Both the pleasures and pitfalls of nostalgia were on display Thursday night at the Hollywood Bowl, as Roger Waters, who now bills himself as “the creative genius of Pink Floyd” played the first of three sold-out shows highlighted by a complete performance of “Dark Side of the Moon.”
Pink Floyd’s psychedelic classic has been a high school rite of passage almost since its release in 1973, spending a record 741 consecutive weeks on album sales charts and selling more than 20 million copies.
The nearly note-for-note rendition performed by Waters and his 11-piece band (including Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason) not only served as a reminder of how well the music holds up after three decades but also how much contemporary music can trace itself back to the “Dark Side.”
Waters’ chilly, cynical disdain of authority finds new voice in Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, while Johnny Greenwood probably cut his teeth re-creating the proto-electronica of “On the Run”; the breathy, deliberately paced blues variations of “Time” and “Breathe” can be heard in NPR favorites such as Air and Sparklehorse; even the overwrought warblers of “American Idol” can find a correlative in the extended gospel melismas from “The Great Gig in the Sky,” as Carol Kenyon’s re-creation of Clare Torry’s original solo brought the house down.
Waters’ vocals, on the other hand, were less than stellar. For most of the songs, he’s buttressed by at least three backing vocalists, while guitarists Dave Kilminster and Snowy White don’t stray far from David Gilmour’s recorded solos.
But for someone who is filling arenas playing 3-decade-old music, Waters displays an oddly ambivalent stance toward his legacy. “Dark Side” is preceded by a 45-minute set of Pink Floyd favorites and material from Waters’ solo albums. But before he hits the stage, the image of a mid-20th century bakelite radio is projected on the screen behind the band. A hand twists the dial, stopping to hear Elvis’ “Hound Dog,” Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again” and Chet Baker’s version of “My Funny Valentine.”
As you realize the connection is oldies, the dial is twisted one more time, and Waters launches into “In the Flesh,” which welcomes the crowd to the show, but reminds them that “Pink isn’t well” and has “sent us along as a surrogate band.”
And it’s not just a selection of Floyd’s great hits, but reprises of some of the band’s most famous production tricks — the inflatable pig from the “Animals” tour returns, albeit smaller, covered in political graffiti and paraded through the aud like a classic rock Thanksgiving Day parade.
Eventually, it breaks from its moorings and floats away into the evening sky. (You hope it doesn’t land on the Hollywood Freeway). Except for a sleepy version of “Set Your Controls for the Heart of the Sun” (from 1968’s “A Saucerful of Secrets”), the Pink Floyd material outclasses his solo songs; there’s almost an inverse ratio between the quality of the material and its age.
If “Dark Side” showcases Waters’ at his most controlled, the new songs allow him to indulge all his worst impulses, cloaking shallow ideas in portentous music, sounding simultaneously overwrought and underbaked. The songs are harshly political and anti-war; he hectors the aud like an Old Testament prophet, reaching his nadir with “Leaving Beirut.”
Regardless of the quality of the songs, the quadraphonic surround sound was top notch, as were the visuals, even if their clarity was more impressive than the images themselves. Why is it that when designers are given the most modern state of the equipment, their first reaction is to re-create the light shows from the ’60s and ’70s?