After decades of reviewing concerts, it’s easy to become jaded, even disinterested during one more robotic rendition of any given band’s favorite hit.
That didn’t happen to me during Roger Waters’ Us + Them tour stop at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Saturday, July 29. The performance by Waters and his eight bandmates may well be the capstone of this reviewer’s critical career.
First, of course, there’s the music. As co-founder of the legendary Pink Floyd and concept designer of its most popular albums, Waters has access to some of the most influential music from the creatively rich 1970s.
The group delivered what may best be described as a mash-up of cuts from sources like Dark Side of the Moon, Animals, The Wall and Waters’ own Is This The Life We Really Want, just released in June.
Through the music’s often dark, philosophical lyrics, sonic musical extremes and emotional austerity, the evening’s playlist reminded audience members of something that’s also been said about a quite different band, The Grateful Dead: It’s not that Pink Floyd, as epitomized by Waters, is the best at what they do; they’re the only ones who do what they do.
Add what may be conservatively described as a generous poke at President Donald Trump this time around, and some of the music takes on a new political currency that once had been part and parcel of popular music. And, in Waters’ hands, the commentary is very much in your face, as when the words “Trump is a pig” were emblazoned across the concert’s mammoth projection screens.
Before following that thread, however, it’s important to acknowledge the other aspect of the evening’s success — the incredible production design (and in this case, that’s the right term) by Sean Evans.
From stunning back-projections to props that include a giant inflatable drone-powered pink pig emblazoned with Trump imagery, Evans’ influence ranged from acid-flashback-worthy psychedelia to brutal political satire. It’s fair to say the crowd was mesmerized by the first and galvanized by the later.
Literally the entire first side of Dark Side opened the show, with music and imagery that flowed through the mostly full arena with surprisingly fine clarity and sound quality compared to other concerts performed there. Singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from the pop band Lucius brought a vibrant, ethereal quality to the vocalese portions of “The Great Gig in the Sky.”
Kudos, too, to a dozen tween members of Danceworks and School of Rock in Shorewood, dressed in jail jumpsuit orange, for performing as the children’s chorus in “Another Brick in the Wall.”
The second set following intermission took on a much harder edge with “Dogs” and “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” from Animals, a Waters-concepted album that borrowed its key themes from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a novel quite prescient given the current political situation.
Trump himself made an unwitting appearance through various voiceovers harvested from news reports, and corresponding imagery showed a pig with Trump’s head, Trump as a baby being cuddled by Vladimir Putin, and other unflattering portrayals.
The song also prompted the release of the large, inflatable pig and a remarkable prop of the Battersea Power Station that graced the cover of the Animals album, complete with smoking stacks, descending from the Bradley Center ceiling and running the length of the arena.
Not surprisingly, the Trump imagery carried over to “Money,” one of Pink Floyd’s most familiar hits. Grinding rhythms were augmented by Ian Ritchie’s bold sax solos and the now familiar voiceovers of Trump saying, with surprise in his voice, “I won!”
Again, subtlety was notat play here.
Regardless of your political persuasions, however, it was hard not to be impressed with the craft and workmanship the concert represented. Waters hadn’t visited Milwaukee in 10 years, but it will take a lot longer than that for audience members to forget the power and, often, the beauty, of Saturday’s superlative performance.
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