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Roger Waters, Birmingham Arena - review with pictures

By Mat Growcott | Music | Published: | Last Updated:

Roger Waters has spent his entire career sharing one very simple message.

Be good to everyone regardless of gender, colour, nationality or religion doesn't seem like it should be a controversial statement. Stop killing children shouldn't take even a second thought.

But over two-and-a-half hours, Waters' Us + Them show proves that the message still isn't sinking in.

The theme for the night is division. Taking its name from the Dark Side song, the evening is packed with spectacular visuals, soundbites from politicians and the repeated reminder that the world is absolutely absurd.

And while Birmingham Arena's Saturday night spectacular may have seemed positively cosy compared to the 65,000 strong audience at Hyde Park on Friday, the scale was is no way watered down.

This isn't your standard Greatest Hits tour, by any definition of the term.

Roger Waters at Birmingham Arena

From Radio K.A.O.S in the 80s and certainly with his most recent tour of The Wall, Waters has re-nosed his Pink Floyd era work to better fit the message he wants to give.

For the most part that is done through spectacular imagery, but sometimes even running order or added soundbites can make a big difference.

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Pictures of Donald Trump in klan uniform or superimposed on Hitler's body added to Pigs (Three Different Ones) as a 15,000 strong audience chanted along with "charade, charade" set the tone of the second half.

A giant screen divided the audience right along the centre, with an inflatable pig flying over head. Concertgoers watching via their iPhones didn't know where to point it.

More awkward quotes than any country should be comfortable with in its leader opened Money. It's safe to say The Donald was definitely in the crosshairs.

Like Waters' most recent album, Is This the Life We Really Want?, the anger subsided towards the end for a message of hope.

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Thousands of bits of paper were released over the audience, calling upon them to "resist".

Speech

Ultimately people can do more by spreading love than by doing nothing, he said.

In a final speech, Waters urged people to start the effort from Birmingham and spread it all around the world.

How the music itself has changed for this show is more proof that Waters isn't just touring for the sake of it.

From slightly different riffs to a change of how instruments are mixed, some of the older Floyd hits have never sounded better.

Dark Side of the Moon, which is practically played in its entirety, sounds bigger than it has ever been, and there's one or two surprises in the setlist as well.

Part of the improvement is down to Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, singers in indie band Lucius and backing vocalists on the latest Waters album.

The pair are perfectly in sync, which looks fantastic, but they've got the singing chops to hold the stage whenever they get to take the spotlight. Great Gig in the Sky is their time to shine, and while it's different from the Clare Torry original it is no less touching.

Roger Waters at Birmingham Arena

Their input, whether it's their robotic dancing or their added backing vocals on the Floyd songs, adds to the overall spectacle.

Although special mention needs to be made of Jess and Holly, the entire band is superb.

Some of them have played with Waters in the past, others are new to touring with him. It still sounded like the sort of well oiled machine that you usually see from bands that have decades of experience together.

It shows how much Waters trusts them that for the first two or three songs, he left them to do the singing while he strutted around playing bass and interacting with the audience.

The setlist overall is fantastic, although after The Wall tour's focus on a single album it would have been nice to hear tracks from The Final Cut or even some of Waters' earlier solo stuff.

The tracks from Is This the Life We Really Want? went down really well, and sound fantastic live. Some reviewers compared the album to Animals in places, and that's no clearer than when they are tied into the overall Pink Floyd oeuvre.

Roger Waters at Birmingham Arena

It was less a case of "And here are a few new ones" and more just proving that the tracks deserved to be there, thematically and musically.

It's rare to go to a gig and the music not be entirely the main focus. I wonder how the people just sat humming along with every track except Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 felt about the politics. I wonder how many people are pondering Palestine in Birmingham this morning because of this gig.

I'd like to think Us + Them will make even a small difference worldwide. But even if the entire audience are back to chanting It's Coming Home this morning, even if their only takeaway is that Comfortably Numb is still one of the greatest songs ever written, here's hoping that Waters and Co continue their quest. Because as absurd as the world is, concerts like this are a reminder that at least someone is paying attention.

Mat Growcott

By Mat Growcott
Reporter - @MGrowcott_Star

Shropshire Star reporter

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