It was an exercise in masochism and excess.
A seven-hour drive, sans air-conditioning, through Los Angeles and the Palm Desert, only to wind up in the God-forsaken town of Indio, where the sun and choking dust did their best to ensure we would never make it out alive.
At the onsite camping entrance, we were subjected to an overly invasive search that put LAX security to shame. We stood and watched as hired goons tore into the bags and giant Tupperware bins containing our entire campsite and flung our personal belongings on a dirty folding table. It took them minutes to destroy something that had taken hours to pack.
“Don’t fuck with me!” a diminutive Latina repeatedly shouted in our faces. “No alcohol and no drugs! If I catch you fuckers, I’ll make sure your asses get kicked out of here!”
She confiscated our hammer and our boysenberry jam (it was in a glass jar).
The hammer wasn’t so bad. If we loaded enough stuff in our tent, surely it would stay in place without stakes. But the prospect of spending four-and-a-half days in the desert with peanut butter and no jelly was too much to handle.
As security haphazardly threw our belongings back into their containers, my friend Swanny, who had already cleared the checkpoint, snuck up behind them and liberated our beloved fruit spread from the confiscated items table.
Score one for us.
Between Thursday and Monday we faced additional searches, stifling heat, $2 bottles of water, $9 teriyaki bowls, B.O. that could kill a small child, filthy sandal feet, marathon days, sleepless nights, one skeezy heroin dealer, crowds that could make Houdini claustrophobic and more hipsters in disgustingly short shorts than anyone should be forced to bear witness to . and all for what?
Only the greatest concert any of us had ever seen.
The weekend was filled with standout performances. Battles, Architecture in Helsinki, Akron/Family, The Black Lips, Animal Collective, The Breeders, Portishead, DeVotchKa, Gogol Bordello and so many more took the stage and blew us away. But in the end, not even the great Prince could hold a candle to the genius that is Roger Waters.
I’ll admit, even I had maintained some degree of skepticism heading into the show. I worried that Waters was just another burned-out old rocker trying to pay the bills by playing music he wrote 40 years ago, without the band that had helped make it great.
This could not have been further from the truth.
From beginning to end, Waters made it obvious that the reason he continues to play this music is because he still loves and believes in it and the power it contains. Every second of the show was dripping with pure, raw emotion. As he played, I had to scan the crowd to make sure I wasn’t the only one wiping tears from my eyes. I definitely was not.
He opened with “In the Flesh” from the Pink Floyd classic “The Wall,” and as the hammers marched across the gigantic screen behind Waters and crew, I could barely contain myself. And I am not ashamed to admit that when he reached the final line “If I had my way, I’d have all of you shot,” I couldn’t contain myself. It was like living a childhood dream. After so many years of listening to that album on a loop, Roger Waters was addressing me. He wanted to shoot me!
The opening set was absolutely brilliant. I have never experienced live sound that even compares to Waters’ setup. The only way my friends and I could describe the sound quality was to compare it to wearing an incredible pair of headphones. This should have come as no surprise considering Waters and Pink Floyd were pioneers of quad-sound, but I never would have guessed that the noise of a helicopter flying in at the beginning of “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)” would cause every head in the crowd to snap upward in search of the nonexistent craft.
The show was every bit as visual as it was auditory. The team of graphic designers, animators and filmmakers that created the stage show deserve a standing ovation. Every image that flashed on the screen melded so perfectly with the music that it would be hard to imagine one without the other.
Waters’ beloved pig made an appearance during the first set as well. As the band played “Pigs,” the ominous creature floated through the crowd, covered in anti-war graffiti reading “No Blood for Oil” and “Don’t Be Led to the Slaughter.” On the bottom, there was simply a ballot box with a checkmark next to the name “Obama.”
As soon as the swine was directly over my head, it began floating upward, disappearing into the night sky.
“How do you think they get the pig back?” I would ask my fiancée after the show. As it turns out, the pig wasn’t supposed to fly away, and there was a reward of $10,000 and four free Coachella passes every year for life being offered for its safe return. Its remains have since been recovered.
After a brief intermission, the band took the stage again and proceeded to play the entire “Dark Side of the Moon” album from beginning to end. I can’t really describe how amazing it was to witness this. I had resigned myself to accept the fact that I would never hear this music live, and now that was exactly what was happening.
From the opening seconds of “Speak to Me” to the final seconds of “Eclipse,” I was in heaven. If I had died during the last song as the iconic prism from the album cover washed the audience in vivid rainbow, I would have gone gently into that good night without so much as arching an eyebrow.
So when they returned for an encore, I almost did die.
The show ended with “Comfortably Numb,” and as soon as it began,
I wondered how they would handle the legendary guitar solo, made famous by David Gilmour.
It was done very tastefully (as were Gilmour’s parts in every other song), with no showboating or excessive “noodling” and was brilliantly finished on violin by Lily Haydn, who had provided backing vocals for Waters during the majority of the set. All around me, jaws hit the ground (mine included).
When all was said and done, I was in a state of shock. I turned to the gentleman next to me and shook his hand.
“I feel like we’ve been through a lot together,” I told him.
“We have,” he replied without skipping a beat.
Well said, my friend. Well said.