There's a weird, paradoxical moment right at the end of Roger Waters' epic staging of The Wall, when the musicians perform the final song on acoustic instruments in front of the tumbled bricks. It obviously represents a reaffirmation of simple, intimate human values in the face of massive information media onslaught – ie exactly the kind of spectacle to which we have just been subjected. This is surely the most indulgently self-defeating show ever staged.
Waters starts as he means to go on by having a huge model Spitfire plummet across the arena and crash into the wall during an opening pyrotechnic blitz that seems to go on forever. From there, no brick is left unturned in the quest for visual sensation, including the hammer-headed schoolmaster puppet, sundry flags and banners, and various colossal inflatables, including the now mandatory flying pig.
But the most impressive features are the animations projected on to the wall as it's being built, within which the various thematic strands are braided into a rope strong enough to carry Waters' concept about the alienating tendencies of modern society. Some are quite stunning: the squadron of B-52s raining logo "bombs" is brutally effective, as is the Tube train hurtling across the wall during an entr'acte link referencing the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes.
Musically, however, it's all a bit of a blur. It must be a chastening experience for the musicians: there's always something else distracting attention from them, and then a wall gets built in front of them. But the alienating effect works both ways. At one point, Waters attempts to get the crowd punching the air, but by that point we're all too settled into our role as observers of the spectacle.
Indeed, the audience stays firmly put until rising as one for the standout number, "Comfortably Numb". Many video the song on their phones, though it's the least visually interesting sequence, being mostly performed by Waters alone in front of a blank wall. It's a brave decision to present the emblematic song of your rock opera in such underwhelming manner, but it works: compared to the preceding sensory overload, it's the most effective evocation of the solipsistic melancholy at the heart of the work, which resonates more strongly now than ever before.