The Day Pink Floyd Played Their Final Concert With Roger Waters
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More than four years before founding member Roger Waters officially parted ways with Pink Floyd, the bassist played his last complete concert with the band. On June 17, 1981, Waters joined David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason at Earls Court in London for the final date of The Wall tour.
But this wasn’t the end of any old tour. To promote Pink Floyd’s sinister rock opera, the band created a massive stage show that required eight additional musicians and more than 80 crew members. Gerald Scarfe’s gruesome animations played on giant projectors, huge balloon characters menaced the audience and (in a moment of sledgehammer symbolism) an enormous wall was erected onstage between the band and its fans.
Because of the all of the unparalleled spectacle of The Wall shows, Pink Floyd eschewed the usual multi-city tour in favor of setting up camp in a few cities in the U.S. and Europe and doing short runs of performances. Between February 1980 and June 1981, the band played 31 of these concerts in Los Angeles, New York, London and Dortmund, West Germany, before returning to London for five more shows.
The story goes that Waters — who conceived and wrote the majority of the songs on The Wall — pushed for the last five London shows in order to film them and then include the footage in a feature film. Waters’ original plan was that he would star in The Wall movie, which would incorporate scenes from Pink Floyd concerts. In the end, Waters was replaced as lead actor by another singer, Bob Geldof, which made the concert stuff with Waters incompatible. Regardless, the live footage was determined to be dark, grainy and unsuitable for theatrical presentation.
Alan Parker, who would direct Pink Floyd’s The Wall, later described the attempts to film the concert version of The Wall as “five blown opportunities.” Meanwhile, guitarist and singer Gilmour would claim that only a handful of songs were appropriately captured by the cameras. “About 20 minutes were shot — for example, ‘Hey You,’ where the camera was behind the wall focusing on us, then it went up and over the wall onto the audience,” Gilmour told Record Collector. “That’s a great bit of footage. But only three tracks were filmed.”
Even though the impetus for the concerts failed to pan out, the last five gigs still served as a swan song for Floyd’s core four — not that it was the most pleasant of experiences. For instance, keyboardist Wright had previously been ushered out of the band by Waters and participated in The Wall shows as a salaried sideman. Ironically, Wright was the only member to make money off the shows. The other guys all took losses on the deal because of the expense of such a spectacle.
Years later, Wright would become a full member of Pink Floyd once again, but only after the exit of Waters. Before he left, Waters made one more Floyd record, 1983’s The Final Cut, which many fans consider a Waters solo album in all but name, because of his bandmates’ limited involvement.
After releasing an actual solo disc, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, in 1984, Waters tried to disband Pink Floyd, only to discover that the other guys were interested in keeping the group alive. After some ugly litigation, Gilmour, Wright and Mason soldiered on as Pink Floyd. As part of the agreement, Waters retained the rights to The Wall (which he later performed in concert as a solo artist).
Even though 1981 saw the final complete performance featuring all members of Pink Floyd’s most famous lineup, it wouldn’t be the last time that Gilmour, Wright, Mason and Waters would share a stage. None other than Geldof (Waters’ replacement in The Wall movie) found a way to reunite the long-feuding members. The four musicians agreed to appear as Pink Floyd at 2005’s Live 8 benefit concert in London. The band played a handful of songs, including one that they last performed with all four members on June 17, 1981: “Comfortably Numb.”
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