Roger Waters Us + Them
Roger Waters Us + Them, the latest concert film from the singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, and Pink Floyd co-founder, is more or less what one might expect at this point, but the material (both old and new) is delivered with a renewed sense of vigor, purpose, and passion. Clearly emboldened by the rise of Trump, the alt-right, environmental collapse, and society’s overall loss of decency, Waters eye-popping, ear shattering stage shows are just as encompassing and impressive as ever before, but for the first time in years Waters seems to be delivering these Pink Floyd and solo tracks as if his life depends on it. It’s extremely passionate, if admittedly a bit too on-the-nose and unsubtle, but as a rock show that has to be strangely scaled down to fit on a cinema screen, it’s still a sight to behold.
Roger Waters Us + Them was filmed primarily on the Amsterdam stop of his 2017-18 tour – promoting his latest album Is This the Life We Really Want? – and as such the film has a certain degree of consistency that feels like being present for a single show rather than a compilation of clips. Much like his previous concert film, Roger Waters: The Wall, Us + Them is a co-directing collaboration between Waters and filmmaker Sean Evans, who provides most of the visual accompaniments that go hand in hand with one of the rocker’s live events. In many ways, a Roger Waters show these days is just as much a multimedia event as it is a concert, with enormous screens behind the band and in the middle of the audience showcasing short films and historical images meant to provide new contexts for songs both new and old. (Don’t worry: the giant inflatable pig is still a mainstay.)
Waters is still more than willing to give the fans what they want, and every time Evans cuts back to their rapturous faces, it’s clear that they still appreciate the effort. There are plenty of expected hits to be played from Pink Floyd’s back catalogue, with a smattering of newer material peppered throughout that’s received just as well. Almost all of the songs are padded out to near epic length in a bid to draw attention to the visuals, where Waters and Evans find ways to talk about everything from drone warfare to the opioid crisis to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to wishy-washy fairweather liberals. (At one point, eagle eyed documentary buffs can even catch a glimpse of footage from Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s underrated and unmissable 2011 film 5 Broken Cameras, which is a much appreciated deep cut from a musician known for digging for such references.) Each mini-movie that unfolds alongside Waters’ musical numbers has its own distinct visual feel and social target, but everything speaks back to a larger desire to bring people together before division rips the world apart.
But the biggest target of Waters’ ire is unsurprisingly Donald Trump, who’s compared to Hitler and Klansmen throughout, with more prominently raised middle fingers from the singer than one might find at an Eminem concert. It’s not all that shocking, and sometimes it’s a bit much or even downright corny, but it’s impossible to deny that Waters has once again found his sweet spot. The new material in Roger Waters Us + Them is as political as ever, but the musician and Evans have found it within themselves to breathe new life into the classics. That might extend to parading out a bunch of hooded prisoners on stage for one of The Wall’s biggest tracks, putting back-up singers in Sia wigs, repeated visual use of the word “RESIST!,” or making a montage simply out of some of Trump’s most infamous, incendiary, and hateful quotes, but even if a lot of this seems like shorthand, the crowd is eating all of it up.
The crowd itself is something rather impressive to behold in Roger Waters Us + Them. Instead of boomers and Gen-Xers reliving the glory days, most of Waters’ fan base skews younger than one might expect. They sing back every lyric to Waters as if the tracks were written yesterday; a testament to the timeless nature of his careers’ work and collaborations. The new material might be a bit too timely and literal (although the argument could certainly be made that nuance and subtlety are out of place in such a divisive, dangerous, and fraught era), but all of the Pink Floyd tracks are just as relevant to fans today; most of whom weren’t even born when they first appeared. It’s impressive and somewhat heartening, even to someone like myself who isn’t a Waters or Pink Floyd megafan by any stretch. Even in his mid-70s, Waters still gives his all like a man a quarter of his age, and his fan base only seems to grow rather than dwindle. Instead of phoning it in like so many other classic rockers do, Waters makes sure his shows are as visually spectacular and sonically captivating as possible. His vision and aim remains ambitious, and while Roger Waters Us + Them doesn’t look or feel much different from his previous concert film, there’s still something genuine and unshakable to his stage presence and presentation.
If you aren’t already a fan or somewhat familiar, Roger Waters Us + Them certainly isn’t the place to start. It’s also probably not advisable for anyone who just wants to hear the Pink Floyd hits. It probably doesn’t even measure up to what it’s like being at one of Waters’ concerts. But for fans – both new and lapsed – who want a reminder of what Waters is capable of when he’s recharged and at the top of his profession, Us + Them works rather well.
The theatrical screenings of Roger Waters Us + Them also come with some supplemental material that unfolds over the credits, and a post-concert behind-the-scenes look at how everything came together. It’s not necessary by any stretch, but it’s all rather likable, with Waters letting his guard down and being as honest as possible. If the concert in Roger Waters Us + Them is epic and larger than life, everything that follows the performative aspect of the film is rather down to earth, charming, and gently insightful. Fans would do best to stick around after Waters and company have left the proper stage.
Roger Waters Us + Them screens on Wednesday, October 2, 2019 and Saturday, October 5 at select Cineplex locations across Canada.
Check out the trailer for Roger Waters Us + Them: