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Progressive Rock DVD/Video Reviews

Roger Waters

In The Flesh - 3 disc limited edition 2 CD + live DVD

Review by Bruce Stringer

Making the most of Roger Waters’ recent live appearances in the southern hemisphere, Sony has decided to re-issue the In The Flesh live releases as a single, limited edition pack. The performance variations between what was played live in February and this release are worlds apart and include differing membership surrounding the core of Roger Waters, Snowy White, Andy Fairweather-Low, Graham Broad, Jon Carin, Andy Wallace, PP Arnold and Katie Kissoon. What looks to be a one-off short tour line-up plays it safe, up close and personal but always in the flesh.

As there is little real notable difference between the audio and DVD versions – although the CD contains tracks culled from various shows – I have based this review around the visual performance on the DVD.

“In The Flesh” - Flashbacks to the original Wall shows of 1980 reverberate from the stage as Roger Waters plays the dictator, surrogate Pink in his spotlight. The raw energy of the song comes through in the dynamics but there appears to be a rock star at stage right next to Snowy White. Maybe Roger’s intentions of moving away from the staid Floyd performances has taken him a little too far left… or right! Doyle Bramhall II is our man as he plays the Gilmour role (although with less vocal output) and, indeed, he makes the most of the position in his own way. Waters spots his potential victims in the audience and the climax draws the band to a crescendo of rock ‘n’ roll.

“The Happiest Days Of Our Lives” - Continuing with material from the incredible Wall album, the band carries on with this introductory piece that precedes the classic schoolyard single. Waters plays the predatory teacher with ease, though his humour belies the scars of a more personal nature at playing a role which obviously victimized him at a younger age. The Fender bass in his hands sounds just so slightly out of tune at the louder, punchier moments but this doesn’t spoil the mood. The backing vocals (of Katie Kissoon, PP Arnold and Susannah Melvoin) take the attention for a brief moment before the setting in of the phased guitar line in…

“Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2” - The absolute classic single, I love this song but, I fear, there is no better version than the original studio recording. This live version lacks a little punch but has Waters' talk-vocals mixed nicely. White plays behind his band leader with perfection and the group play it straight. The 2007 live performances have this a little heavier and rockier, but – as I mentioned earlier – this looked to be a one-off release. The solo kicks in and there’s something a little odd about Bramhall’s playing. Ah, that’s it: he’s playing a left-handed Strat strung upside down, so his higher pitched notes are played on his top strings. He has a flavour and finesse that would probably upset diehard Floyd fans (including a gum-chewing, open-shirted Stevie Ray Vaughan confidence) but his playing is unique and takes Gilmour’s parts to a totally different level. White’s solo is next and his playing, always cool and tasty, might seem more at home with older fans, but does contrast Bramhall’s cool nicely.

“Mother” - Moving on to the next instalment from The Wall, we have “Mother,” a nice acoustic piece in total contrast to the show opener. Played with a small amount of gusto, the acoustic sound is matched perfectly by the subtle underplay of the supporting band and the lush hall reverb.

“Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert” - A mighty odd choice here, this track is one of Mr. Waters’ politically-driven numbers from the overlooked and underrated Final Cut LP. I’m not sure that Grantham-born Margaret Thatcher is as relevant today (or even in 2000 when this was recorded) as in the 80’s. Odd but interesting; the band seem a little confused, also. As this is obviously part of a linear, acoustic block – a theme set over a number of songs, if you will – it does seem to have its place.

“Southampton Dock” - This is a aice number, once again from Final Cut, and reminiscent of “Mother.” This track has remained in Waters' live set and serves as a bridge between concepts in his last album with Pink Floyd and other famous musings.

“Pigs On The Wing, Part 1” - Ah, “Pigs On The Wing” - this is from my favourite Pink Floyd album, Animals. It is also a very nice bridging piece from Waters' acoustic set into the epic “Dogs” (also from Animals). Probably the closest Mr. Waters has come to a love song, his emotions come through in rare fashion, his vocals waiver ever so slightly. Once again, this features lush acoustic sound in a played down performance, with grace and leisurely confidence.

“Dogs” - Jon Carin plays the lead role singing and playing some luscious acoustic rhythms, sounding (at times) more Gilmour than Mr. Gilmour, himself. Oddly enough, during the extended synth solo (also by Carin) over the barking dog, much of the crew leave their posts and join Waters, White, Fairweather-Low and Bramhall for an onstage card game. This seems quite bizarre unless you’re only listening to the CD, of course, but it does tend to offer an insight into the humour of the genius band leader. (The bonus behind the scenes interlude on the DVD shows the guys preparing for this very card game, which, according to White, was a real ongoing game.) At times, the solo synth sound does grate on the nerves but the overall mix is excellent, of course, and the energy from the band does make the song feel newly invigorated.

“Welcome To The Machine” - From the 1975 album Wish You Were Here, this track begins almost quietly with the humming of machinery. The acoustic guitar starts up but does lack somewhat in the dynamics of the sound spectrum. The backing vocals carry this song with force, the ascending sections sounding almost nightmarish, the spooky synth solo at the end really sets the mood.

“Wish You Were Here” - This is another great performance of a classic song, although the 12-string intro is played by Bramhall on electric guitar and White plays the solo on acoustic. The mix is crisp and grand and Waters' emotional output shines through between strained vocal chords. It's a great track and a great performance.

“Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-8)” - This epic landscape portrait on a sound canvas of sonic watercolour has the instantly recognisable keyboard brushed on textures of ethereal mood. The atmosphere has a distinguished ambience that sets the stage for the ringing guitar notes that hang in mid air, echoing throughout the mix. The song is a near-exact replica of the 1975 studio version, allowing the vocals to brood over the music. Jon Carin plays the same role as he did in Floyd’s reunion, so it comes as no surprise that the precise nature of the performance is due to seasoned players like him. The female vocals are bright and cutting and the performance, in general, is excellent by any standards.

“Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” - I first heard Roger Waters play this live on a radio broadcast of a concert, circa Radio K.A.O.S. era, and it sounded fresh and powerful. This updated version is further developed and, apart from a slightly held back feel, the middle-eastern style thematics and dynamics of a hot band make this song one of the stand outs on this release. White’s killer pitch-shift solo takes the cake, elevating the spiralling energy to greater heights after an esoteric sax solo.

“Breathe (In The Air)” - From Dark Side Of The Moon comes the familiar chords from “Breathe” as opener to CD 2. The vocals are precise and heartfelt and the keyboards smooth and open. I still find Waters' tuning on his bass sharpens on the heavier strikes but this does not affect the entertainment levels or the band’s performance in general. The track is quite light compared to others in this concert which highlights the dynamic range that the band and Mr. Waters work within. It's a classic song performed by a confident band at ease with playing a surrogate Floyd for Waters.

“Time” - Waters begins the song with the “ticking” sound plucked on his muted bass as the guitar starts up. The vocals are immediately at the forefront with crisp, separate audio images, placing the vocalists in consistent stage positions. The drums seem noticeably livelier than on the original version and Graham Broad does look like he is enjoying himself. The guitar solo is fresh and inventive in its approach, renewed just enough to feel right. Waters seems energised to the task of playing his older material.

“Money” - From the start to the end this has a great mix and the guys are all enjoying themselves. From the cool bass line in 7/4 to the 4/4 solo romp, the energetic performance can best be appreciated on the CD version that isn’t distracted by any visuals. At times, Barnhall does sound like Stevie Ray Vaughan which makes for an interesting mix that unfortunately does not always work with the Floyd sound, which in no way reflects on his abilities. In teaming him with Snowy White, Barnhall’s involvement makes sense – thanks to the contrast in style – but his ability to work within the chemistry of the sound can be hit or miss. Still, this version of the song is great fun.

“The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking Part 11” (AKA “Every Stranger’s Eyes”) - Unfortunately, I never liked this song and it stands out like a sore bass player’s thumb here, as well. One might have expected the “5:01 AM” single but instead we are given this. Overall, the tempo seems lacking but the band does play this well and with dynamic effort.

“Perfect Sense (Parts I And II)” - From the grandiose Amused To Death comes the “Perfect Sense” couplet. It's a great human journey story complete with Garden Of Eden, the powers that be, nuclear submarines, and every one’s favourite monkey at the controls. Ironically, although visually the images work well, it was not until recently that computer animation took over and created the ball park iconography that fits so well within the storytelling template.

“The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range” - “Bravery…” is an overlooked solid rock hit, with cool guitar lines and Waters' impeccable lyricism: speaking of guns, “Does the recall remind you of sex, old man? Who the hell you gonna kill next?” I think there are enough of the older generation still trying to remain superficially relevant by out-of-date actions (i.e. war) when they should simply mature like malt whiskey. Waters also makes a lyrical reference to “Sheep” from the Animals album, conceptually linking the two pieces. It includes great organ vibes and great backing vocals from the girls and, of course, White looks as cool as any white flame!

“It’s A Miracle” - The stage is shrouded in darkness as the ethereal synth and piano fade in. This piece continues the line-up from Amused To Death and includes some interesting points of thought regarding the so-called miracles of our modern day before changing tone and making a stab at the misery that a certain British stage musical writer imparts on his audiences. The quality of the sound is fantastic and reflects the album’s mood as Waters plays the role of devil’s advocate. Like some 21st century poet he walks the stage speaking his truths into the microphone. The band holds back and plays lightly. Then there is a percussive section that Graham Broad successfully emulates (with use of subtle hand techniques instead of the delays of the original studio version). Waters makes his point and moves on.

“Amused To Death” - Although this piece may be conceptually pivotal to Roger’s message, which dates back to the days of Radio K.A.O.S., the song itself is less interesting than many other songs from the album Amused To Death. I would have preferred “What God Wants” (I saw this performed with Jeff Beck in London in 2002), or “Three Wishes” but “Amused...” does have its own merits. The performance is, once again, exact and so close to the recorded studio version that it can be hard to tell in comparison.

“Brain Damage / Eclipse” - A classic couplet from Dark Side, the sounds are updated somewhat allowing Barnhall to play out with a tougher rotating speaker effect on his guitar. Waters obviously has fun with these numbers and the songs are ever-so-close to the original studio versions but a little looser, as per the live feel. These are also highlights of the show and the audience obviously enjoy themselves. “Eclipse” has a special significance to me so, although it is well played, it is not my preferred version. What comes across the most throughout the show is that the band seems to be on the road to enjoy themselves and celebrate the songs of Roger Waters than to play as a serious musical unit in competition with Pink Floyd, which makes this release all the better for it.

“Comfortably Numb” - Again from The Wall comes “Comfortably Numb.” This version, unfortunately, lacks the impulse in the early stages but makes up for the flat bits with some great guitar work and impressively emotive vocals. This song has been a Waters mainstay so it comes as no surprise that he includes it in his encores but there does seem to be variable performances of it (this being an “okay” version). Snowy White shines, as per usual, and Barnhall does make some great sounds on his upside down Stratocaster.

“Each Small Candle” - Clocking in at around eight minutes, this is the only new track by Waters to be used in his live set. The song illustrates a (hopeful) scenario concerning the conflict of ethnic Albanians and Serbians and is tinged with the heartbreak and defiance of those caught up in the crossfire of somebody else’s war. The song is typical Waters except for the glaringly evil chorus with its diminished theme and tension building backing vocals. The number has a dynamic sensitivity and works well within the structure of the band’s setlist and is a fitting end to a great performance by a group of seasoned session players and a modern day musical storyteller.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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