"He is exacting," said show designer and art director Jonathan Park. Three little words that neatly embody the character of a perfectionist. It's a characteristic of Roger Waters that was referred to by everyone on the tour I interviewed. "OK, so it's another picky goddamn obsessive," I hear you say. Not so, I respond, for each one of those interviewees made the character observation without a hint of resentment or malice. Why?
Waters commands respect for his art, and in return for helping him complete his vision, all involved get to bask in the glory of his creative muse. Why is this any more or less attractive to the audience experience? I can explain it by the following metaphor: Lovers of classical music will attend a particular performance of, say, Beethoven's Pastoral because of a potential variety of factors--the orchestra, the conductor, the pianist, the venue. A host of influences will colour what is, in the end, a bunch of black dots and squiggles on a page.
"In the Flesh, Part 2" -- Roger opens the show from the catwalk
Apply that to rock music and certain discrepancies emerge. "This show is CD-perfect" is an oft-recited mantra from sound engineers, one that completely misses the point; people do not come to live shows to hear a sterile rendition of their favourite album, they want colouration in the same way the classical fan wants to hear a particular pianist's reading of the score. It is my observation that Waters achieves this; his music is full of references to its past, more than enough to satisfy the aging Pink Floyd devotee, but it's also refreshed by his application of the current.
"Money" -- Norbert Stachel saxophone solo from backline catwalk
That said, frequently the music is rendered note-perfect to the original album, but the presentation is different. Presentation is Waters' vision; for him it's an integral part of the live experience, and it's that which ultimately satisfies and makes his perfectionism tolerable for those who work with him and a marvel for those who come to witness.
"The rig is simple, 10 points the lot," said LD Andy Gibbs, and simple it is: He has only side trusses with a little curve at their downstage ends. "I specify 22 [LSD] Icons or [Martin Professional] MAC 2000s, [High End Systems] x.Spots or Studio Spots, and, for wash, 18 of either [High End] Studio Colors, [Martin] MAC 600s, or [Vari*Lite®] VL5s™. Just so long as it's all DMX." Light & Sound Design is the main contractor for the tour worldwide.
Beyond automation Gibbs also has five bars of PAR-64s each side for a straight three-colour wash, and a dozen ETC Source Four profiles for band pick-ups, "should the moving light system fail. I've plenty of experience of that, especially in South America where I've used moving systems that kept on moving whatever you told them to do, or did nothing at all for the whole show." Gibbs is phlegmatic about such occurrences: "I just use what does work."
"Perfect Sense" -- "they gave him command of a nuclear submarine"
Gearhouse South Africa supplied all the equipment for this leg of the tour. Readers should note that following the collapse of the worldwide Gearhouse Group last year, South Africa's CEO Ofer Lapid completed buy-back of the company before Christmas 2001--that's staging, lighting, sound, festival roofs and structures, generators, and a substantial amount of AV gear including 30 modules of LED Optiscreen. Unusually, Lapid also elected to buy all the company's debt in South Africa, rather than await disposal by the liquidators, a noble but potentially risky strategy that appears to have forcefully re-established the Company's honourable reputation.
How are they performing? I elicited this comment from Gibbs' tour assistant, Ross Colledge. "This gear here is in even better condition than the stuff we get out of LSD/Fourth Phase in Birmingham, and it's been really well prepared." Can't say fairer than that.
"Bravery of Being out of Range" -- super-scale projection of a New York City sports bar
As Gibbs said before, it's a simple rig and it's simply applied; apart from a single x.Spot beaming about the audience during the helicopter sound effect, I didn't see a movement cue until well into the second set, two hours in. This is a lighting although not an effects show, but "there's projection all the way through", added Gibbs emphatically. "Footage assembled by Jonathan Park; mainly old Floyd stuff. Roger knows exactly what he wants, where he wants it, and when he wants it."
Does this mean Gibbs is just an automaton of Waters' with no opportunity for creative input? Certainly not, as he quickly substantiated. "Most of what I do is colour key light, and it's always complimentary to the projection. The onstage players tend to be static, rarely moving position. As such I can run everything manually, some of the video is set to time code, but not all. In the absence of time code my cue sheets for everything I input are all based on the music." Luckily Gibbs can sight-read music. "Roger came out during rehearsals and checked all the visual cues; every aspect, lighting and video. And throughout the show he watches every little thing, I've got approximately 500 cues in the desk and he knows them all."
Set & Video
"This client is the best I've ever worked for," said Park of Waters. Their relationship goes back at least 28 years, from the first Dark Side of the Moon shows. Beyond the description "He is exacting," Park is more forthcoming on the show content. "It's more Floydian than the last tour.
"Shine On, You Crazy Diamond" -- 1960s-style liquid light projection by Peter Wynne Willson
"There's one long section in particular," continued Park. "'Shine on, you Crazy Diamond,' 'Wish you were here,' 'Welcome to the Machine,' and 'Shine Part II.' The visuals for 'Shine I & II' have been redone, whereas we've used the original '73 footage for 'Machine.' Of course, it's all transposed to video from film, and yes, we do often use full-motion imagery, but as with the originals that were often static, these images are also essentially scenic and enhancing. This is not a video show. The images enhance, and get the story told as well."
"Amused to Death" -- "the little ones sit by their TV screens"
What are those images? Here's an interesting example from another part of the show: For "Amused to Death," Park provided film of a trio of girls in 1960s attire that emerge in stages from a TV screen being watched by a gorilla sitting in an armchair. There are also montages, still shots conjoined and then tracked gently from left to right across the stage, weird animations--all sorts of images, yet no literal references. Thus the narrative thread is ephemeral and abstracted, but Park's assertion that "it gets the story told" appears well founded. I spoke with a middle-aged lady after the show who'd lived all her life in Africa and never heard of Pink Floyd. "Why is that man so troubled?" she asked, neatly identifying the childhood nightmare that is Waters' muse. Even stranger is the fact that now, as he approaches his sixties, Waters can still play it with such passion and meaning. A message for us all?
Roger Waters' tour recently concluded with dates at London's Wembley Arena and the Glastonbury Festival. Photos courtesy Jonathan Park. Steve Moles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.