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Roger Waters performs at Toronto's Air Canada Centre, Sept. 15, 2010. (J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail/J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail)
Roger Waters performs at Toronto's Air Canada Centre, Sept. 15, 2010. (J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail/J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail)

In Concert

Roger Waters, in the shadow of the Wall Add to ...

Roger Waters' The Wall

  • At the Air Canada Centre
  • in Toronto on Wednesday

Not since Humpty Dumpty fell off one has a wall been so celebrated. It was midway through Roger Waters' lavish concert remounting of 1979's The Wall when the last brick in the white, arena-width barrier was slotted into place, sealing the dismal fate of the alienated character Pink. And as Waters disappeared from sight, mournfully crooning a pseudo-suicide note as he vanished, a giant hooting crowd hailed the wall's completion. "Goodbye cruel world, I'm leaving you today," was the tortured rock star's peace-out. "Goodbye, goodbye."

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What the audience was applauding is hard to say. It was a dooming, glooming moment in a decidedly dark piece of FM-rock opera. But then again, it wasn't the wall that had earned the cheering, it was The Wall. "Goodbye" wasn't the mood, not even close. The touchstone Pink Floyd spectacle from four decades earlier was back - brilliantly in conception, bombastically with cartoon animation and special effects, and thoughtfully in theme - in the flesh, more or less.

More or less, in that the band on stage wasn't Pink Floyd. Waters, who fairly conceived The Wall himself, has with him on this North American tour a troupe of stand-ins, much like the surrogate band of In the Flesh. "I've got some bad news for you sunshine," sneered Waters, "Pink isn't well, he stayed back at the hotel."

In as much as Waters and the other members of Floyd were estranged during the recording of The Wall album, it shouldn't matter much that guitarist Dave Gilmour, drummer Nick Mason and the late keyboardist Richard Wright aren't on hand today. Mason and Wright, after all, played little role in the double album's making.

Be that as it may, the crowd's space-cadet glow was dimmer when a nameless guitarist, perched atop the wall, played Gilmour's soaring notes on the epic, narcotic Comfortably Numb. As well, the unknown vocalist who handled Gilmour's affecting vocals - on the album, a soothing counter to Waters's shrillness - disappointed consistently, his singing uncharismatic at best. In general, the sidemen were highly proficient, though as unnoticeable in front of the wall as behind.

The concert, which also plays Thursday and is set for its final performance here Saturday before future dates in Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver, began in a pyrotechnic way. Roman candles flared as hoodie-wearing thugs arose high on a stage-wide lifter, holding the red flags with crossed hammers, symbolic of oppression.

Searchlights scoped the arena; the ominous crescendo of In the Flesh arose; and a trail of bright sparks crackled as a fighter-plane prop crashed into the partially built wall.

The Wall's narrative concerns the psychological "bricks" that built up around the English rock star Pink (represented by Waters, and, at times, a lifeless muppet). Waters' own life is covered: the death of his pilot father in the Second World War, his smothering mother - "Mama won't let anyone dirty get through" - and a later alienation from his fans.

The bosomy mother was portrayed by a giant, grotesque inflatable puppet, as were a sexed-up woman with claws for hands and a domineering schoolmaster, chased away by a local children's chorus who ironically scolded "we don't need no education" during the stoic sing-along Another Brick in the Wall Part 2.

Waters, 67, was grey but fit, showing his age only during the elegiac Nobody Home, a portrait of a lonely hotel-roomed rock star with only "13 channels of shit on the TV to choose from." These words were written during the abominable days before satellite television.

The Wall concerns one man's isolation and demise (Pink eventually goes "toys-in-the-attic crazy"), but it also suggests a broader social alienation. In its 2010 incarnation, Waters updates: photos of actual victims of terrorism and war were shown on the wall - representative bricks in the divisions of nationalism, religion and the politics of fear.

In its current form, The Wall holds less spectacle and glitz than a performance by Lady Gaga or Madonna. But where those showboats invoke a personal sense of freedom, Waters sees a bigger picture. Big music? Yes. Big walls? Make them rubble.

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