Wembley Stadium at night suits The Wall. It feels oppressive and chaotic up in the stands of this aircraft hanger of a venue, and Roger Waters’ most literally monumental achievement has more self-loathing, rage and disgust in its bones than any other rock show that’s filled stadiums worldwide with people wanting to hear it.
The Wall itself is the blank slate on which millions have been spent, a prop digitally scrawled on, blown apart and rebuilt song by song, as the young Waters’ fury at the death of a father he never knew in World War Two, discomfort at rock stardom and general seething alienation is played out. The recording of the songs as his penultimate album with Pink Floyd in 1979 was a sort of megalomania, relegating his bandmates to bit-parts.
Attempts to connect his solipsistic vision to a wider, broken world have been continuous since then. The cartoon B52s that drop capitalist and religious symbols that rise in a tide of red blood up the Wall in “Goodbye Blue Sky”, like the pictures of Abu Ghraib, are part of this rolling news update. But as an animated head is splattered with a baseball bat, and the sex of “Young Lust” joins the education of “Another Brick in the Wall” in the firing line, the effect is appropriately, grimly stifling. Is anything not loathed here? The shortfall in musical ambition of the stiff rhythms and crude squalls of guitar doesn’t help.
Leaving my seat to stand at the front in the second half, the claustrophobic stadium experience The Wall supposedly satirises falls away. Here in this crowd of fans from across Europe and beyond there is weeping at “Comfortably Numb”. Waters’ bitter vision of adolescence truly spoke to the several generations around me, however overblown I find it.
Watching Waters close-up, as he revels in playing “In the Flesh”’s machine-gun-toting fascist rock manager, and frequently smiles, it’s clear that at 70 there has anyway been some healing of the scarred man behind these songs. When we reach “Outside the Wall”, a warm, folky tune with a banjo and Waters on trumpet, it’s like a light being turned on. I’m glad to be out. But The Wall’s madly insistent vision, which seems to have drained even its happy creator at the end, has forced its way home again.