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The 1980/81 Wall concert performances in detail Print E-mail

THE WALL PERFORMANCES

An indepth and fascinating look at the live 1980 and 1981 concerts by Paul Powell Jr.

Pink Floyd The Wall live in concert"Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop, stop, stop the film! We've decided the best thing would be is to put this fire we have up here out!" These were Roger Waters' impassioned words as he froze the premier Wall show at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Ashes falling from above were not just another special effect, instead the curtains were smoldering from the battery of fireworks punctuating the opening of "In The Flesh".
 
As the fire crew doused the flames, the most ambitious spectacle ever staged in rock music sat frozen. After the fire was extinguished and nerves calmed, the show resumed. The film was restarted as David shuffled to his cues, Roger egged the crowd back into their wide-eyed enthusiasm and the band cranked back into "Empty Spaces". Showbiz Pink Floyd style...

Fans who came to The Wall weren't to witness just another rock concert; instead they found themselves part of a multimedia show so grandiose it would come crashing down on itself as a finale. Roger's visions of alienation and oppression were packed with metaphor. His story led fans down a nightmarish journey into the heart of darkness. In all its misanthropic loathing and cinematic excess, his point would become abundantly clear.

Pink Floyd The Wall live in concertIn one man's soul this live concert experience was akin to a battleground, a mass of humanity swirled into a dervish frenzy by the primitive pulse of Rock'n'Roll. In his reaction to the war-zone and the dehumanization that occurs at such events, The Wall expressed his concern that the messages and emotions painted in Pink Floyd's music were getting lost in the event's grand scale. A spectacle he himself helped create as the group's popularity grew well beyond the hushed reverence fans used to give them in the old days.

Playing the protagonist, Roger led the listener, and now the viewer, down a partly autobiographical and partly fictional story of Pink - the tortured rock star. Characters came to life in the form of a robust inflatable mother, a 30 foot high teacher puppet, an insidious scorpion wife and various animated characters like the brutal judge. Encasing and framing all this was the wall itself - all 420 white polystyrene bricks of it.

The mechanics of putting on The Wall were staggering. Set designers Mark Fisher and Jonathan Park were responsible for the engineering and logistics of the project. Besides the construction of a 160 foot by 35 foot prison, there were three 35mm film projectors synchronizing images, an ultra-refined surround-sound system,Pink Floyd The Wall live in concerttape machines with music and sound effects (four to play and one to record), Midas mixing consoles with 116 input channels and rack upon rack of signal processing and special effects units requiring six engineers to operate. Floyd sound aces James Guthrie and Chris Thomas headed the sound production team.

Banks of Phase Linear and Altec amplification hooked to each speaker position provided 106dB of absolutely clean sound. There were puppets, dirigibles and props to control, two hydraulic lighting cranes, as well as hydraulic lifts for The Wall builders and two seperate stage set-ups, for in front of the wall and behind it complete with monitors and lighting rigs.

Onstage, supplementing the Floyd, were four backup singers and four additional musicians starring as the surrogate band. Each musician had a full compliment of instruments and amplifiers with effects units as well as their own monitors feeding the music, tapes and click-tracks.

Pink Floyd The Wall live in concertAn eighty man crew acted on cue to keep the performances in sync, as most performances clocked right in near two hours. Each venue had mobile offices and a crew canteen moved in to provide nurishment on-site. David was musical director with a stack of music and sound effect cues while Roger, armed with a wireless microphone, was in character as Pink. All of this in more controlled and smaller venues as Roger liked it. The Floyd and their crew managed to turn over 100 tons of equipment into rock theatre far surpassing even their own past achievements.

The Wall shattered all fans expectations. They watched as the group disappeared slowly behind bricks until by the second half the wall stood like a monument before them. The bricks themselves represented the psychological barriers erected to shield the human organism from the ebb and flow of daily existence.

Fortunately the vast structure itself became a film screen for Gerald Scarfe's surreal and bizarre animation of passionate flowers, a predatory eagle, glistening and hungry worms, children minced into sausage meat, a landscape of bloody crosses and ghostly soldiers, marching hammers in formation, and a perverse judge.

Musically the Floyd were as precise as a click-track with no room for random improvisation like in previous years. The opening In The Flesh? was punctuated with a Spitfire airplane prop crashing into The Wall sending balsa wood and sparks flying. Presented as a sarcastic parody, it wasn't even Pink Floyd but a surrogate band. By The Thin Ice both bands were on stage together.

Doubling and seperating instrument duties had advantages. Roger's hands were free from playing bass full time, giving the job to Andy Bown. This allowed him to concentrate on singing and acting. David had his attention fragmented, acting as musical director in addition to the role of vocalist and guitarist, the latter job gladly shared with a former Floyd sideman Snowy White.

Pink Floyd The Wall live in concertRoger later contended Willie Wilson was needed onstage to help Nick keep time and Peter Woods was the additional keyboardist alongside Richard Wright. This instrumental prowess gave the music a fully refined sound, very evident on Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 as a 30 foot tall teacher puppet danced from the rafters while Pink Floyd played an extended version of the song.

The Wall continued to grow as an inflated mother image grew while David and Roger harmonized together during Mother. The voices of Jon Joyce, Stan Farber, Jim Haas, and Joe Chemay, made Goodbye Blue Sky one of the exceptional showcases of their "Beach Boy" style harmonies.

Gerald Scarfe's botanical sex animation came alive on the circular screen during Empty Spaces and for the first time listeners got to hear What Shall We Do Now (missing from the album). During the first few performances the band would crank into a classic blues workout (sometimes called Almost Gone) after Another Brick Part 2, mostly to allow the wall builders to catch up before the next song. By Goodbye Cruel World, the band had blocked off all contact with the audience as one final brick walled them in. This barrier left viewers cold and confused, perhaps a bit psychologically numb waiting for human contact.

Pink Floyd The Wall live in concertIn the second half, The Wall stood completed, vast, cold and impenetrable. Hey You was sung behind the wall as a plea for contact as the worms of moral decay have begun to eat into the nerve fibres of Pink's sanity. The Wall opened up during Nobody Home to reveal a complete hotel room for Roger's acting and reflection. High atop The Wall, David played his blistering guitar solo in Comfortably Numb as his immense shadow was cast across the audience. Again, the Master of Ceremonies came out to introduce the band for In The Flesh, now with the full band back in front of The Wall complete with a new hanging lighting rig. Later, for Run Like Hell, a dark pig with search-light eyes loomed over the audience with crossed hammers painted on its side.

These symbols were splashed across banners, flags, armbands, and on the shirts worn by the band (and a long black coat for Roger representing oppression and mourning). Roger used the introduction of Run Like Hell to ask the audience if they liked his pig, trying to elicit a response. I'm not sure who was more insecure, Roger or the pig!

During Waiting For The Worms animated hammers goose-stepped across The Wall in perfect formation. It visualised the atmosphere of a Nazi rally in a twisted sense of the absurd. The only things missing were the skinheads and the military police.

Pink Floyd The Wall live in concertBy The Trial, it was Roger on stage alone contemplating his fate against the animated court. There the brutal judge dredged up the characters in Pink's life before him and demanded The Wall be torn down, exposing all of Pink's frailty and fears in full view. Images flashed on The Wall in rapid sequence as the first few bricks tumbled down onstage. The rumble grew louder until the entire edifice came crashing down in systematic chaos.

During Outside The Wall, the minstrels of doom armed with acoustic guitars, a mandolin, an accordian, and Waters puffing on a clarinet, marched through the rubble in the final act, proclaiming "it's not easy banging your heart against some mad bugger's wall".


The show was presented in February 1980 seven times at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, five times at the Nassau Coliseum in New York, and then shown five times at London's Earls Court in August 1980. In February 1981, eight times at Westfalenhalle in Germany and five more times in June at Earls Court that year, for a total of 30 performances. The later dates were specifically held to allow filming of the concert. Due to the sheer mass of equipment and logistics, this was the entire Wall Tour.

Filming of the June 1981 Earls Court shows was an attempt to capture the event on celluloid. The resulting concert footage was to be an integral part of a full scale motion picture of The Wall. A script had been completed and shooting had begun in September at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. It has been said the resulting footage was dismal and substandard, so an alternate plan was set in motion to turn the script into a surreal visualisation.

Footage of the Earls Court concerts does indeed exist and Roger is on record saying one day he might release it as a historical document of the event. In the meantime, only Roger Waters can sip warm beer and feast on toasty popcorn to it. Perhaps one day we will see it?

A few negatives came from The Wall. The band lost money after footing the bill and counting the profits. Richard Wright by this time was on a salary since he was no longer a member of Pink Floyd, so he made money from the shows. And the band took a slashing by some of the press in reviews, as expected, but all stumbled around their muddled brains trying to describe the event. Floyd's legions of fans, the fortunate ones who saw the shows, saw this as Floyd's ultimate performance. Now in retrospect, it would be the pinnacle of an illustrious concert legacy.

 
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