Art, in its myriad of forms, should never be wallpaper for the senses. Whilst the whole is entirely subjective, the best art should move us on a cellular level, connecting somehow with our hearts, intellect or soul. That’s not to say that we throw all critical judgements out of the window, slavishly adhering to the mantra that we know best and our taste is impeccable.
Roger Waters – This Is Not A Drill
O2 Arena, London – 6 June 2023
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Photography: Steve Ritchie
It’s at times when we’re challenged as well as moved that we often see the greatest growth. Seeing Roger Waters live feeds into exactly that, and This Is Not A Drill goes beyond what a rock show is, despite the jaw-dropping visuals and stunning performances that have become part and parcel of enormous arena shows. This Is Not A Drill is life.
Reiterating the feeling that this is indeed ‘a show’, the ten and five minutes until starting time announcements boom out over the cavernous space of the O2, the anticipation tangibly growing as messages scrolled across the twelve faces of the giant video screens that formed a huge cross in the centre of the arena.
Suddenly thrown into darkness, images of a post-apocalyptic world played around the screens, the band starting Waters’ hugely atmospheric take on Comfortably Numb, the haunting arrangement a thing of foreboding beauty, the screens rising at the end of the song to reveal the full stage.
There was something so unutterably affecting about this opening, the arrangement heavy with melancholy and drawing everyone in from the very first note.
More Pink Floyd classics followed in the form of Another Brick In The Wall Parts 2 and 3, alongside the cream of Waters solo material. The now infamous list of victims of fascist states and prejudice scrolled as a tribute to them and the ongoing battles against oppression during a powerful The Powers That Be shone a light on the importance of never forgetting and an unflinching record of the actions of a slew of United States Presidents labelled them war criminals in The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range.
It would be easy for Waters to quiet or keep his head down, but here was a man angry and determined to fight until his very last breath.
Moving new song, The Bar, was introduced as a nostalgic look back and hopeful look forward to when human contact and sociability could be a key feature of our growth as people, Waters’ skills as a communicator somehow managing to draw in everyone from stageside to the nosebleed seats high in the rafters.
Here was a man wearing his heart on his sleeve, and the touching tribute to Syd Barrett in the form of Wish You Were Here and Shine On You Crazy Diamond still have the power to affect deeply, their themes a universal one that goes beyond the huge sound of the song structures themselves.
Performing in the round and with Waters and the musicians able to fully use the three-hundred-and-sixty-degree stage to its fullest meant that there wasn’t a bad seat in the house, and with probably the best sound MetalTalk has ever heard at an arena show, each note was felt and crystal clear.
Giant sheep and pigs flew, the theatre of mocking demagogues performed, and lasers shone. From the stately and grand bluesy jazz of Us And Them to the chilling imagery that contrasted with a sublime Two Sons In The Sunset, this was a show that dazzled with its depth and intelligence.
By the joyous, acoustic end of Outside The Wall, there couldn’t have been a single soul leaving the Greenwich venue who hadn’t been moved, such was the visceral power of the performance. Still, with a righteous anger, there was a love that ran deeply through all that Waters does, flashes of humour shattering any claims of po-faced ego.
Astonishing visually and with stunning sound and performances by an incredible troupe of musicians, this was an event that went way beyond being an arena rock show.
Most importantly, though, this was a connection that was so very intimate and human. We came expecting the spectacular. What we got was life-changing.