As the opening guitar refrain from Pink Floyd's 1975 classic "Wish You Were Here" rang clearly through Atlanta's Lakewood Amphitheater's sound system Sunday night, the stench of high-school nostalgia hung thickly in the air.| You might as well have been scrunched into the backseat of a car with a joint in one hand and a warm Bud in the other, hoping to God the cops didn't pull up beside you.
But a quick glance around the shed and it was 1999 again. On stage, Roger Waters was dressed in all black, with a full head of gray hair, leading an eight-piece band into the chorus of the twenty-five year-old song. The crowd was filled with guys who looked quite a bit like Waters himself -- some with less hair, many a little worse for the wear -- strumming away on air guitar and singing along. After two-and-a-half decades and countless dedications in high school yearbooks, the song's plaintive cry of, "We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year / Running over the same old ground," seems to have taken on a new, more pointed, meaning. There's no question in fact, that these days, the erstwhile Pink Floyd frontman and his loyal fan base are just that -- lost souls, running over old ground -- but on this night neither would've had it any other way.
The show started promptly at eight o'clock, with Waters counting off in German, "eins, zwei, drei!" and then ambling into "In the Flesh," the delicate intro to Floyd's 1980 landmark, The Wall. Standing on a riser ten feet above his band with a huge white sheet behind him, Waters was bathed alternately in red, yellow, green and blue hues from the lights flooding the stage. He came down off the riser after the opener, and the sheet behind him became a canvas for a series of projected images for the duration of the two-and-a-half-hour show.
From early on, it was clear Waters was not going to shy away from the oldies that the large crowd had quite obviously come to see. He opened with a medley from The Wall and the audience responded on cue: They chanted along with "Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2" and whipped out their lighters for the more contemplative "Mother." "Southhampton Dock," from Waters' Pink Floyd swan song, The Final Cut, followed the medley and got a predictably chillier reception from the audience. This scene would repeat itself throughout the evening: Soaring crowd-pleasers like "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" became massive sing-alongs while more obscure tunes, particularly Waters' solo material like "Powers That Be" and the funereal "It's a Miracle," became bathroom breaks, despite their careful renderings.
Of course, Roger Waters being Roger Waters, the sound quality was impeccable. He and his band seemed almost obsessive in their note-perfect reproductions of tunes like "Brain Damage" and "Welcome to the Machine," and few arrangements differed at all from the songs' recorded versions. In fact, everything about the show, from its punctual starting time to the band's crisp playing, suggested Waters was an engineer turning the crank of a well-oiled machine. The visuals were intricately integrated with the band's proficient playing, no solo ran over its course, and touring guitarist Doyle Bramhall II's vocal turns on "Money" and "Comfortably Numb," sounded enough like Waters' former Floyd mate David Gilmour, that a blind taste-test probably would've fooled most people.
What Waters lost in his precision-tuning of the show though, was the raw passion that was always at the heart of Floyd's best material, no matter how obsessive the band got with high-concepts and production. But at fifty-four, Waters is not the fiery iconoclast he was at thirty-four. He's a gracious entertainer, which is just fine with his fans.