When Roger Waters Returned to the Stage With Eric Clapton
The year 1984 wasn’t exactly a time for dark, introspective prog-rock tales of adultery and fever dreams, as laid out on Roger Waters's first solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking.
MTV was broadcasting a steady stream of Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Duran Duran and Culture Club while Waters completed an album originally conceived concurrently with his equally bleak opus The Wall. Both were offered up to the other members of Pink Floyd, leaving the shelved Pros and Cons for Waters to release after the band’s breakup.
“I made demo tapes of them both, and in fact presented both demo tapes to the rest of the Floyd, and said, ‘Look, I'm going to do one of these as a solo project and we'll do one as a band album, and you can choose,’” Waters told the Source in 1984. “So, this was the one that was left over. Um ... I mean, it's developed an awful lot since then, I think.”
Eric Clapton plays lead guitar on the record and joined Waters for the 1984 portion of the Pros and Cons tour, which marked Waters’ first shows since he wrapped up The Wall tour with Pink Floyd in 1981.
The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking tour started in Stockholm on June 16, 1984, and included a nine-concert European run that stopped in Paris, Birmingham, London, Rotterdam and Zurich. The first North American leg included just 10 shows and debuted on July 17, 1984, with two nights in Hartford, Conn., both of which included many empty seats. Three shows at New Jersey’s Brendan Byrne Arena sold out, as did a show at Philadelphia’s Spectrum. The run wrapped up with dates in Rosemont, Ill., outside of Chicago, two at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens and at Montreal’s Forum.
Ticket sales lagged overall for the 1984 leg and reviews were mixed, if not downright savage. Waters has said the tour lost money, costing him almost half a million dollars. The band also included guitarist and bassist Tim Renwick, drummer Andy Newmark, bassist and organist Chris Stainton, keyboardist Michael Kamen, saxophonist Mel Collins and backup singers Katie Kissoon and Doreen Chanter. A second leg of the tour in 1985 included 17 dates with Jay Stapley taking over for Clapton.
Waters' 11-song performances touched on Pink Floyd staples from several albums, including Wish You Were Here, The Wall, Animals and The Dark Side of the Moon. He notably included “The Gunner’s Dream,” a rare live performance from The Final Cut. The second set was a performance of The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking in its entirety, with visuals from longtime Waters collaborator Nicolas Roeg and animation from The Wall wizard Gerald Scarfe.
“It was clear that Waters’ heart was in the Hitchhiking segment, and that part of the concert showcased his most impassioned singing,” Boston Globe critic Jim Sullivan said of the first show at Hartford. But Sullivan, like many others at the time, dismissed Pros and Cons as bleak, meandering and mediocre.
“The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking is a colossal failure,” he wrote. “On record, it’s a disjointed, static bore. In concert it was a disjointed, static bore augmented by surreal visuals.” While Sullivan hailed the Pink Floyd portion of the show, he blasted Waters' new music, calling it “convoluted and dull.”
Liam Lacey of the Toronto Globe and Mail was equally harsh after the first Maple Leaf Gardens performance, adding that “Roger Waters’ music was really such an utter crock, a middle-brow and inept attempt to make a Big Statement. The all-star band did its best to keep the musical weaknesses from becoming too obvious. Looking at the faces of the players, though – and the face of Waters himself – it was obvious that no one seemed to be having much fun with the music.”
Lacey even blasted Clapton, writing that he “seemed positively bored. Although his stylish, technically perfect guitar solos were the most interesting musical portions of the show, there was never any indication of passion in his playing.”
Stephen Holden of the New York Times was a bit kinder, hailing the first New Jersey show as a “multimedia spectacle” that was “one of the year's most imposing displays of rock theatrics and technology.” Holden described Waters' latest song cycle as an “impenetrable dreamlike allegory” that included “only one solid melody ... but the melange of sound effects and surreal, occasionally gory visuals effectively maintained an atmosphere of theatricalized paranoia and alienation."
Not much footage is publicly available from the tour and what exists is low quality. Still, despite featuring one of Waters' less popular albums, the tour featured guitar work by Clapton that is nothing short of stellar – and The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking is nevertheless defended in some corners.
It was a difficult and dark time for Waters personally as he rebounded from the messy demise of Pink Floyd. Coupled with the shiny, happy pop landscape of the time, and the massive burden of The Wall's success, it’s not surprising critics were hard on his first foray back onto the world stage.
Regardless, it was an historic and bold return for Waters. To have Clapton along for the ride secured a visually and musically stunning performance, even if not everyone agreed on the results.
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