Who'd have thought the leader of one of the most popular bands of the '70s and early '80s would draw only a third of a house at Capital Centre? In fact, Roger Waters drew only 5,000 people Sunday night, but those 5,000 saw one of the most powerful and affecting concerts that venue has ever hosted.
Maybe Waters should have taken a tip from his old bandmates and traded on his Pink Floyd past, if only to trick more people into attending. They would have thanked him. A good portion of the show, after all, consisted of such Floyd classics as "Money," "Another Brick in the Wall," "Welcome to the Machine" and "Wish You Were Here" -- classics Waters wrote and sang the first time around, which gives him a proprietary right.
But because Waters is one of rock's most persistent conceptualists, his concert was much more than a recitation of hits. For one thing, he expanded on his current album, "Radio K.A.O.S." -- on the surface a satirical look at commercial radio, but also a study of the misuse of telecommunications, politics as entertainment, the abuses of capitalism and militarism, and human ecology. All of which sounds like a formula for didactic melodrama, but Waters wisely framed the evening as a live satellite concert with deejay Jim Ladd, a sort of Greek chorus weaving together a subtle mix of older material with new. Ladd also ran satirical spots, commented on the show and talked with callers, particularly "Billy," the psychic controller of radio waves who is the catalyst of Waters' story.
Combined with a state-of-the-art quadraphonic sound system, the superb Bleeding Hearts Band, a procession of stunning documentary films projected on a huge circular screen and computer graphics serving as subtitles, it added up to a night of genuinely moving agit-pop. Though sometimes obtuse or simplistic, Waters' songs were always dense with ideas; David Monroe's visuals reinforced them in sometimes subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways. Bassist Waters, who handled most of the vocals, doesn't have a great voice, but it conveys considerable convoluted emotion. Keyboardist Paul Carrack handled the vocals on several songs, while guitarist Andy Fairweather-Low and saxophonist Mel Collins were superb throughout. The sound was CD sharp and the band gave a harder, harsher edge to a number of songs that warranted expanded arrangements, most notably "Another Brick in the Wall."
Because Waters sang a half dozen songs from "The Wall," the concert offered a story within a story, but all the material held together remarkably well. The emotional climax was "The Tide Is Turning" -- like "Wish You Were Here" and "Every Stranger's Eyes," a rare excursion into the upbeat. Waters and the band sang its suggestion of evolutionary change while the taped voices of the 100-member Welsh Male Choir were slowly brought up in the mix, until finally Capital Centre sounded like a cathedral. Roger Waters wished you were there.