The dark, eerily beautiful, dystopian landscape he conjured inside AmericanAirlines Arena Thursday night did not prevent Roger Waters from allowing a subtle grin to crease his face from time to time.
At 73 years old, Waters is hopscotching the country on his Us and Them Tour playing classic Pink Floyd cuts to sold-out arenas. He has an excellent band behind him, and the sophisticated, innovative production of the show, with lasers, projections and versatile high-definition video screens, is unsurpassed. At one point, a lifelike projection of the iconic Battersea Power Station, from the “Animals” cover, ran the length of the arena, steam pouring from its stacks.
But what may bring Waters the most satisfaction is seeing the fury and disillusionment in songs such as “Welcome to the Machine,” “Money,” “Us and Them,” “Pigs” and “Another Brick in the Wall” inspiring passionate sing-alongs from multigenerational audiences that, in the case of Miami, may include the grandchildren of original Pink Floyd fans. With a giant projection of his head looming over the stage, Waters seemed to look into the eyes of everyone in the arena while spitting the lyric, “You know you’re nobody's fool.”
Unshaven, with a tempest of nearly white hair curling toward his shoulders, the black-clad Waters, resembling some ancient mariner back from an odyssey, strolled nonchalantly onstage about 30 minutes after the time on the ticket and coaxed the luscious “Speak to Me/Breathe” to life as video of deep space enveloped the massive screen behind him.
If you watched Waters’ extraordinary production of “The Wall” when it passed through South Florida a few years back and yearned for a broader selection of Pink Floyd music, Thursday night’s show answered your prayer.
In two roughly 60-minute sets separated by a 20-minute intermission, Waters delivered a riveting evening of entertainment for the ears and eyes, performing staples of the Pink Floyd catalog, as well as several enthusiastically received songs from his new album, “Is This the Life We Really Want?” The implication in that title was a consistent theme throughout the evening, an intertwining of the theatrical, political and spiritual, with many songs accompanied by vivid visuals that illustrated man’s inhumanity to man.
In addition to “Breathe,” the first half was highlighted by “Time,” “The Great Gig in the Sky” “Wish You Were Here,” “Welcome to the Machine,” “One of These Days” and the classic “Another Brick in the Wall.” A new song, a troubling vision of America called “Picture That,” found Waters on solo guitar striding from one side of the stage to the other, as if to address the audience more directly when he sang, “Picture a leader with no f---ing brains.”
The second set opened with revelatory 18-minute version of "Dogs," which began as a platform lowered from the ceiling, soon erupting into a stunning display of the Battersea Power Station. The line of projection screens remained above the floor seats, perpendicular to the stage, dividing the arena in half and providing not just dramatic visuals but an odd feeling of intimacy.
Not surprisingly, in “Dogs,” an indictment of corporate greed and immorality from 1977’s “Animals,” Waters has found parallels in today’s evolving American value system under a new president. With the band seated at a table in pig masks toasting each other with champagne, “Dogs” kicked off a section of songs accompanied by images that President Donald Trump would call sad. An overwhelming majority of those in the arena seemed to love them.
Joined by many in the audience, Waters sang “Ha, ha, charade you are,” the refrain “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” as a pig-shaped blimp roamed the air and pictures of Trump (with Vladimir Putin; in a Nazi uniform; in a diaper) filled the screens. “Money,” “Us and Them” and “Brain Damage” followed, the later accompanied by a triangular, floor-to-ceiling alignment of lasers suggesting the “Dark Side of the Moon” cover.
The band took a brief break, then returned for an encore that included snippets of “Vera,” “Bring the Boys Back Home” and a version of “Comfortably Numb” that brought down the house and brought up the lights.
Among those behind Waters, singer-guitarists Jonathan Wilson and Dave Kilminster provided flawless accompaniment in the David Gilmour role. The density of this music also benefited from Gus Seyffert (guitars, bass, keyboards) Drew Erickson (piano, keyboards, Hammond organ), Jon Carin (piano, keyboards, programming) and Ian Ritchie (saxophone, bass).
Vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of the indie band Lucius, in matching platinum wigs, were equally extraordinary, especially on “Breathe” and their lead duet on “Great Gig in the Sky.”
The first set ended with “Another Brick in the Wall,” a song that has inspired Waters to seek out young students at each stop on the tour to be onstage to sing the “We don’t need no education” refrain to choreographed movements. As it was on “The Wall” tour stops in Miami and Sunrise, the moment was magic Thursday night, with eight young people singing, marching and wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with the word “Resist.”
After they left the stage, Waters addressed the audience with a statement he said was “important to me.” He said the students who had performed were not those that were originally scheduled to take part, a group of kids from programs affiliated with the city of Miami Beach parks department. Those kids dropped out on Thursday after the Greater Miami Jewish Federation accused Waters of “messages of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and hatred.”
The Anti-Defamation League in 2013 was critical of Waters’ use of “Jewish imagery” in his concerts, including a Star of David on the floating pig.
In his statement Thursday night, after reading aloud the names of the students who were unable to perform, Waters said they had been “banned by the mayor of Miami Beach.” Waters blamed pressure applied by “the Israeli lobby,” which, he said, was targeting him for his support of pro-Palestinian human rights groups.
“I carry with me the burden of everything I learned from my mother and my father, who were both great humanists, and who cared deeply about every other human being in the world,” Waters told the audience. “And they cared about civil and human rights all over the world, no matter who the people were.”