Roger Waters, co-founder of the legendary rock band Pink Floyd, riled many (but not all) music critics last week with the release of his Dark Side of the Moon Redux – a reworking of one of the most celebrated albums of all time.
The musician, 80, whose global The is Not a Drill tour has been selling out stadiums, is only playing two performances of the release at London’s Palladium Theatre. Monday’s show divided many diehard fans – at least it did initially.
On the front of the stage was a small table with a laptop and several sheets of paper on it – behind it, places for the musicians. Waters, dressed in a bright pink jacket, with a black T-shirt and jeans, sauntered on to rapturous applause. The show, he said, would be split in two: him reading some memoirs he’s been drafting “for ages”, followed by a couple of songs; and after the intermission, a performance of what everyone had come to hear.
Many fans might consider it a unique opportunity to hear Waters speak about how and when music first pierced his soul and set him on the path all were there to revel in; or about when he first met and began working with former band member, Syd Barrett, whose swift mental health demise and departure from the band altered the creative course of Pink Floyd; or about Donald the Duck – a duckling he and the family had rescued from the family cats and looked after until it took flight one day.
But many did not. Some jeering and shouts from the audience, not to mention the audible sound of many having conversations as Waters read these tales, clearly indicated that many just wanted to hear him sing. When Waters and the 14-member band did play, starting with a beautiful, plaintive new piece called The Bar, followed by a reworking of Mother from The Wall, the audience was engaged and enthralled.
From there, things only got better. A black-and-white film featuring a towering, talking head of Waters began the second half, comprising a series of vignettes in which he described the roots and inspirations behind each song from Dark Side of the Moon. Then the band took their places and the entire Redux was played from start to finish.
For anyone who has seen Waters’s current tour, or Us and Them a few years ago, the tone, tempo and experience were nothing like it. The energy was more cosmic and introspective than intense and Waters, who joked at the outset of the gig that he felt a bit like the late British television presenter, Sir Bruce Forsyth, was more mellow, more grandfatherly, with his gritty, gravelly voice and a more fragile-looking stage presence.
The new lyrics and contexts that have transformed several of the original songs fit – not a perfect fit, given an album like Dark Side of the Moon is for each fan an intimate amalgamation of personal memories and associations, means that the original songs will never be "eclipsed" by these newer variations. That was never Waters’s intention, of course.
The collective timbre of the tracks on Redux came to life when experienced live. The elegant beauty of the strings, the ethereal, floating notes created by Via Mardot on the theremin and the incredible purity of sound created by the acoustic guitar transmogrify trademark aspects of many of the original tracks. Songs like Time, Us and Them and Brain Damage stood on their own as beautiful variations, often tinged with frailty with Waters’s raspy voice. Azniv Korkejian on backing vocals brought an entirely new quality to those parts.
The visual simplicity of the show accentuated these aspects. A large, multi-coloured triangle in outline reaching upwards and outwards from the stage recalled the original album’s hallmark prism motif, a fittingly symbolic way to celebrate one artist’s retake on an existential masterpiece, five decades on.
A standing ovation attested to that on opening night.