Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters Performs The Wall at the Berlin Wall (1990)

Per­haps you enjoyed yes­ter­day’s post on Pink Floyd: Live at Pom­peii but today find your­self unsat­is­fied, long­ing for more footage that com­bines the band with a his­tor­i­cal­ly icon­ic work of archi­tec­ture. Today, dear read­ers, we have a con­cert film that might fit your bill: The Wall — Live in Berlin, view­able free on YouTube. While it fea­tures nei­ther the actu­al Berlin Wall — that had already fall­en — nor the com­plete line­up of Pink Floyd, it com­pen­sates with a degree of spec­ta­cle that, in terms of human labor, must rank along­side sev­er­al of the won­ders of the ancient world. This live per­for­mance of The Wall, Pink Floy­d’s dri­ving, para­noid 1979 rock opera, takes place on Pots­damer Platz, nor far from where the Berlin Wall stood a mere eight months before. The show’s crew grad­u­al­ly builds their own wall right there onstage over the course of the show, express­ly to suf­fer the same fate as both the real one that divid­ed East Ger­many from the West and the metaphor­i­cal one that sep­a­rates The Wall’s dis­af­fect­ed rock-star pro­tag­o­nist from the rest of human­i­ty.

The Wall — Live in Berlin hap­pened not as an offi­cial Pink Floyd show, but more as a pro­duc­tion by found­ing mem­ber Roger Waters. But you could­n’t accu­rate­ly call it a Roger Waters solo show either, since, even aside from the large tech­ni­cal staff need­ed to orches­trate such an event, he enlist­ed count­less guest stars to put their own spin on the songs, includ­ing Cyn­di Lau­per, Van Mor­ri­son, Thomas Dol­by, Ger­many’s own Scor­pi­ons, and — who could for­get? — the band of the Com­bined Sovi­et Forces in Ger­many.

The per­for­mance drew hun­dreds of thou­sands of view­ers, a sight from the stage which must sure­ly have kept Waters won­der­ing, in the fol­low­ing decades, if it might make sense to return to The Wall’s well. But could the show ulti­mate­ly rep­re­sent a non-replic­a­ble moment in cul­tur­al, musi­cal, and polit­i­cal his­to­ry? Could only the Berlin of July 1990 have seen pro­gres­sive rock­ers and pop stars join forces to turn a dark, heady dou­ble con­cept album into one of the most elab­o­rate and well-attend­ed con­certs in rock his­to­ry?

You can find an answer to these ques­tions in Waters’ recent The Wall Live tour, which began in Sep­tem­ber 2010. The video above cap­tures the show in Mel­bourne last year. Just as they did not sim­ply stage a live repli­ca of The Wall (the album) for Live in Berlin, Rogers and com­pa­ny have, this time around, wise­ly cho­sen not to attempt a recre­ation of that impres­sive evening twen­ty years before. While no less bold and com­plex than its all-out pre­de­ces­sor, the project of The Wall Live some­how inter­prets its musi­cal source mate­r­i­al in a more sub­dued and — for lack of a bet­ter word — artis­tic man­ner. These choic­es acknowl­edge the fact that pop­u­lar music, even as gen­er­at­ed by the Lady Gagas of the world, has stepped back from the straight­for­ward spec­ta­cle at its height in the late eight­ies. Under­stand­ing, too, that the world-divid­ing clash between com­mu­nism and cap­i­tal­ism no longer looms quite so over­whelm­ing­ly in the zeit­geist, Waters has updat­ed the new shows with an infu­sion of his cur­rent anti-war views. In Pink Floyd: Live in Pom­peii, Waters open­ly wor­ried about becom­ing “a rel­ic of the past.” Watch the evo­lu­tion between these two per­for­mances and judge for your­self whether he’s suc­ceed­ed so far in avoid­ing it.

H/T goes to Kate for flag­ging this con­cert for us…

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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