Three things you can count on at every Roger Waters concert — a stunning video and light show, a floating pig and a political slant — all turned up in big ways Wednesday night at his sold-out and often thrilling concert at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Waters, 73, is picking songs from throughout his 50-year recording career on his current Us & Them Tour rather than focusing on one album by his enduringly popular old band Pink Floyd (which he did his last two times at the X on his “Dark Side of the Moon” and “The Wall” tours). That allowed him to piece together a mish-mash of his must-play standards and other songs that fit a theme.
The message, in a nutshell, was one of anti-greed and anti-war, subjects that dotted all of Pink Floyd’s post-’60s albums. There was plenty of anti-Trump messaging, too, which flows through Waters’ new solo album, “Is This the Life We Really Want?”
The first set started with familiar songs from recent tours, including the 1971 space jam “One of These Days,” the light, airy opening tune “Breathe” and two more “Dark Side” songs. “Time” was the concert’s first wow moment, and then came the stunner “Great Gig in the Sky,” an awesome showpiece for Waters’ name-brand backup singers, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from the indie-pop band Lucius (coming to the State Fair grandstand Sept. 2).
The matching-blonde-bobbed singers were part of a solid but spirited new crew of Waters backers that also included one-time Twin Citian Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.) on drums. Also, Father John Misty's chief collaborator Jonathan Wilson played guitar and admirably filled in many of the vocal parts original sung by Waters' old bandmate David Gilmour.
Waters veered from his standards halfway through the opening set, strapping on a guitar to crank his way through 1975’s seething “Welcome to the Machine” and then steamrolling through three songs from his new album.
While he’s always been prone to let other folks in his band sing, Waters seemed especially reliant on the other vocalists on Wednesday, as Wilson carried much of “Machine” and later “Dogs,” and Wolfe and Laessig were involved throughout. The new songs were the exception, as Waters moaned with miserable charm in the regretful gem “Deja Vu” and reached for the high notes in the powerful but mournful “The Last Refugee.” All told, the new material really complemented the old.
Things didn’t get too political until the end of the first set, when a group of St. Paul school kids danced to “Another Brick in the Wall, pt. 2” in prison jumpsuits — which they stripped off to reveal T-shirts emblazoned with the “Resist” slogan. The subtlety of that stunt flew out the window after the 20-minute intermission.
As images of President Donald Trump flashed across the screen alongside the word “charade,” a stern-faced Waters launched into a fierce “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” an 11-minute opus from the often overlooked 1977 Floyd album “Animals.” Along with the accompanying “Dogs,” the “Animals” montage amounted to both the musical and visual highlight of the show, though the crowd certainly lit up later during the big ones “Money,” “Brain Damage/Eclipse” and the finale “Comfortably Numb.”
The light and video side of Wednesday’s show was truly a notch-above most other tours, especially in the second set when a video screen lowered over the middle of the crowd, perpendicular to the stage and stretched to the soundboard while the band laid into the “Animals” tunes. Then out came the floating pig, which breezed around the video screen as a series of the Trump’s less couth quotes scrolled across the arena-length screen.
No doubt, some of the 15,000 fans did not like all that added messaging Wednesday. But like the omnipresent inflatable swine, they couldn’t say they didn’t see it coming.
Wednesday's set list:
2. “One of These Days”
4. “Breathe (Reprise)”
5. “The Great Gig in the Sky”
6. “When We Were Young”
7. “Déjà Vu”
8. “The Last Refugee”
9. “Picture That”
10. “Wish You Were Here” 11. “The Happiest Days of Our Lives”
12. “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 & 3″
14. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”
16. “Us and Them”
17. “Smell the Roses”
18. “Brain Damage”
21. “Bring the Boys Back Home”
22. “Comfortably Numb”