Roger Waters’s monumental performance kicks off British Summer Time 2018
Under the sweltering sun, Seasick Steve kicked off the main stage at BST on a not-so-British note. Blues singin’, guitar pluckin’ and mud-slingin’ were heavily on show as he injected the festival’s audience with a healthy dose of Americanah. Summertime Boy gauged the mood perfectly, with powerful, whining guitars and an insistent cool that recalls the likes of John Fogerty. Things like this just don’t go out of fashion. To bring this kind of energy to a venue like Hyde Park on a guitar fashioned out of a tin can (it emerged during the chorus of You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks) is quite a feat.
With the sun a little lower in the sky, the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft was a decided change in tune, bringing crowds firmly back into a Britpop groove. His glittery jacket glinting in the sunset, Sonnet rang through the trees with a terrific echo of 90s nostalgia. Ashcroft has all the cocky youthfulness in his attitude that he had back in the day, but his voice felt a little shaky at times. As a bridging act between Seasick Steve and Roger Waters, the Wigan-born singer-songwriter fit perfectly – stadium-worthy tracks in keeping with a horde that stretched right along the horizon, relishing the big solos and the even bigger singles. This Is How It Feels and Break the Night with Colour, Ashcroft’s own, blared out like feelgood hits even with their reflective lyrics. No surprise, then, that the audience reacted with familiar grins when Bittersweet Symphony played the singer out: everyone knew it was coming and everyone sang along.
Then Roger Waters entered the stage. Hyde Park built up to a scream along with the opening of Breathe, as a wave of goosebumps visibility flowed through the field. These were deeply affecting moments, matched with screened images of the pockmarked surfaces of outer space. There’s a reason that Dark Side of the Moon is one of the best-selling albums ever made. The songs on it move crowds in mesmerising moments of open chords and clean harmony, and follow them immediately with the deep rock solos and poetic lyrics, the kind you need to shut your eyes to absorb fully. Nowhere is this totally rapturous sound more apparent (as those of us who have listened to the album on loop know) than in The Great Gig in the Sky. The Pink Floyd legend managed to hold the fort down lone, and Wish You Were Here kept its impact even without David Gilmour to provide vocals.
Waters also made forays into more recent solo work with The Last Refugee and Deja Vu. The new material can never eclipse the old. It bears the songwriter’s distinct mark, but is angrier, more political, unapologetically current and cutting. Yet it doesn’t resonate with audiences to perhaps the same extent, who waited patiently for a return to the songs they know and love and – let’s be honest – the ones from the Floyd albums they have at home.
This political tone ran through much of the work onstage. Another Brick in the Wall saw several children cloaked in orange prison jumpsuits singing the chorus. During the interval, calls to “resist” Mark Zuckerberg and others were screened, and the classic Animals track (guess which one) was accompanied by the slogan “Trump is a pig”. You can tell Waters is passionate about these issues, but they sometimes come across as slightly glib.
There was an amazing, truly wondrous quality to everything that happened off-stage, too. As the second half began with Dogs, the factory on the album cover of Animals emerged from the dusty earth and then above the stage to cough up plumes of coloured smoke. Light-shows buzzed with high powered lasers that made stunning still images in the open dusky sky, and a whole host of inflatables floated through it, too.
Live shows are also about creating a visual experience while the music is going on, a fact that Waters and his team have clearly understood. Playing out on a sincere, soulful, encore of Comfortably Numb, Hyde Park was struck dumb by the impressive spectacle of sound and sight they had just witnessed. The Us + Them tour is a sublime show including some of the greatest songs ever written; it needs little more praise than this.
Photo: Pooneh Ghana
For further information and future events visit Roger Waters’s website here.
Watch the video for The Last Refugee here: