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Building a 'Wall'; Waters continues to refine, expand his magnum opus

When Pink Floyd first took its concept album "The Wall" to the concert stage more than three decades ago, even lead singer and chief songwriter Roger Waters couldn't have imagined a day when rock music might get any bigger.

But 32 years later, his magnum opus about the battle between individual freedoms and authoritarian oppression has magnified beyond Waters' own expectations of yore. Now the man who once excoriated the voluminous expansion of the rock concert experience has helped institutionalize it.

"I famously hated playing to large numbers of people and playing in stadiums," Waters, 68, said. "The outdoor version, which we developed for South America and which is so much bigger than the arena shows, illuminates the piece in ways we can't and couldn't do indoors."

For instance, in the arena version, the metaphorical wall that is gradually built through the evening typically spans about 200 feet. At stadiums, it stretches out to around 500 feet.

"It's a new concept of how to produce rock 'n' theater on a great big football field," Waters said. "We have technology available that's so profoundly superior to what we had 30 years ago. You can be 200 yards from the show and still be completely engaged with what you're seeing."

The recent South American tour of "The Wall" broke attendance records there -- nine sold-out shows at River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires trounced the previous record of five at the same venue held by the Rolling Stones -- and it's also been among the top-grossing concert draws in North America since Waters resurrected and updated the show in 2010.

Since bringing "The Wall" back, Waters has done more than 150 performances that have grossed $218 million in 27 countries. He'll be at the First Niagara Center on Thursday.

It would be tempting to think that by now "The Wall" is a well-oiled machine.

"I take a hard drive straight home from every gig and then look at it the next day or the next night, and I write notes," he said. "I don't think there's been a single day where I haven't changed something."

Conceptually, too, the show has grown from its origins as a polemic largely about the angst of one particular rock star.

"The new incarnation of 'The Wall' is completely unlike the 1980 version. It's developed into being much more of an international polemic, and it's also much more moving," he said, referring to images, many submitted by fans around the world, of family or friends killed in various wars over the last century.

"In those days it was about the internal struggle of me, when I was younger. It's now much more about everybody else, much less about me, and what's going on in politics, communication and all the stuff I care so deeply about. In consequence, lots of people in the audience weep. I'm so moved -- I have to admit that 30 years ago I was famously hiding behind my own walls. I didn't like being in big spaces with lots and lots of people. But in the intervening 30 years, I've changed.

"I could not be happier than I am now to be in that room, that space with those people, joining together in communion while we're performing 'The Wall.' It makes me inordinately happy. I've turned into a happy old codger."


Roger Waters    

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday    

WHERE: First Niagara Center    

TICKETS: $57.50-$201.50    

INFO: box office,