PROVIDENCE, R.I. His star may have faded with time, but Roger Waters threw off some sparks as he brought his In the Flesh tour to a close Sunday after two consecutive summer swings across North America.
Giving his former band, Pink Floyd, a run for its money in re-creating their '70s classics, Waters delivered an art-rock concert both grandiose and humanistic.
"The lunatics are in MY hall," he sang during "Brain Damage," gesturing to 10,000 fans at the Providence Civic Center to complete his first tour cycle since 1987. And as the song slid into "Eclipse" the way it did at the end of Pink Floyd's 1973 landmark Dark Side of the Moon, Waters underscored that sense of inclusive warmth by bowing to fans and thanking them for helping him rediscover the magic in his music.
The upbeat feeling ran counter to Waters' many dark songs of societal alienation. Along with a late smattering of solo material he's working on a new studio disc as well as a live CD/DVD the near-three-hour show took advantage of a seamless, expanded band to deliver many Floyd hits.
Props and projections were a hefty cut below legendary Pink Floyd extravaganzas, especially the backdrop's lava-lamp effects and scrolling prism/heart pulse from the Dark Side album jacket. But the money and care went into the music.
Waters' 10-piece band (including three female singers up one from the tour's launch last summer) recast vintage Floyd textures, while sound bites of barking dogs and ticking clocks bounced around satellite speakers.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
"It pushed the nostalgia buttons for me in a pleasurable way," said John Bernhard, 40, of Cambridge, Mass., who also caught one of Waters' concerts in the summer of 1999. "They're more like a band now, inhabiting the songs."
Bernhard said he was happy to see the addition of late-'60s token "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" (RealAudio excerpt), which began the second set as a haunting mantra. Meanwhile, old Floyd photos featuring co-founder Syd Barrett flashed behind the band.
Otherwise, the structure of the show was similar to last year's. Heavy on Floyd favorites, the first set opened with a run of songs from 1979's The Wall, with Waters pacing the stage to a robust sing-along of "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2." Next came the menacing "Dogs" (from 1977's Animals, with the musicians retiring to a poker table during its soundscape interlude), and three favorites from 1975's Wish You Were Here, capped by a transcendent rendition of "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" (RealAudio excerpt).
Featuring a stratospheric guitar buildup by Snowy White (a British veteran who assisted David Gilmour on many classic Floyd tours), saucy lap-steel by keyboardist/guitarist Jon Carin, and a mirror/star rising from the back of the stage, "Diamond" was for many the night's glittering high point.
Showcasing The Dark Side
The second set spread the focus around while the band dropped a healthy dose of Dark Side. Texas guitar-slinger Doyle Bramhall II dressed like a glitzy cowboy minus the hat became a sturdy stand-in for Gilmour with his lead vocals as well as his axe on "Breathe in the Air" and "Money."
On "Money," Andy Fairweather-Low, who spent much of the night switching between bass and acoustic guitar, also emerged for an electric break of slashing, Townshend-like chords.
A set closing "Comfortably Numb" gave Bramhall and White the chance to lash head-to-head leads on a rear stage wall. One almost expected them to merge into Gilmour at the end.
Waters stacked his solo work into the middle of the second set, causing a drop-off in familiarity though it sounded like the crowd was roaring along to "Perfect Sense" (RealAudio excerpt), thanks to the singer's spread-arm exhortations and a recorded chorus pumping through the speakers.
Along with the arena-rock theatrics, Waters served up food for thought. He scrolled the names from a war memorial during the cynical "Amused to Death." And he encored not with a Floyd song, but with "Each Small Candle," a new song adapted from a poem by a South American torture victim, seeking hope for our war-torn world.
By show's end, Waters' paranoiac visions had been all but replaced by this thoughtful new perspective.