Roger Waters' Trump-loathing protest spectacle overwhelms the Xcel

Roger Waters at the Xcel last night. (Photo by Steven Cohen.)

Roger Waters at the Xcel last night. (Photo by Steven Cohen.)

Every sound, every lighting effect, every floating prop had a purpose at Roger Waters' show at the X last night.

The former Pink Floyd singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist's big, intricate stage production summoned all of your nagging insecurities and simmering rage. Lots of the songs were from decades past, but everything about the performance was rooted in the unsettled now.

Waters and his band (including backing singers/percussionists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from the band Lucius) took the stage to the sounds of 1973’s “Speak to Me,” then opened with the elegiac “Breathe” from Dark Side of the Moon. Meddle’s “One of these Days,” always badass, was as dangerous as it's ever been last night, with Waters on bass, joined by a second bassist.

Waters played the ticking clock sound in the intro of “Time” on bass, joined by some intense tribal drums from the Lucius women, while “The Great Gig in the Sky” was mellowed out a bit and gorgeous, with Wolfe and Laessig providing vocal drama over a sea of stars. The ominous “Welcome to the Machine” off Wish You Were Here followed, complete with gory vintage animation familiar to Pink Floyd fans.

Waters put his all into the tracks off this year’s Is This the Life We Really Want? “Déjà Vu” is a lyrically ballsy, heavy ordinance jam, and “Picture That” was a high point of the first set. It was mesmerizing to watch Waters stalk the stage yelling “Picture a leader with no fucking brains!” over and over.

The band wound down set one with an intense trip to The Wall. People in orange prison jumpsuits stood stock still at the front of the stage, heads down, during “The Happiest Days of Our Lives.” As that song bled into “Another Brick in the Wall,” they unzipped out of the jumpsuits (“Maggie’s Farm” printed on the backs) to reveal kids in black T-shirts emblazoned with the word “RESIST.”

In the second set, things got weird. Subtlety went out the window and things started falling from the rafters. Waters began with “Dogs” and “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” from Animals—that's roughly 30 minutes of music right there. As emergency lights flashed and helicopter noises swirled, the Animals album art (the UK’s Battersea power station) appeared in physical form over the floor seats, working smokestacks and flying pig included, essentially cutting the X in half the long way.

This amazing effect became another projection point for imagery, perpendicular to the stage. And now, out came the Trump imagery. “JOKER,” “CHARADE,”—these were some of the tamer invectives flung throughout this portion of the show. Most of the crowd took it in stride or actively cheered Waters’ protest as he got his message across: “TRUMP IS A PIG.”

There was a piggy cocktail party on stage, a giant pig drone flew around the arena, and in the middle of it all the band played on. The stream of music was continuous, so it was occasionally tough to know when one song ended and another began. And Waters handed over certain songs to members of the band to sing throughout the concert—this was his show, but he shared the spotlight.

“Money” was like a street sign everyone recognized, a return to familiarity for the more casual Pink Floyd fan. The Animals cover art installation in the middle of the arena did some more tricks, turning into a line of “typical” projection screens that randomly and hypnotically changed shape so that it was hard to know where to look.

Returning to his current album, Waters and band worked through the apocalyptic dirge “Smell the Roses.” As they eased into “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” from Dark Side of the Moon, a mammoth silver sphere drone meandered through the air—the Roger Waters equivalent of the concert beach ball.

A funny thing happened on the way to a special effects set piece: The laser prism happened at the wrong time. Waters had barely spoken a word to the audience all evening, but he stopped the show to say “Bugger me. Mea culpa, mea culpa, we’re all human.”

Waters took all the blame, praising his production crew, and went on to say that he really liked the effect. He worked with the band and crew to figure out how and when to restart “Eclipse.” It was a legitimately funny moment. They got the whole thing right the second time around, and it was a beautiful laser prism, if you're into laser prisms.

Waters’ band finished the night off back at The Wall with the somber “Vera” and “Bring the Boys Back Home,” once again giving lead vocals over to Wolfe and Laessig. “Comfortably Numb” capped off the night. Most everyone sang along to the classic track, and Waters used it as an opportunity to walk around the stage gesturing thanks to the audience.

The spectacle was overwhelming, and deeply satisfying— two and a half hours of sounds creeping around you, images assaulting your brain, and incredible songs on display. The lunatic was in our heads, and we welcomed Roger Waters like an old friend.

View our Roger Waters at Xcel photo slideshow here

Set One
Speak to Me/Breathe
One of These Days
Breathe (reprise)
The Great Gig in the Sky
Welcome to the Machine
Déjà Vu
The Last Refugee
Picture That
Wish You Were Here
The Happiest Days of Our Lives
Another Brick in the Wall pt. 2
Another Brick in the Wall pt. 3

Set Two
Pigs (Three Different Ones)
Us and Them
Smell the Roses
Brain Damage
Bring the Boys Back Home
Comfortably Numb

The crowd: Hippies, kids, fossils, and I swear I saw Roger Waters 15 or 16 times while making my way to my seat.

Overheard in the crowd: “Well, he isn’t really breaking any new ground…” To which his friend simply said, “Shut up.”

Random notebook dump: I just realized that this is sort of a bucket list show for me.