DVD/ALBUM REVIEW – Roger Waters

13 05 2011

Roger Waters - The Wall Live In Berlin [NTSC Region 0 DVD]The Wall Live In Berlin [Limited Deluxe Tour Edition]

Review by Chris Oliver

The release of this special edition DVD coincides roughly with the twentieth anniversary of this somewhat unique event – which in itself marked the fall, some eight months earlier, of the Berlin Wall. It’s difficult for people of my generation to really appreciate what the Berlin Wall represented, and how significant its fall was – but it’s one of two things I remember being allowed to stay up late to watch as a child – the first being Live Aid. As an adult, I still had scant understanding until, living in Germany, I visited Berlin in 2008, and visited parts of the wall that are still standing. The scar, where the wall once stood, still runs right through the city – a potent reminder of how much it damaged the nation, and representative of not only the division it created, but also the healing process thatGermanyhas been going through since the end of the Second World War. The symbolic links between The Wall and the Berlin Wall are obvious, but Pink Floyd’s 1979 rock opera charts a story of torment and isolation – beginning when the protagonist’s father dies during the Second World War, and featuring abusive and overbearing authority figures.

I started out by listening to the two CDs that accompany the DVD in this box-set, and was impressed. I was disappointed recently when I reviewed Soundgarden’s ‘Live on I-5′, but I got a much different feeling listening to this – it felt more complete and more like a finished product. There are various reasons for this: The Wall is a complete narrative in and of itself, and it’s also something that I don’t know particularly well, so there was the novelty factor too – plus, I had no real preconceptions of how all of the parts should sound. Another reason is that this less heavy type of rock lends itself better to recording – and to technically accurate performances – where something like a Soundgarden concert demands more energy from the performers, but is more forgiving of sloppy players – something that doesn’t translate well to a recording. Having said that, it’s still highly impressive how good the performances are – especially considering this was all recorded on one night [apart from two of the songs on this DVD – one of which was taken from the dress rehearsal, and the other re-recorded afterwards, both due to power failures during the show].

A documentary appears in the DVD extras, with a brief potted history of the Berlin Wall and some talking heads giving insight in to the technical failures during the show and praising (and bitching) about the performers involved. Looking at the liner notes, I looked forward to seeing Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Sinead O’Connor, and wasn’t disappointed, but I was prepared to be underwhelmed or put off by Cindi Lauper and Bryan Adams. As it was, I was impressed with Adams, and even more so by a vivacious, provocative performance by Lauper – careening all over the stage, rocking out, wearing dreadlocks and school uniform.

What makes watching the DVD totally different to listening to the music on its own is the sheer spectacle of the show – in fact, to refer to it as a spectacle is quite derogatory – this show is astonishingly extravagant from the off. The crowd is phenomenally big; according to Roger Waters, “They stopped charging people when we got to 250-260,000, and like another 100,000 people came in…” Over twice the number of people who attend Glastonbury every year, came that night, all watching one show on a single stage. The show features an orchestra, a choir and a marching band, and a huge number of musicians. actors, stage hands, crew and extras.

The show begins with the band (guests ‘Scorpions’) taking to the stage in a full motorcade and stepping out of a stretch limousine accompanied by huge amounts of pyrotechnics on a stage that’s the best part of 600 feet wide. Later on, a 100 foot inflatable ‘teacher’ with spotlights for eyes, and a giant inflatable pig both make appearances, and we witness the gradual construction of a 100ft high, 600ft long wall throughout the first part of the show. At times, the wall becomes one giant projector screen, featuring stills and moving images, including animation from the 1982 film adaptation, which plays a starring role more than once. However, for one of the climactic moments of the Wall – the trial scene – actors Tim Curry, Albert Finney and Marianne Faithful are brought in, and all do a fantastic job of transforming this key moment into the piece of theatre that it needs to be, in order to properly set the stage for the physical destruction of the wall and the closing number that follows.

As well as impressive, parts of the show are clever – when Waters appears in a specially built apartment half way up the wall, and trashes it, but other parts – especially the fact that significant parts of the second half of the show are played behind the wall – seem somewhat ridiculous. The core idea for The Wall supposedly came from Waters being confronted by a “boorish” fan, and wishing he could create a wall between him and his audience. To me it symbolises the most ridiculous of rock and roll excess that he was actually able to put this into practice in the real world. However, The Wall Live in Berlin – which has been excellently captured on this impressive DVD – was undoubtedly one of the most spectacular rock and roll shows ever staged, and it’s unlikely to be equalled in its grandeur – certainly in my lifetime.

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