No music fan with a love for evocative liner notes and quadrophonic sound would ever label the music of Pink Floyd as safe. It has endured through its complexity, whether via lyrical commentary of societal failings or instrumental arrangements so fantastical that some have been experimentally synced with the Emerald City adventures of a tin man and cowardly lion.
So, in these divisive, politically complex times, to expect that Saturday night’s KeyBank Center visit from Floyd architect Roger Waters would be anything less than an ambitious and explicit, sensory-explosive broadside against the atrocities of the day would be nonsensical — as removed from reality as the Wizard of Oz.
Visuals depicting homelessness, immigration and racial profiling.
Songs about the oppressiveness of government.
And yes, a scathing indictment of our current U.S. president over an entire set. It was all part of a stunning two-and-a-half-hour Us + Them Tour performance, and it stormed to all its marks from the outset.
Backed by a nine-piece band — including My Morning Jacket keyboardist Bo Koster and the backing vocals of alt-pop duo Lucius — Waters opened against a planetary backdrop for the spacey exhale of “Breathe.” Dressed in all black to contrast his enduring silver mane, the bassist stalked the stage, then transitioned the group into the double-bass jam of “One of These Days” and the ticking clocks of “Time.”
On the former, Waters and Co. leaned on the audio effects of the production, with bass notes, Fender chords and added accompaniments dancing among overhead KeyBank speakers. On the latter, Koster, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius — who would also handle the famously desperate wails on a later delivery of “Breathe (Reprise)” — dazzled on keys and snare drums against hypnotic imagery of falling clocks.
This was all visually and audibly thrilling, a gorgeous delivery of material — including work off Waters’s recently released “Is This the Life We Really Want?” — to pack the first set.
But for Waters, this was merely a beginning. Starting with his rendition of both parts of “Another Brick in the Wall” before intermission, it was time to ditch the subtlety and go for the throat on human rights and political hypocrisy, all while contemplating a future possibly hurtling toward dystopian nightmare.
First came “Brick,” accented with its children’s chorus first dressed in the orange jumpsuits and hoods of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, then in “Resist” T-shirts, fists raised for revolution.
Those tees served as transition to a second set executed as a tactical take down of President Trump. Guided by the imagery and tracks of 1977’s “Animals,” the set started with Waters and the band donning animal masks, toasting with champagne, then ripping into winding renditions of “Dogs” and “Pigs (Three Different Ones).”
Led by guitarist Jonathan Wilson while a floating pig wearing Trump’s face encircled the arena, both served as bold protest to the words and actions of the aforementioned. Flanked by depictions of Trump as an infant chasing a cat or with his face covered with words like “charade” or “joker,” Waters churned through bass lines and brash invectives against his presidential subject.
And possibly to avoid assertions of subjectivity, he ended “Pigs” awash in projected quotes attributed directly to the 45th.
This relentless assault almost made the set’s appropriately Trump-referencing rendition of “Money” and all that followed seem superfluous.
But when you’re dealing in the visual, instrumental and provocative mastery of Pink Floyd and Waters, no amount seems enough — and all boundaries should expect to be obliterated.