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Critical Analysis of Roger Waters’s Politically Charged Pink Floyd Performance in San Francisco

On Friday night at the Chase Center, Roger Waters gave his audience a clear idea of what to anticipate from his performance.

Before hitting the stage in San Francisco, the vocalist-bassist remarked in a recorded message, “If you’re one of those ‘I adore Pink Floyd, but I can’t tolerate Roger’s politics’ folks, you may do well to (expletive) go to the bar right now.”

Following that warning, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, who was inducted as a founding member of Pink Floyd in 1996, spent the next two and a half hours delivering on his promise, bombarding the sold-out crowd with politically charged language and messages in styles that were difficult to ignore.

Then then, that’s the whole idea. During his appropriately and urgently titled This Is Not a Drill tour, Roger Waters is not ready to let you disregard the message in favor of merely relaxing with a drink and pumping your fist to “We don’t need no education” in “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2.”

Roger Waters shines in San Francisco

This unwavering dedication to the message, whether one agrees with it or not, is what has made Waters one of the most influential and successful musicians of the past half-century and a half. You don’t lead the charge to build something like “The Wall,” for instance, if you aren’t fully invested in what you’re saying.

In the end, it was the concert on Friday (the first of two nights at the Chase Center) that was so moving and inspiring because of the band’s unwavering dedication to synchronizing their music with their message.

Opening the event with a version of “Comfortably Numb” that was much gloomier than normal, Roger Waters was performing “in the round” for the first time in his career, with the big stage positioned in the middle of the arena floor and encircled by people on all sides.

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It took a daring artist to alter one of Pink Floyd’s most iconic songs so soon into their career, and I’m sure many in the audience were confused by the band’s choice to erase a guitar solo generally regarded as one of the finest in rock and roll history. (And I’m sure some conspiracy theorists may have viewed it as a not-so-subtle jab of David Gilmour, Floyd’s guitarist.) The change, however, was effective in creating the desired apocalyptic atmosphere.

Powerful renditions of “The Happiest Days of Our Lives,” “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2,” and “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3” from “The Wall” were followed by “The Powers That Be” from 1987’s “Radio K.A.O.S.” and “The Bravery of Being Out of Range” from 1992’s “Amused to Death,” both from Waters’ solo catalog.

At the outset of his monologue, he displayed graphic images of the murders of George Floyd, Oscar Grant III of Hayward, and other victims of racial and social injustice on the massive screens above the audience. Roger Waters then shifted his focus to former U.S. presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, calling them “war criminals” and describing their atrocities committed on civilian populations. Joe Biden would also be included in this group, with the slogan that the incumbent president of the United States was “just getting started.”

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Roger Waters, however, wasn’t feeling any less upbeat while spreading his message of doom and gloom. In fact, he seemed really happy while performing, as seen by his constant grinning and his willingness to engage with the audience and his stellar backing band, which included the superb guitar work of Dave Kilminster.

Do not be astonished if Roger Waters seems to be having fun. I am because I am, etc.

The first set ended with “Sheep” from 1977’s “Animals,” and after Roger Waters sat down at the piano to play part of a nice new song, “The Bar,” he dove right back into the Floyd catalog for a triple shot off 1975’s “Wish You Were Here,” playing the charged-up “Have a Cigar,” the soft, acoustic-driven title track, and portions of the intergalactic “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”

The second performance began, like the first, with material from “The Wall,” as the 79-year-old rock veteran began with “In the Flesh” and continued with the always rousing “Run Like Hell.” He then returned to his solo material, playing “Is This the Life We Really Want?” (both the title track and “Deja Vu”) from his 2017 album of the same name.

The five-song transcendental run through “Money,” “Us and Them,” “Any Colour You Like,” “Brain Damage,” and “Eclipse” from Pink Floyd’s 1973 masterwork “The Dark Side of the Moon” was, unsurprisingly, the show’s high point.

The audience went wild in pure classic rock elation as “Brain Damage” morphed into “Eclipse” and the intensity of “Dark Side’s” closer grew.

I’m sure that Roger Waters understood that this would have been a fantastic way to cap the event, leaving the audience on a high note and talking about how Pink Floyd was essentially the greatest band ever.

He didn’t really end up doing that, however. In “Two Suns in the Sunset,” the last track of Pink Floyd’s “The Final Cut,” he opts for a more subdued, solemn tone in order to address the prospect of a nuclear apocalypse. The concert ended on a reflective, somber note with a reprise of the new song “The Bar,” which segued without incident into the album’s last track, “Outside the Wall.”

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Not the medium, but the message itself is paramount. And Roger Waters had that in mind the whole time last Friday at the Chase Center.

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