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Roger Waters, former leader and founder of legendary rock band Pink Floyd, made it into the annals of Israeli rock music history Thursday night and not just because of the controversial comments he'd made a day earlier as he inspected Israel's security fence in Bethlehem.
In a two and a half hour concert that packed more than 50,000 people into a makeshift stadium at the peace village Neveh Shalom, located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, near the Latrun monastery, Waters proved that forty years (and hours in backed up traffic) was really worth the wait for him to perform in Israel.
As in the build up to the performance, so on Thursday evening the themes were peace and politics with Waters singing some of Pink Floyd's greatest songs including the iconic "Another Brick in the Wall," and "Comfortably Numb" from the album The Wall, "Wish You Were Here," and "Shine on You Crazy Diamond," the entire contents of Floyd's classic Dark Side of The Moon, and his own more up to date solo work.
Waters chatted very little with the crowd, who had waited patiently an extra half an hour for the concert to start due to heavy traffic jams. After Micha Shitreet, David Broza and Mashina finished entertaining the early arrivals, Waters finally took the stage.
He said a quick "Shalom," before launching into the riveting electric guitar chords of "In the Flesh," the symbolic song from The Wall that paints a picture of a rock star turned political dictator. Waters used the same Nazi-like symbols of two hammers crossed together that Pink Floyd had used in the 1982 film version of the album, starring Bob Geldof. And when he sang the line "And that one looks Jewish..." the crowd roared their approval, a responsive commentary from the enthusiastic crowd that became a common practice throughout the night.
Towards the end of the first half of the show, Waters shared a short story with the crowd about an experience he'd had as a teenager traveling around Lebanon.
"When I was a young man of 17 I visited the Middle East and became stranded in Beirut, Lebanon. I had to hitchhike to London and before I left Lebanon I was taken in by a Beduin family just outside of Beirut who treated me like one of their own," Waters told the easy-to-please crowd. "When the war started in Afghanistan, I took these events and made them into a story."
Then Waters launched into the song, bashing American and British global policies and asking the crowd: "Are these the people we should bomb?"
That was not Water's main political commentary of the evening. Returning to the stage close to midnight for his encore, Waters called to the crowd: "We need this generation of Israelis to tear down walls and make peace."
Then he played the song everyone had been waiting for: "Another Brick in the Wall." The political commentary was definitely less well received than Water's overall musical performance. Although there were cheers after his statement, some people called for him to focus on the music.
Despite a weak vocal showing at last summer's Live 8 performance in Hyde Park, London, where the singer united with his former band mates for the first time since their split in the mid-80s, this time Waters was on top form delivering some of the greatest rock tracks ever written, in the same top-notch quality as they might have been presented thirty-something years ago. And the backup singers and musicians were equally as impressive.
Ultimately, Waters proved that he does not really need his old Pink Floyd mates to create a concert experience that is unforgettable.
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