The release of Roger Waters' Us + Them arrives in the absence of a tour and in the middle of an unsettled political election, making it particularly topical and 'present in the moment.'
Roger Waters' Us + Them, which had a theatrical run in October of last year, is finally released in several formats today: Blu-ray, DVD, CD, and Vinyl. It arrives in a vacuum of tours (especially, in this case, Waters' own This is Not a Drill tour, which has been postponed due to the COVID pandemic) and in the thick of a debate about the US presidential election held earlier this month. Its timing is impeccable.
The absence of live music has been a catalyst for a number of behavioural changes among music fans. Us + Them's production excellence, ample setlist, and timing will give it robust traction and help place it among Waters' classic releases.
In a review of the theatrical release for Floydian Slip, last year, the observation was that "Roger Waters: Us + Them is so exquisitely constructed it emancipates the film from traditional and repetitive templates employed in comparable efforts: the music takes center stage as the expression of ideas Waters and the audience wish to converse about unfold in an exchange between the twain: it takes a talent of Evans’ caliber to capture that. This film documents that dynamic with great cinematic power."
In addition to the video release, getting the actual music on LP and CD formats (and on streaming services) gives people access on a whim - access they've probably craved since late last year. The audio formats capture the same cinematic power, despite the absence of visuals.
Other important notes from the Floydian Slip review of the cinematic release last year:
"The first third of the film delivers some of Pink Floyd’s most prominent material, launching with tracks like Time and The Great Gig in the Sky. The set makes a steep ascent with Welcome to the Machine, its aggressive swagger elevating the band’s performance into perfect cohesion while creating space for each musician to shine on their own: Waronker’s drumming is particularly impressive, reminding listeners of Nick Mason‘s crucial role in shaping Pink Floyd’s sound; judgments that Mason’s drumming is too simple have always been over-simplistic themselves — the way Waronker (and Graham Broad before him in Waters’ band) plays and weaves all these tracks together is a great reminder of the texture Mason added to Pink Floyd’s music.
"As the live performance (and the film) shift toward Waters’ most recent studio material during the second third of the film, it is the integrity, cohesiveness, and great musicianship of this band that helps sustain interest past the Pink Floyd classics: not for lack of enthusiasm for the new material (it is quite incredible watching audience members sing along, word for word, to the new tracks) but because it requires sustaining momentum after these 'classic' tracks have been played back-to-back. The band succeeds in cultivating an appetite for this material and in bridging from it to another set of classics toward the conclusion of the show.
"Wish You Were Here and Another Brick in the Wall (parts two and three) set the stage for some of the material that fans had been imploring Waters to play live in the years preceding the Us + Them tour. The last third of the show consists of epic Pink Floyd classics, the most intense use of stage production and effects, and the strongest political statements in the film."
The theatrical film closed with Brain Damage and Eclipse, which left many fans wondering why Comfortably Numb wasn't included. It is on the DVD, as a bonus feature. Clearly, the production's intent was to close on a different tone (since Comfortably Numb seems to be a default set closer), but it doesn't rob the release of any momentum.
Overall, one of the strengths of Us + Them is the setlist material from Waters' last studio album, Is This the Life We Really Want? Here's where fans will be split into two or three camps. There will be those who enjoyed the balance of material from the new album with a more ample set of Pink Floyd classics, those who would prefer more material from all of Waters' solo catalog, and those who would prefer skipping solo material altogether. This production is balanced enough and peppered with enough Pink Floyd classics (that hadn't been played live in a long time) to satisfy everyone in varying degrees. Us + Them will likely become a reference point in anyone's Waters collection - a recording that includes newer tracks that will never or rarely be played again along with classics that don't normally get stage time. It will be a go-to album for a large number of tracks in a live format.
Now that the US presidential election results are being debated but the outcome is pretty clear, it will be interesting to observe whether Waters' concerns meet their resolution: much of what Waters objects to in his message transcends partisanship - a point the narrative of the concert and its fans may be glossing over unintentionally.
When we complain about police violence and brutality, for example, is it really a partisan issue? It is interesting to note that Republican US Senator Rand Paul (a big Pink Floyd fan, incidentally) has sided with outgoing US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, on a lot of these issue (as well as other issues Waters broaches in his work, such as the abuses of a surveillance society and unnecessary wars).
The United States is in the process (or something like it) of a presidential transition. But it is interesting to note that the newly elected vice president has been at odds with folks like Paul and Gabbard on these critical issues - and not by omission but by commission.
One thing fans should consider, as they listen to or watch Us + Them, is whether, ultimately, these issues are actually about problems with the establishment rather than specific individuals or parties.
In the end, we may all be complicit in casting these things as partisan issues - but our problems may go deeper than that and it's possible we are looking to recast all these things into simpler terms that will emancipate us from tackling them in greater substance. It misses the root cause of these issues. Us + Them is a chapter in a much larger book.
Us + Them is available through Amazon and all major streaming services.