Tuesday, April 23

Roger Waters in concert: Art and politics in a time of crisis

Roger Waters, the renowned musician and activist, co-founder of the group Pink Floyd and its creative driving force from 1968 to 1984, is currently touring his concert and multimedia installation This Is Not a Drill across North America. At least one million people are expected to attend the performances.

The tour, which made a stop in Detroit on July 23, uses Waters’ extensive artistic catalog to condemn the ruthlessness of the ruling elite in the US and around the world. Virtually every song is directed toward pressing issues of our time: imperialist war, fascism, the poison of nationalism, the plight of refugees, the victims of state oppression, global poverty, social inequality, the attack on democratic rights and the danger of nuclear annihilation.

Roger Waters performing in 2018. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Such an event, so unusual and important, demands special consideration, above all, because it raises to a high and pressing level, in the actual experience of large numbers of people, the issue of the problem between art and politics in a period of unprecedented crisis.

The concert in Detroit was a remarkable musical, visual and intellectual experience. This Is Not a Drill incorporates many of the memorable songs from Pink Floyd’s catalog while Waters was still at the helm but never becomes a nostalgia tour. Waters, in fact, does not want anyone to “forget about their troubles for a while.” His main concern throughout the evening was ensuring that the songs corresponded to ongoing social and political developments.

A lesser-known song from Waters’ solo work, “The Powers That Be” (1987), is performed in thunderous fashion against footage of police shootings and military bombings. The imagery culminates in a textual memorial to nearly two dozen victims of police violence in the US and other countries. The angry protests of the audience increased with each death notice.

On the searing 1992 anti-war song “The Bravery of Being Out of Range,” Waters incorporates images of each US president since Ronald Reagan with descriptions of their murderous foreign policies and superimposes the words “War Criminal” on every one. As for Joe Biden, Waters notes that he is “Just Getting Started.” At the crescendo of the song—which has the memorable refrain “Old timer, who are you gonna kill next?”—a sudden red audio-visual blast envelops the audience, intended to provide a sense of what it must be like to be shot at by a military drone or aircraft.

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