Roger Waters - Us + Them review

Tour spectacular boiled down to its musical essence

Roger Waters
(Image: © Roger Waters)

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Considering it was a tour whose main message was “just love and peace”, according to Roger Waters, the Us + Them shows across 2017-2018 weren’t greeted with universal goodwill. But while old Rog is determined to keep poking the political hornets’ nest that is the Israel-Palestine question, he’s still making the most of that high-profile tour, launching a concert film in cinemas last year and now releasing it on DVD and Blu-ray at the same time as this live album drops on CD, vinyl and download. If you’d rather keep politics out of it (as a Roger Waters fan? Good luck with that), the constant barrages of provocative slogans and images ranging from Black Lives Matter protests to dying refugees, are a lot easier to ignore when only presented with the music. 

Floyd and Waters long ago mastered the big show in terms of sound as well as vision. And there’s a breathtakingly evocative clarity to this recording even though the flying pigs, startling imagery and badgering backdrop messages aren’t part of the package. 

Regardless of topical agendas, Waters also knows what his audience wants. After screams, explosions and dive bombing aircraft introduce a set that was always going to make an important point or two, we’re into five tracks from The Dark Side Of The Moon sandwiching One Of These Days from Meddle. And while Speak To Me’s ‘I’ve always been mad’ sound collage was faintly bubbling under the surface on the original album, here it’s way up in the mix as if part of a completely different album.

Without the eye-popping distractions, we also notice how Waters sometimes chooses to overhaul iconic parts of his back catalogue, and sometimes lovingly preserve them. Take Clare Torry’s deathless vocal battle with mortality on The Great Gig In The Sky: Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe (aka indie-folk duo Lucius) tackle it (maybe to task one singer would have been like handing them a poisoned chalice), and their gliding skytrail of harmonies doesn’t attempt to create the same sense of rising hysteria, but offers a more graceful, sweeping and operatic flight of fancy. On the other hand, Another Brick In The Wall Pt 2 sees Dave Gilmour’s elastic guitar licks reproduced with satisfying pinpoint accuracy by Dave Kilminster. 

So it’s “all about the music” for once, as less politically engaged pop pickers like to insist. But you’re not going to escape that easily. The show ends with a final reprise of Déjà Vu from 2017’s Is This The Life We Really Want?, with the stark bite of a track from The Final Cut. You can’t beat Roger Waters at this arena rock game. So join him. 

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Johnny Sharp

Johnny is a regular contributor to Prog and Classic Rock magazines, both online and in print. Johnny is a highly experienced and versatile music writer whose tastes range from prog and hard rock to R’n’B, funk, folk and blues. He has written about music professionally for 30 years, surviving the Britpop wars at the NME in the 90s (under the hard-to-shake teenage nickname Johnny Cigarettes) before branching out to newspapers such as The Guardian and The Independent and magazines such as Uncut, Record Collector and, of course, Prog and Classic Rock