Roger Waters’ “Us + Them” concert, perhaps this year’s most controversial tour, comes to Nassau Coliseum this weekend despite calls by some Nassau County legislators to block the shows because of the Pink Floyd co-founder’s calls to boycott Israel.
The show, which includes slogans and imagery highly critical of President Donald Trump, is simply misunderstood, says Waters’ creative director, Sean Evans, a native of Northport. “The message of the show is a message of love,” said Evans, calling from a tour stop in Philadelphia. “Yes, he is throwing some eggs at the current administration. Yes, he is pointing out some of the world’s problems. But the message of the show is that it can be solved with love.”
In July, Nassau County Attorney Carnell T. Foskey called on the Nassau Events Center, which manages the Coliseum, to cancel Waters’ concerts scheduled there on Friday and Saturday, because the musician supports the BDS (boycott, divest, sanctions) movement, which seeks to boycott Israeli goods and services. Waters’ sold-out concerts are expected to go on as scheduled, but the protests continue.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York on Tuesday launched a petition drive to raise awareness of Waters’ views before his concerts in Uniondale and at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Monday and Tuesday.
“We demand that he stop spreading propaganda and lies about Israel and cease employing classic anti-Semitic imagery during his performances,” the group’s president, Charles S. Temel, said in a statement. “He must also end his promotion of the cultural boycott of Israel, which rejects the power of music to build bridges of peace and will make the conflict more difficult to resolve.”
Waters has often denied that he is anti-Semitic and Evans said there are no anti-Semitic images used in the show.
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“That sounds more like they are reacting more to keywords or bullet points than the actual issues,” Evans said. “They cite this one instance of the Star of David on the pig [in “The Wall” tour] and call it Nazi imagery. That feels pretty low.”
Evans, who designed the set and props of “The Wall” tour with Waters, said that the symbols of every other major religion also flashed on the pig in question during that show, as well as dozens of other images, including the logos of McDonald’s, Shell and Mercedes-Benz.
“They are removing it from the bigger narrative,” he said. “The symbols that flashed on the pig were random. It so happened that the Star of David was followed by the dollar sign at a particular show. We changed it. And after there was the furor, we removed it because it was clouding the message. The symbol was there for only five shows.”
By all accounts, Waters’ “Us + Them” tour is a high-tech, intensely visual extravaganza, featuring massive LED screens and complex grids designed to set scenes for the show, which is supporting his recent “Is This the Life We Really Want?” (Columbia) album.
To date, Waters hasn’t even really addressed the issue of Israel on the “Us + Them” tour. That isn’t to say he has tried to avoid controversy, though. He has been an outspoken supporter of the BDS movement and called out Radiohead for its performance in Israel in July. In most cities, he has been pointed in his criticism of President Trump, with anti-Trump slogans and visuals appearing at several points in the show, including one depicting the president as a pig.
“It would be a lot easier to be on tour if I wasn’t doing any of this, if I didn’t have opinions . . .” Waters told CNN. “In my view, you have to make your choice as to whether you do the right thing or the thing that makes you the most money.”
Waters is already responsible for the top-grossing solo tour of all time with “The Wall,” which earned $459 million from 2010 to 2013.
Waters, who splits his time between his homes in Bridgehampton and Manhattan when he is not on tour, told CNN that he understands that “Us + Them” is a different kind of show, one that will not appeal to everyone.
“If you’re looking for an escape from a connection with other people on this planet . . . well, that’s what you believe. Go see Katy Perry, you know?”
THE SHOW(S) WILL GO ON
After initially calling for the cancellation of Roger Waters’ upcoming concerts at Nassau Coliseum, Nassau lawmakers opted to let the shows go on.
“After extensive legal review, we have determined that factual issues and a lack of legal precedent have precluded success if the County were to litigate,” Nassau County Attorney Carnell T. Foskey said in a statement.
Legis. Howard J. Kopel (R-Lawrence) said he believes the shows violate a law he sponsored last year prohibiting the county from doing business with companies that boycott or divested from Israeli businesses or supported sanctions against Israel. “I disagree [with the county], but I respect their decision,” he said. “By allowing this concert, they are giving a classic anti-Semite a platform built and paid for by taxpayers.”
Officials of the Nassau Events Center, which manages the Coliseum, declined to comment about the Waters concerts. However, in a letter to Foskey, NEC’s chief legal and administrative officer, Jeffrey B. Gewirtz, said the concerts do not violate Nassau County law because the Coliseum is “a venue that respects the expression and exchange of a wide variety of ideas and viewpoints.”
Kopel said demonstrations are possible, though probably not at the first concert because it is occurring on the Jewish Sabbath. “I expect there will be something,” he said. “But there will not be a lot of Orthodox involvement because the first show is on a Friday evening.” — GLENN GAMBOA
WHO Roger Waters
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday , Barclays Center, Brooklyn; and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale
INFO $53.50-$325; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
WHAT ABOUT THE SHOW ITSELF?
Roger Waters’ “Us + Them” tour offers new songs from his recent “Is This the Life We Really Want?” album, including the standout track “The Last Refugee,” mixed with Pink Floyd rock classics like “Another Brick in the Wall” and “Money.”
Though some have bristled at Waters’ politics, most critics have applauded the tour’s visual and sonic elements. Here are excerpts from some early reviews:
“The combination of music and words and sound effects and lights and video creates so many moments likely to drop your jaw that processing them all is almost overwhelming; this is a show where a giant, reflective orb . . . [floated] across the arena for a while and it wouldn’t even make the Top 10 moments of the show.” — Cory Garcia, Houston Press
“You might have thought this unsubtle onslaught would have driven fans not interested in being bombarded with politics at a pop concert from their seats in droves, but that wasn’t the case . . . There’s a social contract at a Rogers Waters show that both the artist and his still-massive fan base have agreed to. They come to hear the old Pink Floyd songs that have stood the test of time, and he performs them in the here and now on his own terms.” — Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Waters earned high marks for recasting chestnuts alongside invigorated new work in service of a deeply felt artistic statement, rather than simply rehashing hits to ring the cash registers heard during the prelude to ‘Money.’ ” — Jeff Elbel, Chicago Sun-Times