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Roger Waters lambastes Trump, celebrates Pink Floyd at United Center

Roger Waters performs at the United Center, Saturday night, July 22, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Roger Waters brought his “Us + Them” tour to United Center on Saturday night for the first of three nights in Chicago. Playing material from his confrontational new album “Is This the Life We Really Want?,” the word “ambiguous” couldn’t have been used to describe his intentions. The unflinching artist also borrowed liberally from his legacy with Pink Floyd to present his most provocative social message ever. That’s no mean feat at age 73, but Waters was fighting fit and stoking fires.

The beatific atmosphere of “Breathe” from “Dark Side of the Moon” was belied by lyrics about the rat race. The first arc of songs concluded with ecstatic but mournful vocalizing by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of the rising indie-pop group Lucius during “The Great Gig in the Sky,” as if serenading another hapless soul onto its eternal reward.

Roger Waters, backed by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius, performs at the United Center on July 22, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Roger Waters, backed by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius, performs at the United Center on July 22, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

New fare including “Smell the Roses” and its criticism of war profiteering resonated with classics like “Welcome to the Machine,” “One of These Days” and “Wish You Were Here” elsewhere in the set. Waters’ new work offered plenty for Floyd fans to love.

Plenty, that is, for Floyd fans in step with Waters’ politics. Trendspotters have awaited a new wave of protest music, following a rightward shift in global leadership. Waters seemed determined to lead the charge. He poured derision upon the global and domestic undoing social of progress in favor of corporate interests. “Picture That” reflected reservations with last year’s presidential campaign and the ensuing administration. “Picture a leader with no f—— brains,” sang Waters, bluntly. Lest anyone might have thought Waters meant someone else, footage of President Trump was projected on massive video screens.

Catalog favorites also served the theme, with no modification necessary. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” was simply deployed as a weapon against Waters’ desired target. As Pink Floyd’s familiar inflatable pig prop floated over the hall, video screens scrolled through garish, mocking images of Trump before transitioning to a series of damning quotes. The final onscreen quote from Waters himself again left no room for misinterpretation: “Trump is a pig.”

GalleryThe president wasn’t the only authority figure to receive a jab. “If I had been given the nod, I believe I could have done a better job,” sang Waters during “Déjà Vu,” surveying humanity and referring to the Almighty Himself. Waters then imagined himself as a reluctant drone on a deadly mission, fearing what he’d encounter at his war-torn destination – perhaps a poor woman at a stove.

Notably, it was the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s “Animals.” The album’s famous image of Battersea Power Station ran the United Center’s length on video screens, with belching smokestacks rising above. Waters celebrated with the side-long epic “Dogs.” During the psychedelic keyboard solo, most of the nine-piece band retired to stage right in pig and sheep masks for a champagne toast.

Waters let his music tell the story, speaking only at intermission and the show’s conclusion. “There’s a lot of love in this room,” he said. “We feel it. It means a lot to us.” Waters also noted the love he recognized around the country at the grassroots level, ready to travel into the world.

The concert concluded with songs from “The Wall.” The pleading “Bring the Boys Back Home” led into the sonic euphoria of “Comfortably Numb.” Although fueled by righteous indignation, Waters’ program was rooted in hope of righting the ship. Many in attendance enthusiastically shared his views, but some surely didn’t. Waters earned high marks for recasting chestnuts alongside invigorated new work in service of a deeply felt artistic statement, rather than simply rehashing hits to ring the cash registers heard during the prelude to “Money.”

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.

SET LIST

First Set:

Breathe

One of These Days

Time

Breathe (Reprise)

The Great Gig in the Sky

Welcome to the Machine

Déjà Vu

The Last Refugee

Picture That

Wish You Were Here

The Happiest Days of Our Lives

Another Brick in the Wall Part 2

Another Brick in the Wall Part 3

Second Set:

Dogs

Pigs (Three Different Ones)

Money

Us and Them

Smell the Roses

Brain Damage

Eclipse

Encore:

Vera

Bring the Boys Back Home

Comfortably Numb