Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 29, 2015)
For all intents and purposes, Pink Floyd didn’t tour to support 1979’s smash release The Wall. Sure, they played 31 shows across 1980-81 in a grand presentation of the album, but those concerts took place in only four separate locations: Los Angeles, New York, London and Dortmund. I find it hard to classify this a “tour” when the band went to so few venues.
Starting in 2010, founding Floyd member Roger Waters made up for lost time with an extensive excursion called “The Wall Live”. Waters played more than 200 concerts from 2010 to 2013 and ended up with one of the most successful tours in history.
A film called Roger Waters: The Wall documents this elaborate, technically complex concert – sort of. The Wall does include most of the stage performance, and it comes with a setlist that recreates the original album in order. The show also provides two non-album songs – “What Shall We Do Now?” and “The Last Few Bricks” – that were part of the 1980-81 shows, so they’re still “Wall correct”. No non-Wall-related Floyd songs appear as part of the concert.
Even though the movie provides all of the album’s songs and focuses on the stage, my “sort of” comes from the numerous moments where we leave the concert setting. The film starts with shots of Waters as he visits a military cemetery, and we occasionally leave the stage for more footage of this sort. Waters uses these moments to reflect on his father’s death during World War II as well as related family elements.
On their own, these seem fine – interesting, even. Waters was an infant when his father died, and it’s clear that this loss profoundly impacted the musician’s life and work. A self-reflective journey connected to these areas makes sense to me.
However, it would fare better if presented separate from The Wall, especially because these moments distract from the concert narrative. Perhaps Waters thinks that fans already know the story/themes told in The Wall, and he might be right – God knows that tale has been beaten into submission over the decades. The album birthed a 1982 dramatic film as well as various concert tours and reissues, so it’s not like we’ve not seen this territory mined many times since 1979.
Nonetheless, I think the non-concert shots undermine the impact of the performance. These elements don’t seem to connect to the musical show especially well, and they don’t blend in a particularly smooth manner. I won’t say they come out of nowhere, but they don’t mesh in a way to create a smooth flow.
As interesting – and occasionally touching – as Waters’ personal journey can be, these shots still seem likely to prompt annoyance in the viewer. Waters may want to tell his personal story, but the audience probably feels less excited to see it – at least in this context. Again, if we got these moments presented as a separate feature, they’d be much more enjoyable. As part of The Wall, they becomes a distraction.
Which is even more of a shame because the concert looks like such a spectacular. Even though I love live music, I regard myself as a moderate Floyd fan at best, so I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to spend big bucks to see Waters’ show.
Having viewed this movie, I somewhat regret that decision. While The Wall doesn’t really make me more interested in the music itself, the concert seems to have been such a dynamic experience that I wish I’d given it a look.
Waters’ tour primarily played indoor arenas, but it also entered large stadiums at times, and The Wall uses footage from both settings. Usually I’d prefer to see concerts at smaller venues, but I suspect The Wall probably worked best in the stadium environment. The larger the location, the more spectacular the imagery could become – this show needed to be big to work.
When we see the concert in this film, it satisfies. Again, The Wall appeared to offer a real visual-auditory extravaganza, and the movie reproduces those elements well. Yeah, we get more crowd shots than I’d like – these nearly ruin “Comfortably Numb” - but the segments on stage impress.
Unfortunately, those cutaways to Waters’ personal journey ruin the flow, and The Wall also doesn’t appear to replicate the entire concert, as it leaves out some elements. For instance, the show starts pretty “cold” and omits the lead-up to the first song.
Musically, the movie fares well, though I can’t fairly judge whether or not the live versions of the songs improve on the studio originals. I like the Floyd but I’m just not a big enough fan to get into serious comparisons. I own the Wall album and have played it enough to be familiar with it but not with the frequency necessary to critique/compare live vs. studio.
Nonetheless, I can say the music sounds good. Waters enjoys a solid band and they bring the songs to life in a more than satisfactory manner. Given the nature of the concert, you won’t find room for the band to stretch out much – this is more a theatrical performance than a rock show – but I feel pleased with the musical work on display here.
I just wish The Wall focused more on the concert and less on Roger Waters’ cathartic journey. Waters’ exploration has merit but those scenes simply don’t fit into the concert film framework in a satisfying manner. That leaves The Wall as an erratic amalgam.