Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Head Strong: This time, an adult thrilled to the sound, sights of 'The Wall'

Roger Waters performs "In the Flesh?" at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday, just as he did with Pink Floyd at the Spectrum in 1980.
Roger Waters performs "In the Flesh?" at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday, just as he did with Pink Floyd at the Spectrum in 1980. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
I saw Roger Waters perform The Wall last week for the second time . . . in 30 years.

The first time, I was a high school senior who trekked in a van to the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island with a girlfriend and her two brothers. I'd bought the tickets from a wiry looking scalper named "Mike" outside a defunct restaurant on Old York Road in Willow Grove. The New York show was a hot ticket, even in Philadelphia.

I wanted to see what the New York Times' John Rockwell deemed "the most lavish stage show in the history of rock 'n' roll" - especially after my parents had denied me permission to go to the Spectrum three years prior, when Waters was touring in support of the album Animals.

Another reviewer at the time of the release of The Wall wrote: "A general consensus of opinion is that at first listening, the album sounds strange or weird, but listen to it again and you'll probably like it." That was me, writing for my high school newspaper, The Chatterbux, during my senior year at C.B. West in Doylestown. I guess I was right. Only Michael Jackson's Thriller and the Eagles' Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 were bigger sellers in the United States than The Wall.

Years later, it wasn't my parents from whom I needed permission. Last Monday, I left the house only after my wife and I had eaten dinner with our three sons. What was a van three decades ago was now a sedan in which I picked up a friend who likewise scored a pass on the home front. Headed down the Schuylkill, we both commented that it'd be fine if there were no encore because we each had to work early the next morning.

Here's another sign of age: when, like your parents, you make decisions about attending events based on available parking. This time, I made sure I had a reserved spot. In 1980, my only interest was in the guy circling the lot preconcert with a sign that said, "Will pay $100 for any ticket" - an unheard-of sum at the time. My 1980 ticket (which my stub says was in Section C, Row 9) carried a face value that was only $15. A few nights ago, I passed on a concert T-shirt for $45.

In February of 1980, I was a month shy of my 18th birthday. (I'm 48 now. Waters is 67.) He was skinny, sported a dark mane, and played as part of a psychedelic foursome called Pink Floyd. That year he told Newsweek, "We're too lazy to split up." Sadly, that was not true.

By the mid-1980s, the band ceased to exist as I had seen it.

Now, he's still tall and skinny, but his hair has turned silver. Mine used to be parted in the middle but is now all gone. My football roster says I was 5-foot-9 and weighed 165 pounds. Well, at least my height hasn't changed.

Back then, my frame was patted down upon entry but not with an eye toward explosives. Most of us wouldn't know anything about al-Qaeda for another 21 years. Pre-bin Laden, the drill was all about cameras, recorders, and bongs. On Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center, a courteous preshow announcement asked attendees to refrain from using flash photography.

In 1980, we mostly stood during the show, mesmerized by Pink Floyd's construction of a 35-foot-tall, 240-foot-wide wall across the width of the arena, comprised of hundreds of large white blocks. By the midpoint of the concert, the Floyd was totally obscured.

I was a Spectrum veteran but had never seen anything like that. And my access to events featuring Frampton, Yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Styx, The Who, Bob Seger, Supertramp, Springsteen, Bowie, Kansas, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, and Ted Nugent came the old-fashioned way, by standing in line at a Ticketron outlet. Once I recall sleeping in my Mustang in the Sears parking lot in Doylestown just to get good Genesis tickets. Last week my radio boss invited me to sit in a club suite. I'm living proof of Waters' acknowledgment last week that Philadelphia has always been a great music town.

That shout-out was appreciated by the 20,000 white guys who filled the sold-out arena. We responded by flicking our iPhones and BlackBerrys. But this time, we stayed in our seats, less we spill our $7 beers or throw out our backs. I suspect I was not the only one who both loved the show and appreciated that it ended in time for me to go home and catch the sports on the nightly news.

So much has changed: Carter-Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama. Cell phones, iPods, the Internet, terrorism, wives, kids, divorces, two World Series titles, an NBA title. But one constant is the music. In both concerts, Waters was letter-perfect and faithful to the way the songs were recorded. On each occasion, he played the epic double album in sequence, which is, of course, a large part of the appeal.

Set against an amazing stage show, hearing music played exactly as you have heard it as a soundtrack of your life created a time warp worthy of a two-hour adventure. Listening to a live rendition of what for me will always be called a double album, it didn't matter much if it were 1980 or 2010.

Jonathan Valania wrote in The Inquirer last week, "Everyone should see it once before they die."

I'm twice ahead of that curve.


Contact Michael Smerconish via www.smerconish.com.

Michael Smerconish Inquirer Columnist
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