Roger Waters finally graced Orlando as part of his This Is Not a Drill North American tour. The three-hour, visually stunning spectacle covered his legendary career as co-founder, bassist, co-lead vocalist, and principal songwriter for Pink Floyd and the solo work that followed his departure from the band in the early ‘80s.
The tour, originally set for July of 2020, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s clear, however, that after experiencing Waters “in the flesh” at the Amway Center, it was well worth the wait. As a Pink Floyd fan from youth, who still considers them my all-time favorite band, I’m also a fan of Waters’s solo work. I even love Radio K.A.OS., the 1987 album later disparaged by Waters himself. Understandably, he was going through a difficult time back then.
The tensions between Waters and his former bandmates ultimately erupted after the resounding success of their 1979 rock opera masterpiece, The Wall. As a cohesive band, they produced one last album, The Final Cut (1983) before Waters’s bitter exit and lengthy court battles that followed. Egos clashed as he tried to single-handedly lay claim to the Pink Floyd name and material. It was a fight he eventually lost.
Guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour, keyboardist Richard Wright, and drummer Nick Mason retained the name, and Waters ventured into solo territory, competing against the very band he launched to stardom with The Dark Side of the Moon in 1973. Thus ended the Waters era of Pink Floyd.
Gilmour assumed front man duties, with the release of A Momentary Lapse of Reason in 1987 and a world tour that completely “eclipsed” Waters’s own earnest solo endeavors. The times, however, have somewhat changed. Following the passing of Richard Wright in 2008, all hopes of another Pink Floyd album after The Division Bell (1994) diminished. Gilmour rightfully stated that, “It would be wrong to continue as Pink Floyd without him.”
In their absence, Waters has since ironically done his part in bringing Floyd’s music to the fans throughout the past twenty years. This Is Not a Drill follows his Us + Them tour (2107-2018) that followed The Wall Live (2010-2013). I was fortunate enough to see him perform The Wall in Tampa, Florida in 2010. Experiencing the album in its theatric entirety still ranks as one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.
The thrill of seeing Waters again (for possibly the last time) was every bit as exciting as attending the Paul McCartney concert months prior in Orlando. In both cases, we’re increasingly aware of their inevitable retirements on the horizon. The vitality of rock and roll defies expectations, when two men close to (or in) their eighties can embark on such sweeping tours.
I’ve heard enough live Waters albums to know how he performs the Floyd material without the soulful voice and guitar playing of Glimour and the equally strong backing of Wright and Mason. Waters without Floyd is the same as Floyd without Waters. They’ve both become their own thing equal to the sum of their parts. With This Is Not a Drill, I can confidently say that Waters delivered in every way.
From the center of the stadium, massive LED screens hung above the cross shaped stage that extended in all four directions. The show started promptly at 8:30 pm in darkness as text scrolled across each lit screen accompanied by a British announcer, instructing patrons to turn off their cell phones and “fuck off to the bar,” if they like Pink Floyd’s music but don’t care for Waters’s politics. From the start, I expected a politically charged show evident in Waters’ own poignant songwriting for decades past. He’s an artist of conviction, consistently political throughout most of his career. Alas, I was there for the music, while also aware how seriously Waters takes “the message.”
The show started with a slow, moody version of “Comfortably Numb,” accompanied by dystopian visuals on the screens. Waters and his sizeable touring band remained unseen during its lengthy duration. An abundance of flashy, colorful lights followed as Waters ripped into the precursor song, “The Happiest Days of Our Lives,” accompanied by its famous helicopter droning and exhilarating crescendo of “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2.” Waters then hammered through “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3” as the audience erupted in jubilation.
Things shifted down a notch with “The Powers That Be” from Radio K.A.O.S and “The Bravery of Being Out of Range” from Amused to Death (1992). I was ecstatic to hear two songs from his solo albums, but the energy didn’t seem as infectious upon the crowd. Nonetheless, “The Powers That Be,” featured fantastic visuals of fascistic animated foot soldiers marching through town, while “Being Out of Range” gave us the first moments of Waters “stripped down” on the screen in black and white, strumming his acoustic guitar and singing.
To capture an “intimate moment” in a stadium show is quite the feat. But Waters pulled off just that with what appeared to be completely new material for an endearing, personable segue entitled “The Bar.” Waters, seated at a grand piano, played and sang beautifully, while calling for unity of all peoples from all cultures and stripes.
It was a touching moment from an otherwise intentionally divisive artist. His band belted out another Floyd rock anthem and radio mainstay “Have a Cigar” from the iconic Wish You Were Here 1975 album. This was then followed by none other than “Wish You Were Here,” which predictably brought the place down.
Around this point, I felt most excited, because I had no idea what would follow. Anything could happen. Scrolling text and narration then discussed the early days of Floyd and its founder Syd Barrett, whose mental illness and drug use during the ’60s propelled a swift exit from the band after their first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967). Barrett led a private, solitary life that became the stuff of folklore among Floyd fans before he passed away in 2006. Many Pink Floyd albums have been dedicated to or written about Barrett, and to continue to honor his legacy in such a way was particularly touching. Waters continued music from Wish You Were Here with the second half of Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX), capturing the raw power and energy of the song from beginning to end.
A giant, remote-controlled inflatable sheep then floated around the stadium to introduce a powerhouse rendition of “Sheep” from the 1977 album Animals, a personal highlight for me. A brief intermission followed, bridging the gap between the two sets, and the best was yet to come.
After intermission, the stage was draped with x-shaped hammers from above, signifying a return to The Wall. We were treated to the closing anthems, “In the Flesh” and “Run Like Hell,” featuring Waters in full, black leather fascist gear, mimicking moments where he gunned down the audience with a fake, illuminated machine gun.
Giant inflatable pigs, flashing lights, and the barrage of vivid imagery against a red visage became a delightful assault on the senses. Two songs followed from Waters’s majestic Is This the Life We Really Want? (2017). The Nigel Godrich-produced album is, in my opinion, his best solo work, and it virtually came out of nowhere, which made it uniquely special hearing live.
Waters then delved into his greatest commercial triumph with a series of songs from The Dark Side on The Moon. “Money,” “Us and Them,” “Any Colour You Like,” “Brain Damage,” and “Eclipse” thundered through the stadium in consecutive order with captivating visuals and light show motifs. A string of laser triangles filled the center stage with a stunning backdrop of faces, sunsets, and fire.
An encore followed with the apocalyptic “Two Suns in the Sunset” from The Final Cut, more material from “The Bar,” and the appropriate closer “Outside the Wall,” before sending us home, wanting more. Waters’s fantastic visuals, touching tribute to his former band, and love for performing was on full display. As the tour title suggests, his concert presented an alarming view of current times, while keeping the music alive.
I looked past the ego, sanctimony, and destructiveness of an artist who once tried to end Pink Floyd after “deciding” they had reached their peak and witnessed the sheer talent and passion of an artist who believes in the power of it all. Being active is perhaps the greatest gift Waters can offer. I hope he was as thrilled to host Orlando as we were to have him.