Waters and The Floyd

Roger Waters put on a helluva show on Sunday night at Rexall. At 63 years young, he’s a living legend who still seems to have the jam and energy of a 30 year-old. He was backed by an eleven piece band who were nothing short of stellar. They kicked out almost three hours of Pink Floyd classics and a handful of Waters’ solo material. The set opened, appropriately enough, with In The Flesh from The Wall. It was a breathtaking opener that set the tone for the rest of the night. He followed with a stirring and heartfelt version of Mother, one of my favorite Floyd songs and arguably the most poignant track on The Wall. He then launched into a killer version of Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun from Ummagumma. So far so good. When the band launched into Shine On You Crazy Diamond, I almost hit the roof, and Wish You Were Here (one of my favorite songs of all time) almost had me in tears. To hear this classic material – songs that have meant so much to so many people – rendered by the man who wrote most of it was thrilling, even if one of the key components (Dave Gilmour’s soaring and soulful voice) was missing.

After churning through a stomping, crashing version of Pigs, the band took a break. They came back and ran through Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. During this set, despite the incredible job that Water’s bandmates did on singing duty, I truly missed Gilmour’s voice. Waters was clearly the architect of Pink Floyd, but Gilmour was its soul in many ways (I’ve always equated the two to Daltrey and Townsend). I had a moment of sadness when I realized that this was as close as anyone would get to the original Floyd lineup (Gilmour and Waters don’t get along too well these days it seems), and it really wasn’t that close. Still, it was incredible to hear. After the final chords of Dark Side were strummed, the crowd stood and screamed. My friend and I sat there dumbfounded, unsure of how to react. The band went off for a minute or two and then honoured the crowd with an encore that included Another Brick in the Wall and ended with Comfortably Numb. Brick is so ingrained in the rock and roll lexicon that it’s almost a cliche, but hearing it reminded me of the power of that music; the sheer beauty and ambition of The Wall. I actually got a little choked up during Numb. Within the song cycle of The Wall, the song is an emotional low point (the whole album is a downer, but Numb is its lowest valley), on its way to some twisted and somewhat cynical version of redemption ( Outside the Wall ). Taken out of context and in a live setting, it became a heartbreaking and wholly satisfying ending – the child is grown / the dream is gone becoming a rock and roll life lesson.

I saw Floyd in 1994, and I have to say that Waters outdid that show in spades. His show was more Floyd than Floyd for my money. Truth be told, neither version of Floyd – Waters solo or Gilmour and crew – produce truly authentic versions of those songs. With Dave Gilmour in retirement, it is exceedingly unlikely that we’ll ever see a complete, reunited Floyd. The dream of hearing Waters crack out the famous bassline from Money and Gilmour sing those timeless lines will have to live in my mind. I’m glad I had the opportunity to see both incarnations of the band.