On 21 July, 1990, Roger Waters and numerous special guests gave a performance of The Wall in Berlin to commemorate the fall of the Wall eight months earlier. Here Guitars Exchange selects some highlights of that day, based exclusively on YouTube clips, to celebrate the 30th anniversary.
First, however, it is worth noting some key background points to this historic and extraordinary concert. Following WWII the Berlin Wall had been built to separate East and West Germany, which became a focal point of the Cold War between ‘communist’ East and ‘capitalist’ West. Well over one hundred people died, many shot and killed, trying to cross the wall from East to West, and this area became known as the ‘death zone’, which is precisely where Waters’ concert was later held.
Waters had previously said he could not imagine staging The Wall again, but when the Berlin Wall was unexpectedly and dramatically pulled down in November 1989, he felt a unique moment had come, and flew out the next day to check out the possibilities. Aside from the historic and symbolic importance of staging the show on that location, at that time, Waters was enthused by the idea of raising money for Leonard Cheshire’s War Memorial Fund. When the show finally took place it had a stage that was approximately 200 metres long by 25 metres high, and had a world record ticket-paying crowd of 350,000, plus an estimated 100,000 more who watched from afar when the gates were opened. There was reportedly enough room on stage to accommodate ‘military trucks, an ambulance, motorbikes, limousines and the Marching Band of the Combined Soviet Forces in Germany’.
And then, at 22:00 hours on that legendary evening, Leonard Cheshire opened the concert by blowing hard on a whistle from World War II …
In the Flesh? by The Scorpions
It was an inspired choice by Waters to choose The Scorpions to open the show, partly because of their German roots and partly because their music suits The Wall’s cacophonic heavy rock beginnings. Guitarist Rudolf Schenker can be seen on stage brandishing his distinctive black and white Gibson signature Flying V.
A huge white stretch limo arrives on stage, fans scream, confetti and paper rains down everywhere as In The Flesh is given a much welcome extended intro, and before we know it, it’s … Lights! Roll on the Sound Effects! Action!!!
The Thin Ice by Ute Lemper
The Thin Ice showcases the beautiful lead voice and soaring backing vocals of Ute Lemper. She is on stage for all too brief a time but she shines in her role alongside Roger Waters and the Rundfunk Orchestra & Choir. It is said that this song was disrupted when a circuit breaker tripped and the song had to be re-recorded for the issue of the videotape, but this version is well worth watching.
Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) by Cyndi Lauper
This anthem is superbly led by Cyndi Lauper, who raunchily rolls around the stage dressed up as a rebellious schoolgirl. Again Waters made a left-field choice selecting Lauper for the part, as she is not known for this kind of music, but she acquits herself exceptionally. On the other hand this iconic song is so strongly associated with schoolchildren singing the chorus, it is inevitable that it feels like something very important is missing without them.
The song also includes extended solos by Rick Di Fonzo and Snowy White, a synth solo by Thomas Dolby and an organ solo by Peter Wood; all of whom are outstanding.
Mother by Sinéad O'Connor and the Band; accordion by Garth Hudson, vocals by Rick Danko and Levon Helm; acoustic instruments by the Hooters
This performance is little short of a disaster as various technical problems dogged the recording on the night, forcing the participants to patch things together as best they could. It would be a cold person who does not feel for Sinéad O’Connor in particular, who must have been shattered to have that much bad luck in front of such a huge audience. At around 1:50 in the video you can actually see Waters get down on his knees to pray for divine intervention.
Goodbye Blue Sky by Joni Mitchell It is a lovely thought that two of the greatest songwriters in history decided that Mitchell should sing Goodbye Blue Sky. It has been reported that while she didn’t have technical problems she was very angry about hitting one bad note in an otherwise sublime performance; which goes to show the level of perfection she is used to. Apparently the technicians again had to be involved to create this version. It might not work for everybody, but having Joni Mitchell sing a part of The Wall must certainly rank as a stand out moment of the night.
Young Lust by Bryan Adams, with a guitar solo by Rick Di Fonzo.
Rod Stewart was originally slated to sing Young Lust, but he couldn’t make the concert when the date was postponed; however this provided a great opportunity for Bryan Adams to do something exceptional on the night, and he took it. Adams looks the part in a power stance and denim, and puts in a fine vocal performance. Rick DiFonzo does a great solo on this song, reportedly on his custom made Kramer; it cannot be easy trying to step into David Gilmour’s shoes but he takes on the task with the necessary swagger and aplomb.
Hey You by Paul Carrack This a top vocal performance by Paul Carrack, who is not required to take Gilmour’s place as a guitarist, but as a singer; and while many would prefer the original version this provides a very admirable alternative. Roger Waters accompanies him with an all black Washburn SBT-21 telecaster-style guitar.
Vera by Roger Waters and the Rundfunk Orchestra & Choir This has been included because it is one of Waters’ own favourite tracks. Lyrically it is probably the most interesting song on the album as Waters takes Vera Lynn’s classic wartime song and turns it into a bitter invocation of all that has been lost.
Comfortably Numb by Van Morrison and Roger Waters, with support from the Band and guitar solos by Rick Di Fonzo and Snowy White.
Van Morrison’s live version of Comfortably Numb was so good that it was used in both Martin Scorsese’s film The Departed and in HBO's The Sopranos (remember when Christopher dies following a car accident with his uncle Tony?). Van Morrison and Water’s voices work very well together and Levon Helm and Rick Danko of the Band lend a hand with backing vocals.
Next, however, is probably the challenge of the night, as someone has to try and take on one of the most iconic guitar solos of all time. In fact two guitarists – Rick DiFonzo and Snowy White – are both required, and they do an excellent job. Van Morrison gets to add an additional chorus at the end of the song, but at this point it is difficult not to feel a strong yearning for Gilmour, no matter how good the performances are.
The Trial featured Tim Curry as the Prosecutor, Thomas Dolby as the Schoolmaster, Ute Lemper as the Wife, Marianne Faithfull as the Mother and Albert Finney as the Judge, but sadly the video that would normally round off the concert is not available on YouTube. Apparently as the chant of ‘Tear down the wall!’ rings out there is a projection of a graffiti-marked Berlin Wall, just before it falls.
The Tide Is Turning with lead vocals by Roger Waters, Paul Carrack, Joni Mitchell, Cyndi Lauper, Bryan Adams, and Van Morrison.
Anyone familiar with the album might reasonably expect to see the the show finish at this point with Outside the Wall. However it was probably felt that would have been an inappropriate finale and was too short, and so the concert officially ends with The Tide Is Turning, from Waters' solo album Radio K.A.O.S. The track gives a chance for a number of stars to take a turn and provides a hopeful, emotional and rousing finish to an historic and monumental concert.