“It’s rare that someone like me gets a platform like this, and I’m going to use it,” declared Roger Waters to thousands gathered in Indio, California, for the final night of Desert Trip’s opening weekend on Sunday. He was the last of the six major acts to perform, all of whom date back to the 1960s and the era of rebellion songs. Before the night was over, he made vivid connections between his work with Pink Floyd and the political crises of the moment.
So there was a truck-sized inflatable pig floating above the crowd during the song “Pigs,” with a map of the U.S. painted on one side with the words: “Together we stand, divided we fall.” On the other side was the face of Donald Trump and the words “ignorant,” “lying,” “racist,” “sexist” and “Fuck Trump and his wall.”
During the Who’s set earlier in the evening, Pete Townshend alluded cryptically to the presidential election, and the day before, Neil Young sang of threats to environment. Waters was more aggressive in messaging as he weaved politics as an essential element of his performance of Pink Floyd classics. He read a poem of rage and protest called “Why Cannot the Good Prevail” that he wrote on the eve of George W. Bush’s second term and expressed ongoing support for Palestinians in the multi-decade conflict with Israel. He brought out a chorus of children in black T-shirts reading in Spanish “Derriba el muro” (“Tear down this wall”) during “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2).”
But the music of Waters did not become overtly political until late in his career, beginning with his final album with Pink Floyd, 1983’s The Final Cut. Before that, his concerns were largely with madness and the dehumanizing of the personal. Sunday’s set eased into focus with classic Floyd imagery, with a vast moonscape on the stage’s super-wide screen, as familiar sound effects from Pink Floyd recordings slowly emerged from the venue’s various speaker towers, like something on an old quad stereo from the Sixties or Seventies.
The music began with “Speak to Me” and “Breathe,” the opening songs from 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon, which remains one of the best-selling albums in history. From the same album was “Time,” lush and forward looking but classically melodic amid the dark messages: “Short of breath … one day closer to death.”
From The Wall, Waters strummed an acoustic guitar and sang “Mother,” with the words “Mother should I run for president?” drawing cheers from fans, then a bigger response for “Mother, should I trust the government?” The gifted singing duo Lucius were recruited as vocalists, and performed the the voice of “mother,” sweet, soulful and smothering.