It’s still common to see people wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the classic album cover for Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Even some 45 years since the release of the album, its impact on pop culture is irrefutable. But the music of Pink Floyd is decades old; what do they have to offer us in 2017? Quite a lot, as Roger Waters has been making clear for the last few years.
Waters has never been shy about his opinions; his work with Pink Floyd touched on a few political themes in particular albums, but his solo work is entrenched in social and political commentary. When he performs live, accompanying videos, sound effects and slogans serve to morph the meaning of older Floyd material to be pertinent in the contemporary moment. Take, for instance, Waters’ tour of The Wall, starting in 2010. In interviews, he has been very open about the personal nature of what he wrote for the original album, but this tour was anything but. A true prog rock spectacle, the tour used visuals that commented on everything from war, to government surveillance, to mass shootings. A particularly harrowing segment from the second half of the album sees Waters alone on the front of the stage; towering behind him as he sings, projected onto a 60 foot high wall, are images of children seeing their fathers return from war, and a quote from Dwight D Eisenhower’s famous Chance for Peace speech: ‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed’. It’s powerful, cathartic, and shines the music in a new light that keeps it relevant.
Waters’ new Us + Them show operates in a similar vein; older Floyd Tunes, combined with a new stage production and a few selections from his incredibly political new record, Is This the Life We Really Want? Becomes potent anthems for the present day without losing sight of the performance itself. At times, it’s reduced to small moments, but there are a few sequences in his show that are very explicit. ‘Another Brick in the Wall’, originally about Waters’ awful experiences as a child at school, here becomes a commentary on private prison systems. ‘Us & Them’ takes on the violent and often dangerous rhetoric used in the fight against terrorism. But throughout it all, the performance itself rings true; the new political layer on these tracks feels like an enhancement, and it doesn’t feel forced. Waters has merged his powerful, age-defying music with his passion for and conviction in what he believes, and the result is a show you simply can’t afford to miss.