Live Waters, Stones and Queen

By Tom Von Malder | Oct 09, 2020
Photo by: Columbia/Legacy Recordings Roger Waters in concert.

Owls Head — Roger Waters: Us + Them (Columbia/Legacy, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 148 min., also 2-CD version). Produced by Waters himself and longtime visual collaborator Sean Evans, the film chronicles the Pink Floyd co-founder’s 2017-2018 tour by capturing a 2018 date in Amsterdam. The show itself, which combines his solo material with Pink Floyd classics, is 2 hours of greatness, and there are two bonus performances and a mini-documentary.

The concert’s overall theme, as best highlighted through songs from his most recent solo album, “Is This the Life We Really Want?,” is that the world needs more compassion and civility. The story of a Middle Eastern woman who flees the tyranny of her homeland, abandoning her past and family in hopes of a better life, is spread visually throughout the evening. The character first appeared on that album’s “The Last Refugee” song. Here, the story is expanded to include the woman’s dreams of her lost passion for flamenco dancing and memories of trips to the beach with her young daughter, while she lives the life of squalor that refugees all over the world must face.

In the second half of the concert visual screens drop down, bisecting the crowd and displaying giant images on both sides. Many of these images deal with U.S. President Donald Trump, whom Waters attacks in songs both old and new. At one point, the screens are filled with some of Trump’s most outrageous quotes. Some of this occurs during “Dogs,” as the band members don pig masks and drink champagne to lampoon the ruling elite. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” follows and its target is no longer the British politicians of 1977, but now solely Trump. The attack continues three songs later with “Brain Damage.”

After a haunting introductory piece and visual of a lone figure sitting with his head down as storms and then bombs go off in the distance, the Pink Floyd classics “Speak to Me/Breathe,” from “The Dark Side of the Moon,” are played. “Breathe” opens with Waters’ signature bass solo. Some of the lead vocals go to guitarist Johnathan Wilson, while Waters sings the others. Images of clocks and sounds of clocks and bells mark “Time.” The two female backing vocalists, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, who are known as Lucius, do some amazing, soaring vocalizing on “The Great Gig I the Sky,” also from “The Dark Side of the Moon.”

Waters takes over the vocals for “Welcome to the Machine,” which features lots of animation on the big screen behind the stage and, at one point, there is a big grin on Waters’ face as the crowd gets involved in the song. Waters then switches to acoustic guitar for “Déjà vu,” which has a more symphonic sound, as he sings about doing a better job than God, if he had created a utopia.

“The Last Refugee” follows, plus “Picture That” with its fine instrumental ending. The band is awesome throughout the show. Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” becomes more poignant as the giant screen shows two hands reaching for each other, but disintegrating as they come closer. Then helicopter sounds open “The Happiest Days of Our Lives.” A line of figures dressed in orange prison uniforms and hoods over their heads comes out and is revealed to be the children’s chorus for “Another Brick in the Wall Parts 2 and 3.” The children soon strip off the prison garb, revealing black t-shirts that say “Resist” underneath.

At this point the screens descend that bisect the audience. From the screens arise the chimney towers and then the factory building of Pink Floyd’s “Animals” album cover. This leads to “Dogs” and “Pigs,” with the latter featuring a floating pig balloon. Waters uses part of a Trump recording to open “Money.” The song features a sax solo by Ian Ritchie. The sax also is heard on the softer “Us & Them,” which is a humanistic message of love. Returning to “The Dark Side of the Moon” for “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse,” a drone-operated chrome orb flies over the audience and a 3-D pyramid laser-projection of the album’s classic cover design comes forms over the front rows of the crowd, and all is cover in a rainbow of lights.

The bonus performances are of “Smell the Roses” (5:30) and “Comfortably Numb” (7:20; Waters goes down and greets the front rows with handshakes, high fives and fist-bumps). The mini-documentary includes some rehearsal footage. Grade: A+

Rolling Stones: Steel Wheels Live – Atlantic City, New Jersey (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray or DVD, NR, + 2 CDs, 157 min., or 4 LPs). This 1989 Atlantic City show, before 16,000 fans, was presented as a pay-per-view TV event. The show took place on a $40 million set – the largest ever to that point –which was like an abandoned oil refinery. The set was 82 feet high and 236 feet wide. Before this tour, the Rolling Stones had not performed live in seven years and had not performed in the United States for eight years.

This also was the last tour to feature bassist Bill Wyman. I wonder if the fact that Wyman is seen so little in this concert film reflects his then status in the band and foreshadowed his departure. For most of the film, Wyman is invisible, standing way over on the audience’s right, near sax player Bobby Keys and the Uptown Horns. Most of the camerawork is centered on singer-guitarist Mick Jagger and guitarist Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards, with drummer Charlie Watts often in the background of those shots. It isn’t until the seventh song, “Miss You,” that I noticed Wyman, who later appears briefly during “Midnight Rambler,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Boogie Chillen” and “Happy.” Jagger does go over and hug Wyman during “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It),” the fourth song from the concert’s end.

Prior to the tour, the Stones put out the album “Steel Wheels,” their last studio album for Columbia Records, and they perform the album’s “Terrifying,” “Sad Sad Sad,” “Mixed Emotions,” “Rock and a Hard Place” and “Can’t Be Seen.” The rest of the set is mostly Stones’ classics. “Terrifying” would be a future single, and “Mixed Emotions” reached No. 5 on the Billboard singles chart.

Many of the Stones’ musical styles are represented, including a bit of funk in “Undercover of the Night” and their cover of “Harlem Shuffle,” featuring the Uptown Horns. “Ruby Tuesday” is a very nice throwback and, later, they perform one of my seldom-heard favorites, the trippy “2,000 Light Years from Home,” with its mellotron sound, from 1967’s “Their Satanic Majesties Request” psychedelic album.

The show features some special guests, with vocalist Axl Rose and guitarist Izzy Stradlin of Guns ‘n’ Roses joining the Stones for “Salt of the Earth,” which Jagger says afterwards was the first time the song had been performed live. Later, during a blues-based segment of the concert, guitarist Eric Clapton comes out for a cover of Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster,” reflecting the Stones’ early interest in Chicago blues, and he sticks around to help back John Lee Hooker as he sings and plays marvelous guitar on “Boogie Chillen.” For “Little Red Rooster,” Clapton has two outstanding solos and Wood plays slide guitar.

I would say the blues segment starts with “Honky Tonk Blues,” which gives Jagger a chance to run around, including under the two giant female balloon dolls that float up, and the jaunty “Midnight Rambler,” with Jagger eventually on harmonica. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Little Red Rooster” and “Boogie Chillen” close out the blues theme.

Richard then takes center stage to perform the then-new “Can’t Be Seen” as well as “Happy.” Richards also has a solo spotlight for the start of “Paint It Black.” Some of the Stones’ biggest hits close the show, including “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Gimme Shelter,” “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It),” “Brown Sugar,” “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and the encore of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

As if to prove they could still do it, the Stones play for about two-and-a-half hours. The release also is available as a limited-edition, 6-disc version that includes a Steel Wheels Tour show at the Tokyo Dome on DVD and a Steel Wheels Rare Reels CD of tracks that did not feature in the core set list, including “Play With Fire,” “Dead Flowers,” “Almost Hear You Sigh,” “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and “Street Fighting Man.” Grade A

Queen + Adam Lambert: Live Around the World (Hollywood Records, Blu-ray or DVD, NR, + CD, 100 min., also CD alone). When Queen’s current tour was interrupted by the novel coronavirus pandemic, the band members – guitarist-vocalist Brian May and drummer-vocalist Roger Taylor from the original band and vocalist Adam Lambert – decided to go through their recorded concert footage and pull out their favorite performances, assembling them into what would be a typical Queen show. There are 22 numbers spread across 2014 to 2020, as the last seven come from an early-year show in Sydney, Australia.

The earliest performances, from 2014, are “Now I’m Here,” “Another One Bites the Dust” and “I Was Born to Love You,” all from Tokyo; the deep album cut “Love Kills” from Los Angeles; and the “Drum Battle” from Sydney. “Drum Battle” is just that, a battle between Roger Taylor and his son, Rufus Tiger Taylor. Both “Drum Battle” and May’s lengthy, but very good “Guitar Solo – Lost Horizon” only appear on the Blu-ray and not the CD. It is very nice to hear “Now I’m Here,” with some strong guitar by May, and Lambert, the former “American Idol” contestant (who should have won), proves he was the perfect choice to replace the late Freddie Mercury as he performs “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Lambert also excels on “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “I Want to Break Free,” both from Lisbon, Portugal in 2016, with the crowd singing throughout the latter, and Lambert’s personality comes through on “Somebody to Love,” performed along with “Who Wants to Live Forever” in 2018 at the Isle of Wight Festival. The latter song is dedicated to those who had just lost their lives in the Orlando, Florida gay nightclub shooting.

There is spectacle here too, as the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders join the band on stage to dance through “Fat Bottomed Girls,” although that song’s title nary fits any of the cheerleaders.

For “Under Pressure,” sung in 2019 in New York City, drummer Taylor sings the David Bowie part. A 2018 London performance of “Love of My Life” is by May alone on acoustic guitar, although the crowd sings portions and a video performance by Mercury briefly appears. Mercury is again seen on video to perform “Ai-Ohs” during the recent Sydney show, a show that also includes the hits “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Radio Ga Ga” and the anthems “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.”

The set comes with a very nice, 24-page booklet full of color photos. Grade: A

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