answer. In retrospect, it is easy to see why. For, even by his simplistic hypothesis, it is difficult to tell in which half Floyd lies. Psychedelic rockers who flirted with your brain even as they seduced your feet into tapping. The ethereal, almost operatic, feel of their music peeling away ever so often to reveal unambiguous layers of blues and pop. Floyd worked the mind even as they did your body.
Marshalling the arguments for attending the concert is easy. First, although this is just Roger Waters, it is really a celebration of the genius of Pink Floyd. Second, this is Roger Waters a man with a reputation for staging spectacular concerts, the very person who arranged the one at Potzdamer Platz amidst the ruins of the Berlin Wall, a musical event which must rank as one of the most memorable in rock history, right up there with others such as The Beatles at Shea stadium. Finally, this is Roger Waters with all the trappings a stage under a 50-ft high fabricated roof, eleven towers supplying sound, quadraphonic sound effects and a huge backdrop for projections or visuals.
There is a gaggle of fans and media persons waiting for him a day before the concert at Bangalore airport. As he signs autographs and fields a string of inane questions, a frustrated fan who is trying to catch a glimpse of him shouts: "Is there anybody out there?'' Another trying to catch his attention goes: "Hey you". It's a clear sign that the person they have come to see is not Roger Waters but the former bassist and co-founder of Pink Floyd.
Roger Waters In The Flesh...
One of the most remarkable things about Floyd is how the group survived its members. When it was formed, it was very much Syd Barrett's band. Floyd's first album, "The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn", was almost entirely composed by the gifted lead guitarist. Barrett's slide into mental ill-health, which saw the entry of David Gilmour, didn't hurt the band oddly enough, in terms of commercial success, Floyd went quickly into its glory years. 1973 saw the band's breaking into the charts and staying for what seemed like forever with "The Dark Side of the Moon". Followed by "Wish You Were Here" and "Animals", the band ended the 1970s with its other famous concept album "The Wall". In a few years, Waters would quit the group following a bitter clash with Gilmour. Floyd continued to make very similar and very successful music until much later, but arguably the best years had passed it by.
Clearly, Pink Floyd was bigger than any member of the band the main reason why the members continue to mine that rich lode for concerts, for re-takes and for "The Best Of..." collections. Thankfully, it is the very same vein that Waters proposes to tap at Bangalore.
Before an enormous crowd (30,000 at one estimate) at Palace Grounds and under a huge cloud of dust (stirred up in the air by twice as many feet), Waters gets quickly into his stride. Three tracks from "The Wall" including "Mother" (in which he trades his trademark bass guitar for acoustic) form the first set. The response from the remarkably diverse audience, ranging from baby-boomers to the barely pubescent (an illustration of the ageless quality about Floyd) is immediate. Hammers goosestep in ominous unison as animated clips from the movie are projected against a giant backdrop.
... working the Floyd magic in Bangalore.
At 58, you don't expect Waters to prance about and rouse the rabble and he doesn't. The style he has set for himself is self-composed, a tad detached, faintly amused. Mature mellow cool. It is a performance of a man who knows you know his music and is confident you enjoy it.
From "The Wall" the concert goes on to explore a wide canvas. With three guitarists, three back-up vocalists, two keyboardists, a drummer and a saxophonist, this is a big band. "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun", rendered in wonderfully deliberate and measured tones and punctuated by a resonant sax works a gripping mournful magic. The other high point before the intermission is "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" the back-up vocalists magnifying the rousing and anthemic quality of Waters' paean to Barrett to near perfection:
A legend in his own right... Roger Waters.
Come on you raver, you seer of visions,
Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner and shine...
There is a 1960s quality to Waters, that peculiar mix of politics, freedom and angst never seems to have left him. The messages in the visuals in the backdrop are designed to parallel the biting socio-political commentary as in the track from "The Final Cut":
Should we should, should we scream
What happened to the post-War dream
Maggie, Maggie, what have we done ...
Post-interval is dominated by "The Dark Side Of The Moon", an album which still sells more every week than a lot of the stuff put out by new bands. There are renditions of "Breathe", "Money" and "Time" largely faithful to the original though interspersed here and there with feisty drum rolls, soaring anthems and trippy excursions with the guitar. The concert "ends" with an exquisitely crafted "Brain Damage" but when the crowd predictably asks for more, Waters is back with "Comfortably Numb". There is a second encore but inexplicably Waters opts to play his new and virtually unknown composition "Flickering Flame", a tender outpouring about friendship and loss.
In a way, it is a terrible way to end a concert convention dictates that they end in raucous bangs and not in sweet whimpers. But you go away feeling that this is Waters' way of making the point that he is here to play music, not to rouse the rabble. Still, it's not a bad end to a wonderful evening.
Wish you were here?
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