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Returning to a glorious `Dark Side'

Roger Waters plays it straight with songs from Pink Floyd's iconic album at the Bowl.

October 07, 2006|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

Someone in Hollywood or thereabouts may have gotten a shock Thursday when a giant inflated pig, its pink skin graffitied with such slogans as "Kafka Rules, OK," landed in their yard or on their (hopefully not moving) car.

It certainly would have been a bigger surprise than anything anyone got inside the Hollywood Bowl, from which said gas-pumped plastic porcine was last seen sailing against a full moon, after being pulled through the crowd by a guy in bloody butcher garb before being let free to close the first half of the concert by Roger Waters.

But then, it's hard to surprise anyone in a show built around a note-for-note, riff-for-riff, cash-register-cha-ching-effect-for-cha-ching-effect re-creation of one of the most popular and familiar albums in the history of recorded music.

That, of course, is Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," the 1973 album that set standards for sonic wizardry, solipsist themes and sales, the official U.S. tally standing at 15 million and counting. Waters, the bassist and architect for this and the bulk of the English space-prog band's best-loved work, has brought the complete work on tour to the delight of fans who were there back when, to those who weren't and perhaps to some who were there but don't remember.

And why should there be surprises? You wouldn't expect major departures from the musical blueprint if you went to the Bowl to see the Los Angeles Philharmonic play Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, a work that arguably holds a similar place in the classical canon as "Dark Side" holds in rock. And the crowd was pleased, as no doubt also would be the case in the sold-out Friday and Sunday shows completing Waters' Bowl stand, for which he was backed by a band that included Floyd drummer Nick Mason for the "Dark Side" portion and encore numbers including two from their even more popular album, "The Wall."

So Waters deserves plaudits for creating such an enduring work and for presenting it so authoritatively to a crowd craving the experience. Given that the ballyhooed detente between him and Floyd guitarist David Gilmour that allowed for a reunion at the Live 8 show in London last year quickly went back in the deep freeze, along with any hopes of a full Floyd tour, he almost owes it to the fans.

The show, with a first half drawing on selections from the band's '60s, '70s and '80s songs before Waters exited, was also visually dazzling. Images on a hi-def screen behind the stage vividly illustrated songs ranging from "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" (a psychedelic relic showing the influence on Waters of Floyd founder Syd Barrett, who left the band in 1968 and, after a troubled, reclusive life, died in July) to antiwar and anti-tyranny screeds from 1983's "The Final Cut" album.

There is, however, plenty of room for criticism, and for grounds one need look no further than to Gilmour's recent tour, which he built around an entire performance of his new album, "On an Island." Let's see: One goes out on a limb with a new, unfamiliar work, while the other plays it as safe as can be. (To be fair, Gilmour spent years fronting the Waters-less Floyd on massive tours.)

But Waters' biggest failing came with "Leaving Beirut," the one new song he performed Thursday. It was a tale, he explained in the only time he really spoke to the crowd, drawn while traveling in the Middle East as a 17-year-old in 1961, when he was taken in for a night by a generous, caring Lebanese family. The experience obliterated his fears and prejudices and shaped the open-hearted spirit that's behind his opposition to aggression in that region.

If only he'd simply told that story in the song and left it at that, a beautiful, self-revealing episode that speaks for itself. Instead, he felt the need to turn the song (depicted on screen graphic-novel style) into a political rant, undermining both the art and the heart.

Sure, subtlety was never his forte. In this context, though, it's as if he doesn't trust fans to get the point without a bludgeoning. Or trust them to know, as he stressed in a version of his 1983 song "The Fletcher Memorial Home," that despots are bad. Or trust them with much music that isn't already deeply familiar.

Subtle as a flying pig.


Roger Waters

Where: Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Price: $36 to $260

Contact: (323) 850-2000

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