Desert Trip’s inaugural weekend is now in the books—and not even the highly anticipated debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could keep people away from the final-day performances by The Who and Roger Waters.
Some music critics and fans in recent years have mused that it might be time for The Who to hang it up, since the only remaining original members are frontman Roger Daltrey and songwriting wizard and guitarist Pete Townshend. These musings ignore the fact that The Who includes some great touring members, including Ringo Starr’s son, Zak Starkey, who has sat in the late Keith Moon’s spot on drums since 1996; and bassist Pino Palladino, who took over bass duties after the death of John Entwistle in 2002. Palladino has played with Paul Simon, Joe Walsh and Nine Inch Nails.
Critics have also claimed that Townshend’s hearing issues have caused problems with The Who’s live performances. Well, I can tell you that at Desert Trip, The Who was loud—probably the loudest of the six Desert Trip performers.
The Who kicked off the set with “I Can’t Explain” and “The Seeker.” The band surprisingly threw in “Who Are You” a little early—but that was quite all right, considering how much material the group managed to go through in almost two hours.
Before playing “I Can See for Miles,” Townshend explained it was the band’s first hit. He also said that he felt bad for the people in front of the stage, because they had to look at “two old cunts,” meaning he and Daltrey.
As a big fan of The Who’s 1973 concept album/rock opera, Quadrophenia, I was delighted to hear “5:15” as well as the self-titled instrumental, during which some of the world’s most recent historical moments were shown on the video wall—the Vietnam War, the first Gulf War, Sept. 11 and the Iraq War, to name some of them. This was followed by “Love, Reign O’er Me.”
After a performance of 1982’s “Eminence Front,” The Who then made light of their “other” concept album/rock opera, Tommy. They started off a four-song showcase with “Amazing Journey” and followed with “Acid Queen,” “Pinball Wizard” and “See Me, Feel Me.” The group ended with “Baba O’Riley and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
Yes, The Who is not the same band it once was. Roger Daltrey’s voice has understandably began to wear with age, a fact which was very evident during “Love, Reign O’er Me.” That’s not to say his voice has lost all its power. Indeed, The Who put on a powerful performance and was a huge hit with the Desert Trip crowd.
If there’s a relative outlier on the Desert Trip bill, it’s Roger Waters. Pink Floyd started as an intense psychedelic rock band before frontman Syd Barrett did too much LSD and suffered a severe mental breakdown. Yes, Pink Floyd was intense and far out; the band’s early material is influential to many punk bands.
Waters left Pink Floyd in the mid ’80s after The Wall became an epic hit, but he’s remained an influential musician and has carried on Pink Floyd’s legacy. Rumors ran rampant about the performance, and one of them came true—the sound system was amazing.
Waters took the stage after a dark ambient instrumental played for about 20 minutes with the video screen depicting rocky surface, perhaps on the moon. Nearly three amazing hours would follow.
Waters started off “Breathe” from Dark Side of the Moon, and followed with “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” a fine example of Pink Floyd’s heavy psychedelia.
The visuals on “Time,” “Us and Them” and “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” were great, but it was topped by the stunning visuals—typical Pink Floyd artwork of the ’70s style animation that’s a cross between Salvador Dali and the movie Fantastic Planet—during “Welcome to the Machine.”
After “Have a Cigar,” Waters began to play “Wish You Were Here,” and that’s when things got … well, interesting.
The end of the song was interrupted by the sounds of a helicopter and sirens—which blared in surround sound throughout the grounds. Suddenly, a building resembling the one on the cover of Animals appeared across the video wall on the stage, and four large smoke stacks came out of the top of the stage—complete with steam. Waters continued with “Pigs on the Wing, Pt. 1.”
References to Donald Trump began flashing on the screen. An image of Trump with the word “Charade” underneath. An animation of Donald Trump throwing up. A really disturbing picture of Donald Trump in female form, complete with breasts. Finally, during “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2,” an inflatable pig made its way around the grandstands and floor that had “Divided we fall,” “Donald Trump is an arrogant, racist, lying, sexist pig” and “Fuck Trump’s wall!” painted on the side.
Songs including “Mother,” “Run Like Hell” and “Brain Damage/Eclipse” followed.
Waters didn’t really do an encore, and instead talked to the audience about his efforts to boycott Israel and end what he believes is apartheid against the Palestinians. He then proceeded to play “Bring the Boys Back Home” and closed out his set with “Comfortably Numb.” Surprisingly, many members of the Desert Trip audience, many of whom have money and presumably disagree with some of Waters’ political positions, gave him a warm reception.
I have never seen a stage production at the level of Waters’ show at Desert Trip. Actually, I don’t think anybody has ever seen a stage production at the level of Waters’ show at Desert Trip. Somehow, he managed to top everything Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones had to offer. It was an incredible end to the weekend and the festival.