Roger Waters Us+Them Tour 2018, Estadio Nacional Chile Roger Waters Us+Them Tour 2018, Estadio Nacional Chile. Photo: Andrés Ibarra / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Noel Douglas reviews This is Not a Drill and argues that its messaging against war, racism and climate change is blunt but effective

Less than a week after left-wing Labour Mayor Jamie Driscoll was refused the right to stand for the new Mayoral position in the North East by Labour headquarters because he shared a platform with film director Ken Loach, a supposed ‘Holocaust denier’, Roger Waters has become the next cultural figure that pro-Israeli political campaigners and leading politicians have tried to cancel.  

Following on from attempts to ban him in Germany last month, this ongoing smear campaign reached new heights of mania this week as Waters prepared to play the O2 Arena in London, Mayor Sadiq Khan met with O2 officials to express his concerns, local Greenwich Labour Councillor Anthony Okereke claimed Waters had a long history of engaging in ‘anti-Jewish racism or in antisemitic conspiracies.’ Calls for the concert to be censored or banned were made. Predictably, following a request from the British Board of Jewish Deputies, Keir Starmer also adding his voice to the attempts to censor the gig. 

So arriving at O2 you may have expected to be about to experience something akin to the Nuremberg rally with Walters as Hitler pronouncing the birth of the 4th Reich. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. In fact what the tens of thousands of people in the audience were treated to was an epic, visual and aural assault on capitalism, war, racism and injustice and a very clear message of human rights for all people across the globe.

Set in the round the gig began with a set of enormous LED screens in cross formation (so every part of the crowd could see the visuals) lifting off the ground to reveal the band beneath, as Pink Floyd’s song ‘Comfortably Numb’ played and videos of bomb wrecked cityscapes played out on the screen. There then followed over two hours of powerful songs from Waters’ solo career and Pink Floyd’s, played superbly by the band, while the different themes mentioned played out on the screens above.

Particularly powerful was one section, attacked by critics for being antisemitic, where different names of victims of state and police violence played out on the screen, with their ‘reason’ for death listed below their name, Anne Frank for being Jewish; George Floyd for being black; Shireen Abu Akleh for being Palestinian; as Water’s band played the song ‘The Powers that Be’. To suggest that, as critics did, that to put Anne Frank’s name next to Shireen Abu Akleh’s was to somehow mock Jewish suffering in the Holocaust shows how desperate and crazed the critics are.

Similarly, liberal critics have nitpicked over his choices of oppressors, saying that he doesn’t attack Putin enough, or raise Ukraine specifically in the show, but that’s also to miss the point. Waters points to root causes of the state of the world we live in, the birth of the US-led neoliberal war machine in the 70s and 80s. One section has a succession of US Presidents from Reagan onward labelled ‘war criminal’. Waters hammered this message home-and his answers are always to universalise resistance and hope to unite all against capitalist oppression.

The only criticism you could possibly level at Waters’ show was that it was blunt. Huge slogans – ‘f*ck drones’, ‘f*ck the government’, ‘f*ck the occupation’, ‘f*ck bombing people’ – periodically flashed up on the huge screens. But then as the world is yet again rearming for what seems like endless war and the air in New York turns acrid orange from climate breakdown induced wildfires in Canada, isn’t that exactly the right sort of tone to be expressing? The show was a tour de force of what is possible with a rock gig in the arena format: a stunning piece of work and a big ‘f*ck you’ to its critics.

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