“In The Flesh?” There is no better way to open a rock concert. I hadn’t listened to The Wall in quite some time, so it hit me like a ton of stark white concrete blocks. As it built to its bombastic climax, it wasn’t the blistering pyrotechnics that blew my mind so much as the heightened awareness of what we were all about to experience, all that anticipation bottled in three ominous minutes of proto-doom metal, the onset of an experience you almost need to have to get a grasp of where modern music came from. The madness of Roger Waters may be tempered by decades of adulation, but the enduring relevance of the songs can’t be dampened; they’re about our world, today just as much as any previous day.
The visual production was mind-blowing, though, so all the potential was there for a truly cheesy, effects-driven, stale and sterile run-through. What emerged was instead transcendent. The first big surprise was the sound; United Center acoustics are often muddled, but this time every instrument and voice rang out clearly. Waters, definitely not an actor, was prone to grand, applause-baiting gestures, but he came off as genuine rather than cloying, and his voice withstood nearly every test. The chorus of dancing school kids chanting “We don’t need no education” was unavoidable, inappropriately ebullient but still weirdly satisfying. The inflatable Schoolmaster and Wife were suitably menacing, and even the clichés tagged all over the flying pig jived perfectly with the performance. After all, 1980s guitar rock wasn’t cliché when Pink Floyd invented it.
Even having two David Gilmour impersonators (Dave Kilminster on guitar and Robbie Wyckoff on vocals) only served to canonize the master, for the most part. Gilmour’s style is so iconic that taking liberties would completely sabotage the work, and Kilminster was only doing on purpose what 75% of the guitarists in the 80s were doing because they couldn’t help it. The only time the formula failed somewhat was “Comfortably Numb”; since Gilmour has announced that he’ll join the band at one unnamed date on the tour for this one song, anything less than his appearance is now essentially a letdown. Otherwise, his replacement was superb, precise and emotional, injecting a minimal amount of his own personality into the unassailable originals.
When you get down to the lyrical and structural genius of songs like “Mother” (featuring a stellar guitar solo by G.E. Smith) and “One Of My Turns” and “Don’t Leave Me Now”, it’s just amplified when somebody’s actually up there doing it right in front of you. And, only partially because of their relevance to the world today, “Goodbye Blue Sky” and “Bring The Boys Back Home” and “In The Flesh” seem brutal enough that they ought to be changing the world one violent aggressor at a time. And the songs that classic rock radio killed can blow you away again now that you quit listening to that garbage a decade ago.As on the album, the only real lull of the night was “Waiting For The Worms” through “The Trial”; the excessive theatrics intrude on what would otherwise be rock and roll perfection, but the climactic judgment and the collapse of the wall itself were more than sufficient to bring the opus to a phenomenal close. As such, the performance was as close to flawless as it could reasonably get without the aid of absent Floyd alumni. From the extended ambient dreamscape that joins parts one and two of “Another Brick” to the raging fury of part three, it’s a song suite of unparalleled compositional dynamic, its towering impact on pop music still echoing today. Waters orchestrated it all masterfully at this show, and if this tour is to be his final statement, he couldn’t have chosen a more powerful swan song.