"So you thought you might like to go to the show ..."
Rock and roll's most enduring concept album returns to the concert stage this fall, as ex-Pink Floyd impresario Roger Waters rebuilds "The Wall" for a thundering hammer march across the states in the coming months.
At first blush, this event is merely another creaky boomer having another go at topping off the retirement account. But as someone whose youth was deeply colored by those stark white bricks, I'm curious to see how this old battleship will float two generations later -- and whether the piece's messages will have evolved to more snugly fit the times, as Waters is claiming.
Apparently I'm not alone: The tour originally scheduled two concerts at Chicago's United Center, but demand for tickets (in a painfully slow year for sales) has resulted in a total of four. The entire North American tour started with 36 shows; now there are 52, plus dozens more across Europe next spring. "The Wall" was performed only 31 times in 1980 and 1981, and in only four cities, including Los Angeles and New York.
The age-old themes of this tortuous and torturous rock opera are personal alienation, post-war disillusionment and the frustrating relationship between an artist and his audience. The success with which Pink Floyd injected them into the rock idiom remains evident on dormitory walls to this day. First delivered as the band's 1979 double-album, "The Wall" has spoken easily and eloquently to three generations. Somewhere between the desperate reaching-out of "Hey You," the escapist resignation of "Comfortably Numb" and the bristled finger-pointing of "Another Brick in the Wall, Part II" ("[ITAL]Hey, Teacher, leave those kids alone![END ITAL]"), young listeners tend to hear something in this song cycle that hits them in their nervous, newly matriculated guts.
The band performed the complete album with a massive, multimedia stage show rolled out in 1980. The first act built the wall -- big white bricks separating the players from the crowd -- and the second act tore it down. Film flickered on the wall. Fire shot from cannons. Giant hammers marched through the arenas. It was a spectacle like few had seen on a concert stage before then, and to some degree since.
This all occurred, however, as Pink Floyd was falling apart. "The Wall" was Waters' vision, and his dictatorial methods in realizing it in the studio, on stage and later in the 1982 film (still a staple of midnight movie showings) presaged his departure. Waters and Floyd singer-guitarist David Gilmour famously have been jeering at each other ever since, though the two plan to reunite for one performance of "Comfortably Numb" during one show on the upcoming "Wall" tour. It'll be a surprise. (Please be Chicago, please be Chicago ...)
Waters trotted out "The Wall" again in 1990, to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall. This 30th anniversary journey, he claims, takes on new meanings beyond his personal angst.
"I started to think that maybe there is something in the story of 'The Wall,' which is about this one guy ... that could be seen as an allegory for the way nations behave towards one another, or religions behave towards one another," Waters told Billboard in April, when he announced the tour. "In other words, could the piece be developed to describe a broader, more universal condition than we did in 1980 and I did in 1990 in Berlin?"
"Thirty years ago when I was kind of an angry and not a very young lad, I found myself driven into defensive positions because I was scared of stuff," he added to the Associated Press, "and I've come to realize that in that personal story, maybe somewhere hidden in there exists an allegory for more general and universal themes, political and social themes. ... When we did it [in 1980], we were after the end of the Vietnam War, and we're right now in the middle of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so there's a very powerful anti-war message in 'The Wall.' There was then and there still is now."
Roger Waters' "The Wall" tour, Sept. 20-21 and 23-24, United Center, 1901 W. Madison, $65.50-$265.12, ticketmaster.com
10 OTHER CONCERTS AND ALBUMS TO WATCH FOR THIS FALL
Weezer returns, this time on an indie label, with a new album, "Hurley," named for and with cover art featuring everyone's favorite comic relief on TV's "Lost." The production is slicker, but the feel is all Weezy. Tuesday.
The new hit single from Maroon 5, "Misery," has provided none of its namesake, and the album from which it comes, "Hands All Over," should be a powerful blast from Adam Levine's soul-pop group. Sept. 21.
E, the simply named man behind the Eels, has wrapped his trilogy of introspective chamber-rock albums -- "Hombre Lobo" about desire, "End Times" about death, and the new "Tomorrow Morning" about rebirth -- and returns to the road with (wha?) some happy, uplifting songs. The arc should make for an inspired show. Oct. 1, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, $25, etix.com.
Punk's annual Riot Fest is back in rock halls across town, this time with Bad Religion celebrating a 30th anniversary, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, the Circle Jerks, the Effigies, plus the original lineup of Chicago's legendary Naked Raygun. Oct. 6-10 at various venues and ticket prices; visit riotfest.org.
For sweet, soft-voiced indie-rock fans, two artists return to the game with what passes for panache in this genre. Scotland's sprawling Belle & Sebastian collective returns after four years with a tour, stopping in Chicago on Oct. 11 (Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, $53.58, ticketmaster.com), and a new album, "Write About Love," out the very next day. Also on Oct. 12, Sufjan Stevens delivers the CD "The Age of Adz" and returns to Illinoise[CQ] on Oct. 15 (Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, $45.87, ticketmaster.com).
The fortunes of young Canadian rapper-singer Drake have skyrocketed this year, with numerous collaborations and the success of his full-length debut, "Thank Me Later." A headlining tour and a beautiful venue in the Loop should make for two magical nights. Oct. 13-14, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, $61.04-$105.09, ticketmaster.com.
Damon Albarn recovers from last year's Blur reunion by bringing his Gorillaz project out from behind the curtain for a new tour by these cartoonish alter-egos. No more screens and animation, just raw, moody tunes from the topical ruminations of the new album, "Plastic Beach." Oct. 16 at UIC Pavilion, 525 S. Racine, $61.06-$321, ticketmaster.com.
Boomer-era legends in new collaborations make for two intriguing new albums this fall. Chicago's queen of soul, Mavis Staples, brings her new songs written and produced with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, "You Are Not Alone" (Tuesday), which both previewed last month at Lollapalooza. Later, Elton John and Leon Russell trade inspiration for the T Bone Burnett-produced set of piano pounders, "The Union" (Oct. 19).
Taylor Swift's teenage crushes have provided her big hits on the country and pop charts. We're betting "Speak Now" speaks volumes when the young star brings it this fall. Oct. 25.
Composer and synth-pop pioneer Ryuichi Sakamoto releases two new albums at once, "Playing the Piano" and "Out of Noise" on Sept. 28, followed by a theater tour. The Oscar- and Grammy-winning musician, who's collaborated with rock artists from David Byrne and David Sylvian to Iggy Pop and Aztec Camera, has been in collaboration mode for years; it'll be refreshing to see him return to solo form. Oct. 26 at the Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield, $54.56, ticketmaster.com.