The bloated stadium tours mounted by Pink Floyd since founding member and chief sage Roger Waters left the group in 1983 have been more about sensory spectacle than music, whereas the infrequent tours given by Waters — as seen and heard during his 1987 U.S. dates and on Wednesday at Universal — are more about musicianship and creativity; they focus the attention squarely on the classic songs, making for an intimate and engrossing look at the dark heart of Floyd.
The show on Wednesday — the first of two Universal bookings before an Irvine gig later in the week — featured two sets divided by a 20-minute intermish and began with more or less the first side of Pink Floyd’s 1979 psycho-opus “The Wall,” including opener “In the Flesh,” “Another Brick in the Wall (part 2)” and a particularly biting “Mother.”
“Mother, should I trust the government,” sang Waters, 55, while smirking and shaking his head. Scenes from “Dr. Strangelove” could be seen on a small video monitor, part of a stage set re-creating a drab London flat. A three-man guitar army, including Snowy White (Thin Lizzy), Texan Doyle Bramhall II (Arc Angels) and Andy Fairweather-Low (Eric Clapton), provided satisfactory replacement for absent Floyd frontman David Gilmour. Waters, dapper in a black suit, played bass mostly, and acoustic guitar.
The grand music, soaring female backup vocals, and various spacey effects bounced dramatically around the big room, thanks to speakers in the back and middle of the hall, notably during “Dogs,” when mad canine barks seemed to come from all sides. A block of songs from 1975’s “Wish You Were Here” album closed the first set. White and Bramhall traded guitar parts during “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” beneath a backdrop that alternated between images of former band member Syd Barrett and the oozes of a giant faux lava lamp.
The memory of the mentally ill Barrett was also evoked during the second set opener “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” from 1968’s “Saucerful of Secrets,” when photos of Barrett and the rest of Pink Floyd circa 1967 were shown on the backdrop.
A wailing soprano sax solo reinforced the bittersweet moment. Further second-half highlights included the two-part “Perfect Sense,” from Waters’ 1992 solo effort “Amused to Death,” a block of “Dark Side of the Moon” material, including “Breath in the Air” and “Time” (with lots of loud alarm clocks), and “5:06 AM (Every Stranger’s Eyes),” from Waters’ 1984 release “The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking,” which summoned thoughts of dusty trails with a country-western flavor.
Show closed with a muffled version of “Comfortably Numb,” from “The Wall,” and the only new song of the evening, encore “Each Small Candle,” a long-unfinished song of peace that Waters said he was inspired to complete during the NATO bombing of Kosovo in 1999.