You can see rock operas on Broadway or watch them in the comfort of your home on DVD. But Pink Floyd's "The Wall" is the only rock opera coming to an arena near you.
Thirty-one years after the landmark work was released as a two-disc album, rock hero Roger Waters, the mastermind/bassist/lyricist/co-lead singer of Pink Floyd, has mounted a massive production of "The Wall" that he is taking everywhere from Montreal and Mexico City to Moscow and Milan. On Wednesday, he built "The Wall" brick by brick in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center and, of course, brought it tumbling down two-plus hours later. It was a provocative, over-the-top, self-indulgently spectacular epic that left 15,456 arena-goers excitedly numb.
As with Green Day's "American Idiot" and the Who's "Tommy," you need a Playbill to provide a synopsis or at least background and context because rock operas never make much linear sense, but they do deliver musically.
"The Wall" is an autobiographical exploration of alienation, isolation and rebellion. Waters' manifesto is anti-war, anti-authority and anti-corporate (despite tickets costing as much as $201). Waters' themes sadly resonate today, and he updated the visuals to include references to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and such newly coined terms as iKill and iProfit.
The visuals were riveting -- everything from gigantic marionettes to an inflatable pig that flew over the audience to Gerald Scarfe animation (he worked on the 1982 cult movie "Pink Floyd's The Wall") to a group of St. Paul kids singing and dancing with Waters as to a fighter plane zoomed over the arena and crashed into the wall, a 30-foot high structure assembled during the first act.
More a singer than an actor, Waters performed 27 songs, with some vocal help from Robbie Wyckoff, who sang the parts rendered originally by David Gilmour. (Floyd has been fractured since Waters acrimoniously left in 1985.) Occasionally, there were little scenes such as Waters, the bored rock star (one of his themes) watching TV in a Hollywood motel.
In the first act (highlight: "Mother" done as a duet with himself on film from a 1980 production of "The Wall" that played in only four cities), Waters performed in front of and behind the wall. In the second act (highlight: a dramatic and exorcising "Comfortably Numb"), his six musicians and five backup singers were mostly behind the fully constructed wall while he was in front, with the wall being used as a ginormous screen for animation, graffiti and video footage.
Waters, 67, surprisingly stepped out of character and talked to the sold-out audience a couple of times, making it seem a bit like a concert. Even though this was a captivating production of one of the best-selling albums of all time, the evening wasn't as exciting musically and as trippy visually as Waters' 2006 Xcel performance, which featured the classic album "Dark Side of the Moon" in its entirety. But "The Wall" was a special rock-opera experience in an arena, especially at the end when the 424 bricks magically crumbled from within and Waters came out with his trumpet and band to stand amid the rubble and perform "Outside the Wall," singing "bleeding hearts and artists make their stand."
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719