Lights! Roll the sound effects! Action!
As we've seen in chapter one, the initial plan to take The Wall on the road in an inflatable slug-like concert hall was cancelled. Problem was, the staging of the show itself, as it developed, promised to take far longer to set up than the tent; the blueprints for the Slug were left in a Britannia Row file. The performance of 'The Wall' was so complex that the physical requirements made it impossible to take the show on the road. Instead the Floyd settled for multiple concerts at four arenas, rather than In the Flesh-style stadiums, which according to Waters 'makes a hell of a difference. You can cater to 15.000 people with the technology that's available now, if you take its seriously enough and get the right people in and spend enough ...'.
Roger: 'Yeah, we looked at it all, at the logistics of the thing, to see if we could approach anything like break even point. The only way was to do two large productions [in the US] and one in London.' Added to this was a series of concerts in Dortmund and a second set of concerts in London, which would be used to film the show for the planned movie version of The Wall.
The show was staged at the following places and times:
LA Sports Arena, Los Angeles, California - 7 - 11 February 1980
Nassau Coliseum, Long Island, New York - 24 - 28 February 1980
Earl's Court, London, England - 4 - 9 August 1980
Westfalenhalle, Dortmund, Germany - 13 - 20 February 1981
Earl's Court, London, England - 13 - 17 June 1981
After it became clear that the Floyd's 12 instantly sold-out American arena dates could accommodate a mere fraction of the fans who desperately wished to see the show, promoter Larry Maggid approached the group in New York with a two-million-dollar guarantee for a pair of performances at Philadelphia's RFK Stadium. Everyone was eager to take up the offer - except Waters, who coolly reminded his colleagues that the original point of The Wall was to register a statement against stadium rock. Reluctant to kiss two million dollars goodbye, Gilmour, Mason and O'Rourke even contemplated doing the shows without Waters and getting Andy Brown to sing his parts. But (in Roger's words) 'they didn't have the balls to go through with it'.
British caricaturist Gerald Scarfe, who had also made the artwork for the double album, created the extraordinary animation sequences for the show and was also responsible for much of the set design, as well as the caricatures of the teacher, Pink's Wife, his mother, the judge and pink himself. Scarfe: 'The most difficult character to express was Pink himself. As I saw him, Pink was the vulnerable spirit in us all; inside the wall and hurt continually by the things that happen in life. In Roger's piece, the mother hurts him, the teacher hurts him, the wife hurts him ... and each one causes a brick or many bricks in the wall to be build up.
So I started to work from Pink and eventually he ended up as a helpless little pink dummy - almost like 'the nerve center' or a bare prawn. When you've taken the shell of a prawn, it's vulnerable inside, it's helpless - so I think that he symbolises what's in us all in that way.'
Like Waters, Scarfe was haunted by memories of his wartime London childhood, such as the government-issued gas masks that would provide the visages of the 'frightened ones' in his Goodbye Blue Sky animation. And if both men were both 'megalomaniacs' (Scarfe's words), the simple fact that Waters 'deals entirely with music and I deal entirely with pictures' would keep their egos from clashing unduly.
Scarfe set up a studio for the express purpose of directing his Wall animations, which were executed by more than 40 animators and took a year to complete.
Other people involved in designing the show were Mark Fisher (who supervised the actual design) and Jonathan Park (responsible for the engineering), both of whom had worked on the In The Flesh tour.
The show involved a state-of-the-art sound system, Scarfe's gigantic and brilliant animations and puppet monsters, scores of intricate stage cues, expertly deployed lighting effects, elevator platforms and explosives, and the precisely timed construction, brick by brick, of a sixty-foot-tall wall across the stage by six black-clothed crew. The familiar circular screen was also requisitioned for the program's first half, after which Scarfe's animations could be projected, in triptych, upon the Wall itself.
The audience was surrounded with 360 degrees of sound, which made some of them jump at uncomfortably close heavy breathing or violent echoes that assaulted them first from the right, then from the left and then from the back.
It was the most ambitious presentation of live music in the history of rock.
Waters: 'Some of the central characters, like the Mother, the Wife and the Schoolmaster appear earlier in the piece as inflatable puppets. They're big - 40 or 50 feet tall - they're wonderful. The only reason for doing this live is in order to impose the discipline of making it work as a live show, because it really is a movie.'
During the half of the show, a half-built wall was slowly finished. The wall contained about 450 fireproof cardboard bricks, was 50 meter wide and 10 meter high. Each brick measured 1.5 x 0.75 x 0.45 meter and weighed about 8 Kg. The six wallbuilders laid down 340 foldable bricks every night in about 45 minutes.
The design of the show had already started before Roger had even begun writing the music and lyrics. He asked long-time special effects assistant Graham Fleming if it was possible to actually build a wall on stage between the audience and the band.
Fleming first had to design a self-supporting wall which wouldn't accidentally crush the musicians on stage, yet would come down on cue: he came up with ten metal columns which were planted inside the bricks to keep them from thumbling down prematurely. A master control board monitored the up and down movement of the columns so they don't stick out the top of the wall and give the secret away. The columns were topped off with levers that could knock the individual bricks either back or forth: when the wall was to crumble, the operator dropped the column supports row by row and flips the levers, sending the bricks crashing down. For safety, the top rows are knocked back on the stage; giant metal cages protecting the equipment and musicians. They had about a minute from the end of 'The Trial' to scamper out of the cages and off stage, but once David Gilmour didn't move fast enough and was caught in the cage as the 8 Kg bricks crashed down. The lower rows, which were less likely to bounce into the audience, were knocked down on the stage. Fleming: 'If we didn't control the collapse of the wall, we'd wipe out the first 20 rows.'
The other basic problem was how to lay all the bricks in time to the music. Fleming sent an engineer to a fork lift company in Seattle for two-and-a-half months to design a new lift system; the result was five man-lifts which rise 9 meter to transport the crew up to the top of the wall. When they were delivered in December '79, the pumps didn't work - 'At that point we didn't think we'd ever make it'.
To make sure they could get the wall up and down in time with the music, Fleming and his Brit Row Brick Company started rehearsing in December '79. They first set up the wall in the Culver City Studios in early December, assembly lasting two to three weeks. Then they rehearsed constructing the wall: the first time, it took two hours from the first to the last brick. It took them three weeks of muscle-straining work to get their timing down, but the worst night was dress rehearsal with the band. In case there are any time problems with the wall, the band have written some expandable riffs to cover the delayed brick-laying; that night the band played on and on as the crew struggled with shiny, stiff new bricks which had replaced the well-worn ones they has been practicing with for weeks - 'The band was asleep', said Fleming.
Miraculously, every night of the actual shows they have finished laying the top row before they closed the last cutout where Waters is singing Goodbye Cruel World.
Once all of the components were at hand, the Floyd rehearsed the show ten times at the Culver City movie soundstage and spent several weeks setting it up at L.A.'s Sports Arena. Roger: 'We were all working furiously up until the first night, and the first time we had the Wall up across the arena with some film on it was four days before the first show. I walked all the way around the top row of seats at the back of the arena - and my heart was beating furiously and I was getting shivers right up and down my spine. And I thought it was so fantastic that people could actually see and hear something from everywhere they were seated.'
The day before the opening show, however, the lighting effects were still in disarray, causing the band to summon an outside expert, one Mark Brickman. Gilmour was so impressed with Brickman's work that he hired him again to design the lighting for Floyd's 1987 comeback tour, as well as the 1994 Division Bell tour.
As you can imagine, the staging of this show was a pretty complex venture in which a lot depended on right timing. A bootleg with part of the rehearsals has been released under various titles. Besides some unique improvisations the recording contains lots of hilarious incidents. Imagine Roger Waters trying to give sound engineer James Guthrie instructions while the latter cannot hear (or is ignoring ?) the bass player (to Rogers ever growing frustration), not to mention a discussion between Roger and Dave about what's 'stage left' and what's 'stage right'.
Gilmour was billed as 'musical director' and served as both guitarist and conductor, cueing everyone from the musicians to the stagehands throughout the concerts, which he remembers as 'brilliant and very effective, really good fun to do. But we were bored with 'The Wall' shows as players by the time we got through the 25 we did. It was so choreographed, such a theatrical production, and I am fundamentally first a musician. It was too much following cues and listening to little things on headphones - whamming people here and stopping dead at the right moment.
The first ten shows we were terrified; there were ten to twenty dates that were fantastic; then after a while it was starting to get mechanical. I'd know when to do things, and I'd do them, with very few moments when you'd actually enjoy just singing and playing for their own sake'.
To promote the LA show, Pink Floyd had a wall-like billboard erected on Sunset Strip in Hollywood. The billboard was blank to start with but every day workmen came and removed a few 'bricks' to reveal a Gerald Scarfe illustration beneath.
Eight session musicians (not counting Richard Wright) performed with the band on stage, 4 of which were backing vocalists (John Joyce, Stan Farber, Jim Haas and Joe Chemay). Snowy White, who had also played with the Floyd on the 'In The Flesh' tour, joined the band again for the concerts in LA, New York and the first series of London gigs. He was replaced by Andy Roberts for the 1981 gigs because he had commitments with Thin Lizzy. Furthermore, the band also used Michael Kamen's pre-recorded orchestral scores.
The shows started with an 'announcer' appearing on stage to 'wind up' the crowd with an intentionally aggravating speech going through an enormous list of house rules (no photographs, no fireworks, etc), all the time checking if the band was ready to go on stage ('... no ... no ... not quite yet'). All of this created the right mood for show opener In The Flesh ?. People who acted as 'announcer' during the various performances were Cynthia Fox, Jim Ladd, Gary Yudman and Wili Tomsik.
When the band started playing In the Flesh ? it wasn't actually Pink Floyd on stage but the session musicians; the surrogate band to which the text refers. Andy Bown (bass), Snowy White (guitar), Willie Wilson (drums)and Peter Wood (keyboard) completed the impersonation with masks of their equivalent Floyds' faces. After the instrumental opening the Floyd walked on stage.
This illustrated how anonymous the members of the band actually were and also to make clear that in big shows it doesn't really matter who's on stage since nobody sees or even cares. The whole audience thought that it was actually Pink Floyd who was playing up there. Waters: 'They were meant to be what we became, i.e. at that juncture Pink was like a gestalt figure, the whole band turned into this kind of Nazi apparition from the end of the thing. That was really a kind of theatrical shock tactic, because people would assume that it was us ... and suddenly realize that it wasn't.'
During most of the rest of the show the four 'imposters' would serve to fill out Floyd's own sound, with Bown's bass freeing Waters to concentrate on his vocals and act out the part of Pink.
A near life-sized World War 2 fighting plane zoomed across the entire arena and crashed on top of the wall at the end of In The Flesh ?.
The opening section of The Thin Ice and closing section of Another Brick in the Wall (part 1) were slightly extended.
During The Happiest Days of Our Lives/Another Brick in the Wall (part 2) a 7.5 meter high Schoolmaster was pranced across the stage by manipulating it like a giant marionette (the puppet can also be seen in the videoclip of the single). Another Brick in the Wall (part 2) was extended to six minutes with a longer guitar solo and an additional Hammond solo.
During Mother a grotesquely large Mother figure was inflated on top of the wall.
Goodbye Blue Sky featured one of Scarfe's marvelous animations with birds turning into bombers and the gas-mask-wearing 'frightened ones'. After this acoustic song followed a short new keyboard solo.
Instead of proceeding with Empty Spaces, like on the album, Waters had decided to use his original order for the piece and the band went into What Shall We Do Now ? which was accompanied by Scarfe's animation of mating flowers. During the second half the animation showed all of the material possessions which are listed in the song, all forming a growing wall, ripping through the country.
Young Lust was extended with a new Hammond solo.
During One of my Turns and Don't Leave Me Now an inflatable praying-mantis Wife appeared from behind the wall.
During the shows in LA and New York a medley of Floydian songs was played between Another Brick in the Wall (part 3) and Goodbye Cruel World. This medley has been titled Almost Gone because during the tracks all but one brick are placed in the closing gap of the wall. This medley started with reprises of Happiest Days of Our Lives, Don't Leave Me Now, Young Lust and an instrumental version of Empty Spaces where it initially had been planned to be before What Shall We Do Now ? got axed from the album. Seemingly, some performances of the wall also featured a snippet of Breathe from Dark Side of the Moon at this point.
During the last notes of Goodbye Cruel World Roger inserted the last missing brick into the wall. The audience was now completely cut off from the band by a huge white wall.
After a short break Hey You started with the band hidden behind the wall, with a stuffed Pink puppet on top of it. Roger: 'Suddenly there's all this music and you can see lights going on behind it, but you can't see what's happening. That was what's good about it, in the show.'
Roger reappeared in a trapdoor hotel room which opened out of the wall to perform Nobody Home whilst watching TV.
During Comfortably Numb Roger was dressed as a doctor outside the wall while Dave played the guitar solos on top of it, carried by a hydraulic lift.
The live version of The Show Must Go On featured an extra verse, which was also printed on the album sleeve but omitted from the recorded version.
The whole band reappeared for In The Flesh, together with the surrogate band.
During the end of In The Flesh and the beginning of Run Like Hell the enormous black pig that was a hold-over from the 1977 tour was pulled over the audience. In 1977 the crew used to pull it back by hand, but sometimes the audience caught it. For The Wall, a special track was designed, making the pig emerge and return on cue.
Illegal live recordings can be identified by what Roger says to the crowd at the start of Run Like Hell; it was something different at every show.
The famous Scarfe animation with the marching hammers, which had already been used in the videoclip of Another Brick in the Wall (part 2), was projected on the wall during the second half of Waiting for the Worms.
For The Trial everybody had left the stage except for Roger, who moved off just before the thing collapsed. The entire band including session musicians then came back to perform the acoustic Outside the Wall, having exchanged their 'surrogate band' uniforms for casual clothing.
The whole show lasted about 110 minutes, almost 30 minutes longer than the original album.
And that was it. No more encores or old material was played. Roger: 'Robbie Williams, our lighting guy, like others, thought the audience would insist on hearing old material. I have been under enormous pressure to do encores; so many people have said the audience will tear you into pieces - they will destroy the stage. They put the audience in the same position. But I couldn't care less what they thought: I only wanted to express how I felt. It was a big gamble which is paying off - the audience, the crew and the musicians are all enjoying it.'
Roger: 'I'm sure there were a hell of a lot of people who came to the show and went away thinking 'What the fuck was that all about ?'. And aren't interested anyway. There's no reason why everybody should be interested in the same things I am, after all'
The Wall performances were a big success. in New York, more than 33.000 tickets were sold in five hours ! In LA more than 77.000 seats were sold. Nevertheless, the band lost quite a lot of money during the tour. The show was so expensive that the number of performances was not even enough to break even. The Floyd spent over half a million dollars on props and equipment alone.
The band lost about $800.000 during the US leg of the tour. The only one who actually made any money was Richard Wright, because he had the status of a session musician and therefore received wages for his work. Waters: 'The album is selling like hot cakes so the enormous gamble is paying off.'
In total about a quarter-million people saw the show life. After the US shows the band stayed in the States until April for tax reasons, living in a Motel at Santa Monica Boulevard in LA.
Of course, the shows weren't without their problems. During the live premier of The Wall on February 7th 1980, one of the curtains caught fire during the fireworks of What Shall We Do Now ?. After dodging pieces of burning curtain for a few minutes, Waters finally stopped the show entirely to let the stage crew extinguish the flames. Despite changing the drapes to a less flammable material, the fire department wouldn't let them try the fireworks again.
After one of the 1980 concerts in London, ten original pieces of Gerald Scarfe artwork (worth 30.000 UK pounds) were stolen. They were part of an exhibition that ran during the shows.
The '81 Earls Court concerts were not without their problems either. On the eve of the opening night second drummer Willie Wilson was taken ill and Clive, a Floyd roadie who happened to be a drummer had to be given a crash course in the set's percussive niceties by Nick Mason and propelled on stage. Alas for Clive, Willie returned on the second night.
On another night things went awry with two of the hydraulic lifts meant to raise the band, their doubles and their equipment from the depths of Earls Court to in front of their cardboard 'wall' in the second half of the set, fixing a yawning chasm between Roger and Dave and their respective amplifiers.
Because of his use of headphones, Roger didn't have a big problem with that. However, Dave could not reach his mike and his pedal-board at the same time, and couldn't hear what he was playing either.
Afterwards, Waters said: 'I quite like it when things go wrong. It makes it less boring, puts more of an edge on things.' His 1990 performance of The Wall in Berlin must have been a real thrill for him then.
More about The Wall in Berlin in the next and final chapter ....
If you want to know more about The Wall Project, check out the other chapters in this special:
1 - The Origin of the Concept & The Story
2 - The Album
4 - The Movie & Epilogue
Written by Ed Sander
The sources for these articles will be listed at the end of chapter 4.