Roger Waters review: Ex-Pink Floyd star defies detractors at premiere of divisive Dark Side Redux reimagining
10 October 2023, 14:39 | Updated: 10 October 2023, 14:41
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Roger Waters has never been one to shy away from controversy.
The former Pink Floyd legend has made an entire career out of speaking uncomfortable truths, though recent opinions have situated him right in the epicentre of the culture wars.
Waters has been at risk of being 'cancelled' for some time now, and having evaded any censorship, his recent seventh studio album has also proved to be another cause for division.
The Dark Side Of The Moon Redux was released just last week, and it has split critics' opinions right down the middle, with many Floyd fans also feeling slightly irked at having their precious text tampered with.
It's impossible to overstate the significance of 1973's The Dark Side Of The Moon - a universal album that has planted itself amongst the most record collections around the world.
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A perfect alchemy, four musicians conjuring a kind of concept album that never existed before and hasn't since - despite courting countless imitators - it still holds up as a masterpiece half a century on.
But the album's ubiquitous humanism is driven by Roger Waters' visceral lyricism, and he strongly feels its message is as relevant today as it ever was, much to his own chagrin it must be said.
Backed by a 14-piece band, Waters was able to impart that message to the London Palladium's intimate crowd in quite stunning fashion.
However, it did take him a while to wow the audience - the first hour of the evening's entertainment was attributed to Waters' laidback, off-the-cuff conversation and his reading of a short story about a duck named Donald.
Premiering The Dark Side Of The Moon Redux across two nights at the historic, 2,286 capacity venue, the first night reportedly ruffled the feathers of fans expecting a full-on concert and getting Roger relaying extracts from his unreleased memoir which seemingly had no relevance to the album's feted history.
Thankfully for the second evening, Waters - in jubilant form despite an audible cold, decked out in a hot pink blazer to boot - truncated his readings ahead of the full band's performance.
A reflective, swirling new version of 'The Bar' kicked off proceedings, followed by Pink Floyd's 'Mother' from the lauded 1980 album The Wall.
An understandable decision to keep attendees' phones locked away for the concert caused a commotion mid-song however, when someone in the stalls snuck a phone in and started filming, with people "shh-ing" and squabbling with one another, though it didn't detract from the band's focus and formidable presence.
Paying a fortune for tickets, fans likely wanted to document their experience, but seeing and hearing the Pink Floyd co-founder without distraction heightened the evening's unique quality.
Adding context to his decision to re-record the iconic 1973 album, he then played a 19-minute film which offered a track-by-track retrospective about each song's original sentiment and how he elaborated on them for the Dark Side Redux.
Then came the performance, as the lights descended on Waters and his colourful band, with only an illuminated triangle visible - a la Storm Thorgerson's iconic prism design - and a solitary spotlight beaming onto him.
Having been adamant about not listening to his reimagining prior to the premiere, I went in with no expectations, only hoping it wasn't going to be a parody of Pink Floyd's signature work, a big Roger Waters middle-finger to the rest of the band so to speak.
After announcing the Dark Side Redux earlier this year, Roger stated: "I wrote The Dark Side of the Moon. Let's get rid of all this 'we' crap! Of course, we were a band, there were four of us, we all contributed—but it’s my project and I wrote it. So blah!"
But it's nothing like the original, nor should it be compared. Which was his intention presumably. In fact, Waters has transmogrified the original material so much so that it can exist in tandem like a parallel universe.
Recently turning 80 years of age, Waters' once venomous vocals are far raspier and sombre, mirroring a latter-day Leonard Cohen, which sets the tone and tempo throughout.
Sumptuous string arrangements, Via Mardot's ethereal theremin notes, and Jonathan Wilson's glittering acoustic guitar replace David Gilmour's lead guitar lines and the elevated harmonies of Rick Wright, with a contemplative quality ruminating through each song.
Waters has adapted much of the lyrics to include personal wisdom and world-weary experiences, such as the loss of his dear friend Donald Hall in 'The Great Gig In The Sky', where the once instrumental and explorative 'Any Colour You Like' now takes the form of an anti-flag, call-to-arms for the declaration of human rights.
The heartbeat of The Dark Side Of The Moon is still there, but the story is now very much Waters', playing out like a theatrical biopic of his life.
For an artist who has consistently been outspoken, this was an evening - and an album - dedicated almost entirely to looking inward for the former Floyd bassist.
Whilst The Dark Side Of The Moon Redux might be one for the Pink Floyd purists (an essential revival? No. But an imaginative one at least) experiencing Waters perform the album in full in such a personal environment was nothing short of mesmerising.
I wasn't the only one who thought so, as the crowd rose to their feet for a lengthy standing ovation immediately after the crescendo of 'Eclipse' drew to a close.