Photo: Mark Beacom
Qudos Bank Arena, February 2
Enmore Theatre, January 31
LSD and dope vs ecstasy & amyl. Quadrophonic vs megaphonic. Classic rock vs electronica. Boomers vs Gen X. And the winner is ….. Sy-den-ey.
It may not have seemed likely that long ago that Roger Waters, erstwhile Pink Floyd chap, and Neil Barnes, longest lasting of Leftfield, had much, if anything, in common. Well, except no longer being at the dance with the folks what brung ‘em, and having mixed feelings for a good portion of their careers about the worth of live performance and the value of nostalgia.
They are a generation apart: Waters, in Floyd, emerged from Cambridge in the mid-60s, with Syd Barrett, Rick Wright and Nick Mason, and later David Gilmour (the first two dead, the next two no longer playing, or playing with Waters) while London-based Barnes and Paul Daley formed Leftfield in 1989, returning after a break without Daley eight years ago.
And they are rather differently sourced: Waters rising from psychedelia into prog and then a kind of remorseless agit-rock that no one would dance to but did help define 1970s away from hard rock and disco; Barnes drawing from House and dub for an eminently danceable style that defied you not to move, and provided an alternative view of the ‘90s to the rockist grunge/Britpop narrative.
Yet concerts a few days apart at different ends of the city made the connections and reverberations obvious, the shows in some ways mirrors of each other: drawing on their past unapologetically (Leftfield performing the 1995 album Leftism in full; Waters including only four recent solo works among 18 Floyd songs from their 1970s pomp); big on lights and graphics; heavy with guest vocals; punctilious of sound; and drenched in glories past that have never lost their grip.
That said, while Leftfield’s light show and sound mix was appropriately trippy, bass-heavy and impressive – the kind which in any other week would have been things of wonder in its floor-shaking/arms-waving effect - Waters’ production was stunning in its sound and vision. You could see where the (massive amount of) money had been (well) spent.
The graphics, from abstract and fluid to concrete and Scarfe, were eye-popping; the human images presented in cinema-quality clarity and vividness that invited reaching out to touch. They were present firstly on a massive screen behind the band and later in a row of screens which dropped down mid-room and recreated at one point Battersea Power Station - smoke, pig and all – before including text and images of innocence and destruction.
The sound? Dear god, it was every ‘70s audiophile nerd’s dream. It was all enveloping (literally from above and below) and crystal clear, whether the sound of helicopters thundering seemingly right above our heads or the voices of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig. It was loud but not overwhelming: thrillingly ringing with the dual guitars of Dave Kilminster and Jonathan Wilson (each of whom had moments of solo flourishes; neither of whom tried to mimic the sound of the missing Gilmour), and driven far and hard by Joey Waronker’s drums.
Here’s the thing though, if you were to make the simplest differentiation between these two shows it might be that Leftfield was and is about the communal and the raising up and out, while Waters/Floyd has always been about the individual and the closing in.
The Enmore was a mass of bodies rubbing against each other, celebrating to each other, wondering at the spirit generated. Yes, the happy pills which no doubt had been popped earlier enhanced this, but here the spectacle was being shared in the same way the music, sonics and imagery were devised: to reflect a tribe coalescing.
Photo: Mark Beacom
At Qudos, we – together, alone – took in the tales of separation and isolation, ire and despair. We looked in awe at the spectacle, but from outside. We took in the message of resistance, whether to Trump, industrialism or cockeyed education, as a rallying cry, a call to action certainly, but as individuals. No one feels like hugging their neighbour at a Waters gig.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that either – and I say that while stressing that I quite liked my neighbour at the Waters show. It’s not as if this history promised one thing and delivered another.
In that sense the flaws in each show were also inherent but personally-focused. I find Waters’ internalised anger and externalised bluntness lacking in subtlety even as I thrill to the force and spectacle; Leftfield’s dub influences remain both calling card and tedious distraction from the House surges that kick in hard.
That for me Waters overcame those flaws more consistently and satisfyingly than Barnes did, may well come down to age, drugs, or absence thereof on both nights. Though interestingly, the range of ages was wider at Waters, teens to septuagenarians, than it was at Leftfield, which was almost exclusively gathered between 35 and 50.
Maybe we should check in again in a decade and compare and contrast once more.
Roger Waters plays Qudos Bank Arena, February 3; Brisbane Entertainment Centre, February 6-7; Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, February 10-11 & 13; Adelaide Entertainment Centre, February 16; Perth Arena, February 20.