By Liam Lacey
A concert film strong on politics, stomping rhythms, and echo-y instrumental explorations, Roger Waters Us + Them is just what you might expect from the former Pink Floyd frontman. Shot in Amsterdam over three nights in June 2018 as part of a 157-show world tour, the film — showing only twice in Toronto on October 2 and 5, cinemas listed below — focuses almost entirely on Waters, an energetic and sinewy 75-year-old in a black T-shirt and jeans, plucking his bass and rasping out lyrics like a multimedia Old Testament prophet.
His caustic message — against the global elite, climate change, mistreatment of refugees — is tempered by the lush technical and theatricality of the presentation, co-directed by Waters and Sean Evans. A line of 16 screens project images throughout, including an extended film of the video from The Last Refugee, featuring both dance studio sequence and a woman in a headscarf on a beach where a child’s doll has been abandoned.
At one point, a group of kids in prison orange suits, lining up in front of the stage to shout out the chorus to “Another Brick in the Wall” and at the close of the song, the kids expose T-shirts that say the word “Resist.” The audience, shown sparsely, appear to be mostly in their twenties and thirties, punching the air and shouting along with lyrics often written before their births
Musically, it’s vintage blues-based space-rock, with Jon Carin’s shimmering lap steel guitar and Ian Richie’s biting sax solos cutting through the dirge-like wash. For both visual and aural interest, there’s the duo of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig (from indie band, Lucius), dressed in blonde page-boy wigs with sparkly eye gunk, who strut and warble and bang things.
Otherwise, the fireworks come from Waters’ anti-authoritarian politics. “Picture a leader with no fucking brains” he yells out, in a lyric from the song, “Picture That” on his most recent album, Is This The Life We Really Want? We get lots of images of Donald Trump, along with his most repulsive quotes, accompanying a medley of songs including song “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” “Money,” and “The Dark Side of the Moon.”
The title of the Us + Them tour, as Waters tells the audience, means that that there is “only us,” not an “us” and “them,” though the “fuck the pigs” chants confirm that some of “them” are beyond redemption.
For the fans, Us + Them offers a meticulously constructed concert experience for a fraction of the price of a live ticket and a chance to join a chorus in yelling back at the TV. For the casually curious, be forewarned: While Waters still burns with righteous zeal, at an often repetitious 135 minutes, the film will leave your backside feeling uncomfortably numb.
Roger Waters Us + Them. Directed by Sean Evans. With Roger Waters (guitar, bass) Dave Kilminster (guitars, vocals), Jon Carin (lap steel) Joey Waronker (drums, percussion), Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe (vocals, percussion) and Ian Ritchie (saxophone). Screens twice on October 2 and October 5 at Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square, Yonge-Eglinton Silver City, Silvercity Yorkdale, and Cineplex Odeon Queensway.