Of all the 'Wall' shows on this 2010-2012 tour, Quebec City may have been the only one to match or surpass anticipation for the surprise evening David Gilmour promised to join Roger Waters on stage.
We all know when that reunion took place.
We also know the mileage and the changes 'The Wall Live' went through after that special evening in London more than a year ago: the show evolved from a sophisticated and spectacular arena event into a gigantic and unbeatable stadium spectacle.
Considering all this, the pressure to deliver something bigger than the arena and stadium shows was on – and on this warm, clear-skied night in the incredible city of Quebec, Waters delivered a show for the history books...
The show was symbolic in many respects: Quebec is famous for its own walls (the 'old walled city of Quebec') and the show was held exactly 22 years to the day that the Berlin 'Wall' show made headlines around the world. It was expected to feature the largest stage set-up (wall inclusive) and to feature the best surround sound system, pyrotechnics, and fireworks experienced on this tour.
To add to the anticipation, Canadian media covered the show extensively and ran multiple stories in advance: many of them alluded to the amount of dignitaries expected at the show, including Quebec City's Mayor, a Pink Floyd fan who famously proclaimed in that it all 'ended' with Pink Floyd – that once he discovered Floyd he had reached the end if his musical sojourn: nothing could top it.
It's difficult to broach the narrative of how the show began to unfold – because in all truth, the story begins days before the night of the show. In those days, Quebec City was overcome by Pink Floyd fans and enthusiasm for 'The Wall.' Fans visiting Old Quebec City for crepes or a beer on any of the evenings leading up to the show may have encountered street musicians playing 'Another Brick in the Wall' and would have run into dozens of fans wearing Floyd and Waters t-shirts.
And so after everything that was published internationally and locally, and any fan's immersion into what is without doubt one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the time to walk toward the Planes of Abraham arrived and a mass of people began walking the streets of Quebec toward the site.
For many fans, this was not the first walk there: in those days preceding the show, many made their way toward the Planes to check out the mammoth stage, which included 'bricks' painted by locals, as it was being built. The bricks carried diverse forms of self-expression, much of it related to Pink Floyd itself and to the many symbols by which we've come to identify the band. It was clear, for anyone who visited the site and saw the throngs of media and tourists walking around that this was going to be one hell of a historic night.
Once people made their way into the Planes for the show the enthusiasm was palpable: you could sense a nostalgic anticipation that this might be the last show on the tour while others were more invested in Waters' presence and the 'wall's arrival in their own backyard. For most it was a combination of all these things. There was a spirit of enthusiasm for Floyd music that is quite unique, in some respects, to French-speaking audiences.
Once the majority of the crowd settled in, the tracks that have been played right before most shows on this tour began pouring out of the surround sound system: in a few minutes the show would start.
The lights went down and 'In the Flesh' overtook the Planes: the most spectacular fireworks and special effects swept the crowd into an impeccable opening performance.
It's important to point out, that this was not your typical set opener: Waters' production team made sure to put together the most spectacular fireworks presentation it could on this evening. Seeing as this is one of the most important parts of the show in terms of special effects, it's clear the crew knew they had to put something beyond spectacular together: it's hard to imagine anything less than the entire city of Quebec feeling they were a part of the show because the scale of these effects was so overwhelming (in every positive sense of the word) that it must have been felt, heard, and seen from miles and miles away… and this was only the beginning.
During the show, it was clear the surround sound and special effects had been planned with meticulous care – it's always noticeable when members of the audience are seeing the show for the first time because they tend to look for helicopters, airplanes, and singing school-children all around the venue: tonight, the sound and effects were so perfect it would have been difficult for anyone to disbelieve airplanes and helicopters were landing in the Planes. In fact – a helicopter was hovering around the venue – but the truth is the music was so powerful in volume and the sound coordinated so perfectly that the real helicopter was never heard: just seen as it filmed footage of this show. In a sense, the presence of this film crew added yet another layer of excitement – it all added to the perception that we were all witnessing a historic show.
For the audience, this night may have been the perfect opportunity to hear Pink Floyd music as it was meant to be heard and experienced – with a flawless convergence of an unbelievable system of sound and effects.
The first set was delivered perfectly. The band – all members – were at their best. Usually it's worth pointing out who stood out during a performance. Tonight, the entire band deserved credit for pouring their hearts out on stage.
The band came back on stage for the second set in high spirits – you could sense throughout the show that this was a great team of musicians that was anticipating something: it felt like the band was giving everything it had tonight as a way to say 'goodbye.'
The common thread in the peaks and valleys of 'The Wall Live' in Quebec City was the perfect sound and the band's distinguished and passionate performance. During the show's opening it was clear that special effects and lights were more sophisticated and elaborate than all other shows on the tour: the second set would cement the magnitude of the spectacle.
As the anticipation leading toward 'Run Like Hell' became more intense no one in the crowd could have guessed how incredible the light spectacle for this show was about to become: as the song kicked in, beams of light spanning the entire length of the 'wall' came on in perfect synch with the music – projecting upwards from behind and around the stage and meeting in what seemed from the ground like an unimaginable point in the infinity of space.
It's hard to imagine any fan watching this show without pondering from how far this spectacle could be seen. It was amazing to be watching this as the band's inflatable pig, boasting French messages related to the show's themes, made its way over the wall and over the crowd before making a descent into it.
Hovering over the light beams, and capturing the moment permanently, the crowd could make out the helicopter that had been flying around the venue all evening. Being a part of this, one can't help but wonder how future generations will remember this show.
When the show reached its conclusion and the band came out to perform the closing track, 'Outside the Wall,' it was one of the most emotive moments in Pink Floyd history – if not rock history, considering the band's colossal timeline and achievements, including all their albums and especially the masterpiece that had been performed tonight. It was clear the band was moved.
The intensity of the emotion on their faces was evident. Many in the crowd (especially those who had sojourned through several shows on this tour) and the band members were so moved knowing this might be the end that tears welled up in their eyes: a good show's finale – that goodbye moment – is always an intense moment from an emotional standpoint. Tonight, there was a sense that this was truly the end of an epic tour. With that, the crowd began to chant 'Olé, Olé, Olé' and the band was quick to break from its typical closing rendition of 'Outside the Wall' to join in the chant. But no matter how hard the crowd tried, 'The Wall' is a unified piece of work and it had to come to an end. After many thanks the band walked off the stage, waving goodbye… and within a few minutes the lights came on signaling the end of the show had really arrived.
I typically prefer to write reviews of these shows from a third person narrative – but I think I should mention how I felt at a more personal level here:
As the lights came on, the road crew began giving away pieces of the 'wall.' One of these bricks made its way to our home in Connecticut – racking up miles along the way from Quebec City. This brick made its way from the center-stage area at the Planes of Abraham through the rural roads of the province of Quebec: through small towns, including one that boasted a billboard ad for the 'The Wall Live in Quebec City,' through a parade celebrating the tiny town of Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce's 275th anniversary, through customs at the US-Canada border, through one of our favorite small towns in New Hampshire – Pittsburg, through roads and highways in Vermont, then Massachusetts, and finally to the Nutmeg state… Connecticut.
You have to be pretty crazy about a band to see value in what is otherwise perceived as a simple piece of cardboard. It seemed Quebec City was a gathering of over 75,000 people who were all equally devoted to Pink Floyd history and Roger Waters' rendition of the band's work: it felt as though each of these 75,000+ fans could have easily taken one of these bricks with them if given the chance: as we worked our way out, several people walked up to touch the 'brick.'
Quebec City's 'The Wall Live' deserves a unique place in Pink Floyd history. In 1994, I had the opportunity to see Pink Floyd several times on the US leg of their tour. I saw Pink Floyd reunite with Roger Waters at Live 8. I've had the chance to see David Gilmour solo quite a few times: the Strat Pack is one his best yet most easily overlooked or forgotten performances. I was there for Gilmour's Royal Albert Hall shows in 2006 and then for the DVD premiere at Leicester Square the following year. I had seen Roger Waters before a number of times: front row at Highclere Castle a few years back – and several dates, both sides of the pond, for 'The Wall Live.' It still stings that the one night I missed at the O2 Arena was the night Sir David Gilmour joined the Roger Waters band on stage… but Quebec City made up for that – out of all these shows there was something uniquely powerful about it. In this long list of miles traveled to see Pink Floyd and related solo acts, I have to admit Quebec City has carved out its own unique place in my memory.
The truth is Pink Floyd music will last forever – but the shows, including solo shows such as Waters' 'The Wall Live,' won't.
I would note two things based on the experiences I am sharing here.
First, the many musicians who have contributed to the Floyd experience in one way or another – particularly those who have been fleshing out Pink Floyd's sound live over the years – Jon Carin, the Lennon brothers, Jon Joyce, Robbie Wyckoff, G.E. Smith, Dave Kilminster, and Snowy White among others, (as well as those who have done the same for Gilmour) all deserve a great deal of credit for keeping a music that has become bigger than the individual band members alive and kicking.
The second thought that comes to mind is – there's a time for things to go out on a bang. Quebec City burnt through some serious Rock n' Roll momentum on the 21st of July. There have been rumors 'The Wall Live' will return to Europe next year. Waters has stated so himself. Although many of us will make the effort to see the show as often as we can, for as long as we can, some things are best left recorded in history with an epic ending: people who never saw Pink Floyd live will have a difficult time understanding the scale of their productions and how perfectly structured and powerful their music was live. No DVD can replicate that entirely. But the memories are still there and Quebec City's 'The Wall Live' will be remembered more than most other dates on this tour.
My wife never saw Pink Floyd live. As we drove away from Quebec City and saw it fading over the horizon on our rear view mirrors, I told her – 'now you know what a Pink Floyd show was really like.' I hadn't experienced anything on this scale since 1994 – Live 8 was emotionally intense for fans – but it wasn't a full Floyd production. Waters may have surpassed what the band had done without him in 1994. In some ways, I'd be lying if I said I'd want 'The Wall Live' to carry on in 2013. If the tour returns to Europe, rest assured we will endeavor to be there – but I have my reservations anything will match Quebec City. A historical show indeed.
All pictures are courtesy of Marie Lopez (www.facebook.com/marielopezphotography).
Marie is in the process of uploading a load of pictures to this Facebook page from a number of Roger's concerts, from the London O2 shows last year, right through to the Quebec City tour conclusion in 2012, reviewed above. Well worth a visit!