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Hey you... Wasn't The Wall a ball?

Roger Waters delivers with Floyd opus

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Pink Floyd's The Wall was always considered more than just an album to its fans -- it was a work of art.

And when that 1979 double album was transferred to the concert stage it became theatre: a giant, larger-than-life spectacle complete with a cast of characters, conflict, a climax and a resolution.

Roger Waters brought his giant stage show to Winnipeg Thursday for the first of two nights at the MTS Centre, and turned his semi-autobiographical tale of isolation, alienation, loneliness and delusion into an over-the-top antiwar special-effects-filled event that will probably go down as one of the most ambitious concerts ever produced.

The sold-out show was split into two parts, just like the album, with the first hour examining the death of his father in the Second World War, his relationship with his overbearing mother, his troubled school days and collapse of his marriage, which all add more bricks to his metaphorical wall, recreated literally on stage with giant bricks.

When the band returned after an intermission, they were hidden behind the completed wall, while Waters and his band explored the deterioration of main character Pink's mental state and the belief he has become a fascist dictator before submitting to a trial where he tears down the wall and rejoins society.

That's the overall story and the big picture of what happened over the course of the two-hour show, but the telling was masterfully rich in detail, with every song featuring some effect to further the narrative, which was given a new antiwar subtext. (If you are going to the show tonight and want to be surprised, stop reading now. Consider this your spoiler alert.)

After an introduction using some lines from Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus, red fireworks blasted off as the opening chords of In the Flesh rang out. Waters donned a "hammer" jacket and started singing. To either side of him were sections of bricks that featured graffiti projections reading, "Should I trust the government?" his band and backup vocalists behind him on the giant stage. At the conclusion of the song, the wall took a hit from a plane that flew from the northwest corner of the arena.

Bullets from all sides shot at the crowd from the quadraphonic sound system to signal the beginning of The Thin Ice, as pictures of Waters' father, dead soldiers and activists flashed.

The entire front of the arena was bathed in blood-red light during Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 1, before an inflatable marionette schoolmaster made its appearance for The Happiest Days of Our Lives.

The teacher stuck around, waved its stick and shot lights out of its eyes for Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2, which featured 15 students from Kildonan East Collegiate, Valley Gardens Middle School and Bertrun E. Glavin Elementary singing along and doing some choreographed moves.

The hit single featured a reprise about Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian man, killed by police in a London Underground station in 2005.

Waters explained the story in his first spoken words to the crowd, before concluding, "It maybe serves as a lesson to us if we give our government, or rather our police, too much power, it's a slippery slope to tyranny."

A giant green puppet of his wife appeared during Don't Leave Me Now while coloured tears rained down the side of the wall, which received its final brick at the conclusion of Goodbye Cruel World.

When Act 2 started -- sides three and four of the original album -- the band was hidden behind the wall while visuals splashed across it.

Waters, in the role of Pink, appeared in a hotel-room set with a chair, lamp, television and bed in a nod to the movie The Wall during Nobody's Home.

And in a nod to the original tour of The Wall, guitarist Dave Kilminster played the solo from Comfortably Numb atop the wall, as David Gilmour did.

The "surrogate band" stood in front of the wall decked out in their black fascist uniforms while a giant pig bearing slogans and logos floated over the audience and spotlights shone on members of the crowd during the song's interrogation sequence. Waters ended the song by pulling out a gun and shooting at the crowd who still remained on his side and sang, "Tear down the wall," during The Trial as the bricks tumbled in clouds of smoke.

After the emotional climax, Waters finished the night with his band playing Outside the Wall on an assortment of acoustic instruments, ending off a thrilling multimedia show that turned a bleak concept album into an amazing one-of-a-kind spectacle and a celebration of humanity.

rob.williams@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 1, 2012 A11

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