Roger Waters’ music has the greatest sentimental value to me. A few months after my parents’ acrimonious divorce, during a car journey, The Dark Side of the Moon gave me and my father a chance to bond in a serene way over bass lines and psychedelic utopias. To this day, the same bass lines and psychedelic timbres are the soundtrack to our conversations about the future.
Attending Waters’ 2018 concert in Glasgow closed the circle of my everlasting admiration, and reminded me of how his music relies on darkness and hope in equal measure. Us + Them is the cinematographic product of a tour leg in Amsterdam but also an ode to those families breaking apart and the ones reuniting in a sick cosmic joke, whether you call it heartbreak or just bittersweet reality. Even more recurrently, it brings out the pain of family on stage for a last goodbye, which seems to be common practice for a creative genius that is so focussed on humanitarian issues. In an exclusive featurette at the end of the screening, Waters insists that the backing singers convey the cry of a dead child, before her body and her toy are lost upon a shore in an animation. It is a recurrent theme for this tour and its inspiring album, touching on a plurality of experiences on life’s tragicomic moments.
If a track like The Great Gig in the Sky was inspired by the thought of coping with death, the concert embraces the rage of suffering an unjust departure because of others’ inhumane power. Rag dolls are the inanimate version of a human race running for self-annihilation, oppressed by strict education (Another Brick in the Wall Part II and Part III) as much as the awareness of aging in a rotten world (Time).
A Muslim family’s story turns into the cornerstone of Waters’ denunciation: innocence was lost for the sake of personal gains, while the few Pigs insulted in songs from the Animals era are alive and kicking. When the legendary Battersea Power Station emerges from paper and lights among the spectators, it becomes a living part of the stage and political disgust so dear to Waters. Erdogan and Trump become the target of fierce criticism and ideal subject of caricatures. Their images are distorted and starkly contrasted with the migrant dreamers. The show channels the dignity of those who embrace their fate and dance to it, cramped inside a doomed dinghy or sheltered in an abandoned warehouse.
From flying moon balloons to light effects, Waters and director Sean Evans create a dystopian fantasy for the poor to emerge as “us”, a collective symbol of damning times suspended in time and space. Pictures of Palestinian children running along the Wall resonate with the underlying philosophy that equality under international law is a faint race against time and opposing forces. You see the youth swaying across the screen, and a flock of local teenagers invading the stage. Waters animates his conception through these young, thriving, living beings, and lets them express their confusion in a world spinning too fast.
Songs like Brain Damage and Eclipse are a musical conundrum for helpless souls and a taster of the final monologue, in which the mastermind reflects on how to unironically spread “the love and energy in the room”. And I will surely be listening, for his dedication is not eclipsed by the moon.