Waters builds up, tears down 'The Wall' at Stadium

Waters builds up, tears down 'The Wall' at Stadium

Waters builds up, tears down 'The Wall' at Stadium
NEW YORK -- They built the wall. They tore it down. And thousands came to share in the ritual.

Roger Waters conquered one of New York's cultural landmarks Friday night, bringing one of the world's most complex stage shows to the outfield grass of Yankee Stadium. And he'll do it again Saturday, cueing the All-Star break and giving the grounds crew time to repair the damage.

Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, played The Wall, his harrowing rock opera that has not aged as much as it's become part of the cultural canon. His songs -- full of sentiments both weirdly paranoid and deeply prophetic -- played just as timely today as they had three decades earlier upon release.

Waters has had time to perfect the live Wall experience, having toured behind it with Pink Floyd in 1980 and then again on his own in '90, at the scene of the Berlin Wall. But he's outdone himself on his latest tour, which began in 2010 and has wound its way through four continents.

The Wall, a 40-foot-tall web of interconnected video screens that played light effects and imbedded messages throughout the show, immersed the viewer with an overload of sensory delight. It flanked the performers at the beginning, extending to both sides of the stage but not in front of them.

And there was Waters, bassist and architect, alternately crooning and snarling his way through the songs that have become standards. He didn't banter much with the audience, but he did dedicate the performance to "victims of state terror around the world" at an early juncture of the show.

Waters, his hair gone past graying to shock-white in the service of his message, believes in a healthy mistrust of authority, and The Wall evokes fearful images of a totalitarian police state. Waters himself performed with a trenchcoat at times, and his back-up singers arrived in full military dress.

It was all so coordinated, and it's subject could have been World War II or any conflict up to the present day. The audience responded in a full-throated "NO" when Waters sang, "Mother, should I trust the government," and if you didn't believe them, all you had to do was look at the carnage on The Wall.

There were garish explosions and military jets flying in formation as part of the multimedia display, but there were also palpable images of war refugees and the grieving relatives of soldiers. And with it, there was the music, at times spare and at other times intense eruptions of power.

Nowhere was that more evident than the album's opener, "In The Flesh?", which began with an ominous guitar progression and was later punctuated by feverish drumming and pyrotechnics. The song ended with a fearsome explosion before winding into perhaps the most familiar part of the album.

First, there was the pulsing rhythm work of "The Happiest Days of Our Lives," a song that contains voice effects and the chopping of helicopter blades. And then came "Another Brick In the Wall," highlighted by the popular refrain -- We Don't Need No Education -- that has transcended the album.

But that was just the beginning, and as Waters and company marched through one of classic rock's most unforgettable albums, the Wall was slowly building in front of them. By intermission, there would be just one panel open, and Waters peered through it as he plaintively wailed "Goodbye Cruel World."

The TV screens which make up the Wall flashed relentlessly for most of the first set, but as the show went to intermission, they all faded to a dull, gray brick wall. And when the second set began, the entire band was hidden from view, imperceptible but for the spare opening strains of "Hey You."

It's a song both insular and anthemic, with the protagonist speaking of isolation behind a self-imposed wall and yearning for a connection to something bigger than himself. By the next song, "Is There Anybody Out There," the Wall is coming down, a few panels opening to reveal the band again.

Here -- at "Nobody Home" -- the piano was subdued and delicate, winding the audience up for a home-stretch that culminated in the destruction of the Wall. Thirty thousand fans -- 7,500 of whom sat on the field level -- are with Waters, waiting for the high point they've seen coming for 30 years.

Waters sang in front of a tank backdrop at one point in the second set, and scenes of war devastation from all ages and conflicts showed on the Wall around him. But there came a hopeful note, supplied by footage of family reunions for servicemen during "Bring The Boys Back Home."

The album's most famous track, "Comfortably Numb," came with dramatic brilliance, with Waters at the base and his lead guitarist and harmony vocalist at the top of the 40-foot Wall. The song built to dramatic effect early and effectively released with the chorus and chiming guitar solo.

There can be no mention of The Wall without one of its signature props, a giant flying pig emblazoned with slogans of the album's fictional totalitarian movement. It flew above the outfield during the second set, only to later collapse and be taken apart by fans somewhere near first base.

Waters played through another classic, "Run Like Hell," and towards the end of the show an intricate version of a cartoon apocalypse began to play on the Wall behind him. Worms crawl in and out in time to "Waiting For The Worms," and everyone waited with baited breath for "The Trial."

That was the cue, the signal for the climax of the show, and as the crowd yelled "Tear Down The Wall," gravity and the concert's well-staffed roadie crew obliged them. The wall violently implodes, bringing all the blocks into a maze of wreckage and revealing a swollen moon behind it.

There was only one song left, an acoustic version of "Outside the Wall," and Waters introduced his bandmates one by one before calling it a night. There was no encore, appropriately, because after 30 years of touring behind The Wall, Waters knows that there's no way he can follow it.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.