Basking in the afterglow of an utterly spellbinding concert by Roger Waters, it strikes me that only a month prior, I had absolutely no intention of attending. I wasn’t baulking at the price, nor the venue, I think I was just wary of being disillusioned by ageing rockers again (thanks largely to Jethro Tull last year). I was this (holds out finger and thumb only millimeters apart) close to missing out on one of the greatest concerts of my, er, career. Not sure why I changed my mind in the end, but my deliberation over the matter worked in my favour, as by the time I bought my ticket they had reduced the prices for fear of swathes of empty seats.
I had been one of the lucky several hundred thousand that saw him perform The Wall in Berlin in 1990, and I wasn’t overly impressed but that was more down to logistics than any fault on Roger’s part. I could neither comfortably see nor hear that gig. I had a much better time at Pink Floyd the year before, but the weather had conspired to ruin the sound and the visuals and I desperately needed a wee for their entire set. So maybe this time then?
Dunedin is in the middle of a heatwave. It’s been 30+ all day (believe me, this is scorching for us), and the perspex-roofed Forsyth Barr stadium is basically a giant greenhouse so I’m leaving it as late as possible to enter. If the temperature in the shade in a local beer garden is anything to go by, I am going to need to stay well hydrated, and not with IPA either. The walk down to the stadium is gloriously hot with not a cloud in sight, and barely a trouser leg either. There is a lot of flesh on show, most of it unusually tanned for this part of the world. We’ve been advised that Mr Waters will take to the stage at 8pm sharp, no support. I appreciate this kind of precise information, because in my opinion there is no worse crime against music than missing the start of a show. It takes me a while to find my seat, but when I do, boy have I got a great view. I’m on the pitch, only 10 rows from the front, and not far off central either. This must have originally been one of the most expensive tickets and it’s a bit like boarding a plane and not discovering you’ve been upgraded until you reach your seat. The price-drop has paid dividends though, as the place looks to be full. I think, when half the pitch is utilised, this place holds 15,000 – convincing that many Dunedinites to part with $100+ and leave the comfort of their living rooms (or tonight, perhaps their paddling pools) is no mean feat.
At 8pm sharp, a projection appears on the giant screen (giant being the entire width of the stage and height of the East Stand, basically it couldn’t be much larger and still fit). It’s a film of a woman sitting in the sand dunes somewhere in Britain, staring out to sea, and the soundtrack is waves and seagulls. No Roger though. After watching the back of sand-lady’s head for another 20 minutes, I seed the band finally troop out from the back of the stage, all dressed in black like a posse of roadies. There are dozens of them, it’s like the Roger Waters Orchestra or something. I should have guessed from the 24 (that I could count) guitars dotted around the stage that this was going to be far from an intimate solo acoustic affair. I am heartened to see Dave Kilminster amongst them – he performed with Steven Wilson a year or so ago and he is one of the best guitarists I’ve ever had the fortune to see. No idea about any of the others though, but if they’re even half the calibre of Kilminster it’ll be a great show. There is another guitarist, a keyboard player, a slide guitar/keyboard player, a bassist, a drummer and two backing singers. They all take their places on the stage and then on wanders then man himself. He’s 74 FFS but he really doesn’t look it. He’s accumulated a slight paunch on the front of his beanpole frame, but he looks like he’s really taken care of himself in his half-century of rockstardom. I’m sure his lifestyle is more akin to Cliff Richard’s than Tommy Lee’s but even so, he is looking remarkably well. Sand-lady is gone from the screen and replaced with some colourful CGI and we’re straight into Speak To Me / Breathe. The sound is incredible. Just amazing, far better than I thought it was possible to get inside a stadium. Just the right volume too, I don’t need my earplugs. And as you might expect, this carefully selected troupe of musicians is as tight as the proverbial gnat’s chuff. Dave K plays with every bit of the grace and precision of Mr Gilmour – you would be hard pressed to tell the difference. The backing singers (2 ladies, with matching peroxide bobs) are also astonishingly good but it’s not until The Great Gig In The Sky that they get to really let go. And wowsers, they really let go. They fairly belt out Clare Torry’s part but in two part harmony. Stunning stuff. Roger Waters’ voice though, that’s the thing that impresses me. He hasn’t lost a single unit of whatever it is you measure singing prowess with (Watts? Horsepower? I don’t fucking know, do I). It’s majestic.
We are treated to One Of These Days and Time and Welcome To The Machine before it’s time for some new stuff. His latest solo offering is pretty listenable and I recognise Dèja Vu and in my opinion, easily the best track from Is This The Life We Really Want – the synth heavy Picture That. The crowd is a little reluctant to participate, it has to be said – perhaps because it’s a Tuesday, perhaps because it’s just so hot, but they (we) are quite happy to remain seated and applaud politely. The first half of the show is brought to an end with Another Brick In The Wall Pts ii and iii. It is done to perfection, complete with a dozen local children on stage to play the pupils. His explanation that he’d be back in 20 mins for more is the first time all night that he addresses the crowd – he’s evidently quite a modest chap that would prefer that his music does the talking.
It’s much darker outside by the time they resume their positions on the stage, and Roger has promised us a decent lightshow. Battersea Power station appears on the giant screen, and we are treated to Dogs, then Pigs (3 different ones). I’ve forgotten just how good Animals was, and resolve to reacquaint myself with it properly next time I’m near Spotify. Lots of anti capitalist, anti greed and anti Trump imagery flashes up on the screen, and then a series of POTUS’s most WTAF quotes. For an aged multi millionaire, Roger Waters is still quite the revolutionary. A huge inflatable pig drone flies out over the crowd and later an inflatable moon drone. Then Wish You Were Here, another new one and Money, before the tour-eponymous Us And Them, and the finale, a belting version of Brain Damage, during which we are treated to a laser show. I don’t think I’ve seen a laser show at a gig for a few decades. It’s not that they’re passé or anything, I just don’t go to gigs on this scale very often (any more). A laser, 5 cleverly placed mirrors and a couple of smoke machines combine to generate a pyramid, illuminated by a rainbow coloured laser above, and it’s almost like looking at the cover of Dark Side of the Moon. This is stadium rock alright. By the end of the second set, the timid, sober, Tuesday night Dunedin audience is on its feet screaming for an encore. I’m amazed and more than a little overjoyed that we have thrown off our collective reluctance to stand up or raise our voices. I’ve never heard this sort of crowd response in NZ before and it’s genuinely heartwarming.
He doesn’t disappoint, and back they come. For only the second time tonight, he addresses the crowd, this time to introduce the band. Due to the huge number of personnel on the stage (the 10 from the first half plus an additional sax player who appeared for Money onwards), this takes a good few minutes, and Roger gives each of them equal billing while we give them equal amounts of adoration. Mother is the first encore and although I am quite fond of the song, it really pales into insignificance next to Comfortably Numb, the final number. It’s probably my favourite Floyd song of all – Roger sings the verses (the low, almost spoken parts) while the other guitarist, Jonathan Wilson, handles the choruses. More importantly Dave K absolutely nails the guitar solo.
And that, folks, is that. They return briefly to perform the curtain call bow and wave goodbye, and as the house lights come up, we are all left to stare in amazement at each other at what we’ve just witnessed. I never realised how much I appreciate Pink Floyd. This was way better than my previous experiences of Floyd or Waters, it was pretty much perfect in every way. He played virtually everything I wanted to hear, with the exception of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, and even the new stuff was good. This is in such stark contrast to Jethro Tull, it’s really renewed my enthusiasm for old has-beens (although he really is far from a has been). And let’s face it, Dunedin struggles to attract artistes under 60 so has-beens is the best I can hope for really. I’m so glad I decided to go.
Absolutely brilliant. 10 out of 10. Would definitely go again.