Roger Waters in Mexico City: Strong Political Statements and the Best of Pink Floyd

It’s been a good year for big rock shows in Mexico. The Rolling Stones came in the spring, Phish played their first concerts in the country with three nights at a resort near Playa del Carmen, and last night (Sept. 29, 2016) Roger Waters, the creative genius behind Pink Floyd, played his second show to nearly 60,000 people at the enormous Foro Sol in Mexico City.

It’s a struggle getting to these events on a weeknight — add concert traffic to rush hour traffic, throw in some crazy adventures finding parking, and what’s normally an hour-and-a-half trip into the city starts pushing four hours. So while my wife and I see a lot of smaller concerts, we only go to the really big shows when it’s bound to be something spectacular.

And Roger Waters delivers, no question. Though only 1/4 of Pink Floyd, he has the strongest claim to their legacy. Not only did he write all the lyrics and most of the music, his voice is crucial to so many songs. While you could argue that David Gilmour’s soaring, soothing voice could be passably imitated (his guitar, much less so), Waters’ distinctive tones are drenched in urgency, confidence, and at times, desperate madness. Can you imagine “Pigs on the Wing,” “Mother” or “Vera” without him?

And with a tour called “The Best of Pink Floyd,” you can be sure that there won’t be songs newer than 1979. But you might not except early, unpolished gems like “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” or “One of These Days.” Sure, you’ll hear a lot from “Dark Side of the Moon,” but what about nearly every track from (possibly) superior albums “Wish You Were Here” and “Animals,” performed in large blocks according to album and in roughly chronological order? The final album of Pink Floyd’s great four from the ’70s, “The Wall,” didn’t get quite so much play, but probably because Rogers played the whole double album on his previous tour.

The show was three hours long, and other than Rogers’ heavy letter in Spanish (more on that below), there were no breaks — the band didn’t even leave the stage before the encore.

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And, along with a stellar song selection and great performances punctuated by swirling sound effects, the night included a simply incredible stage show. Towering behind the band was an extra-wide screen that displayed soapy old-time psychedelia during the oldest songs; thematic images like crazy faces, intricate machines, or blankets of stars over a black moonscape; scenes of Black Lives Matter mixed with the American Civil Rights Movement; and Waters, band members or their instruments superimposed over shifting, melting and merging shapes and colors.

Guess which song this was:

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Moody scenes, smoke and acoustic guitars for “Wish You Were Here”:

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Before the unmistakable acoustic strumming of “Pigs on the Wing,” four smokestacks raised up from behind the screen:

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The factory smoked during four “Animals” tracks and stood until the end — never replaced by a wall, to my surprise. The visuals of the imposing factory, colorful graphics and larger-than-life band members were among the most impressive of the night.

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Of course, during “Animals,” you look up and around for the flying pig. You can’t wait for the flying pig. And after both parts of “Pigs on the Wing” played consecutively and then “Dogs,” it finally levitated up between smokestacks — you can see it on the left below — but that’s not all we got.

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For all of a funky, angry “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” the screen flashed images of Trump yelling, Trump with ridiculous expressions, Trump giving Nazi salutes, Trump wearing a KKK hood, Trump with the body of a pig, and even Trump’s fat naked body with a quick zoom-in on his micropenis, eliciting the loudest gasp-then-cheer from the crowd. More hearty cheers came in response to the huge block letters on the screen, “TRUMP ERES UN PENDEJO,” — Trump, you’re an asshole.

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A powerful statement and clear message: Roger Waters doesn’t like Donald Trump. My wife asked, which public figures have gotten the pig treatment in years gone by? Bush, Netanyahu, ex-brothers from Pink Floyd? I wonder. And what kind of reaction will this get at Desert Trip, the huge festival which Roger Waters will close out on the third night? (A deserving position, I am now certain.)

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Near the end of “Pigs,” the screen displayed Trump quotations translated to Spanish. They were a little hard for us to read, being partly obscured by speaker stacks (which fortunately did not block our view of the stage). This one said something about Ivanka:

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But Trump wouldn’t be the only one on the receiving end of Roger Waters’ strong opinions. Waters read a long letter in Spanish addressed to President Peña Nieto, asking him what has happened to the tens of thousands of people who have disappeared during his presidency. At times, the word “RENUNCIA” (resign) was displayed with huge letters on the screen behind.

This riled up the crowd big time, who chanted from 1 to 43 (the number of students who disappeared in Ayotzinapa) or called out “¡asesino!” (murderer), while Roger Waters dealt with guitar problems before “Vera,” which of course led to a fitting “Bring the Boys Back Home.”

There’s a law in Mexico against foreigners making domestic political statements. Manu Chao, for instance, has been banned from playing here since his last concert more than 10 years ago. We’ll have to see what kind of reaction this letter will get. Maybe Roger Waters is too prominent, too important, or maybe his going after Trump even harder will buy him some leeway. (Trump is thoroughly hated here in Mexico.)

Politics aside, the music was the highlight of the night, even more so than the awe-inspiring visuals. To finish the show, the band played “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse,” bringing “Dark Side of the Moon” full circle.

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The end: Smoke and stars after the fireworks following the “Comfortably Numb” encore:

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Tomorrow on Saturday Roger Waters plays a free show in Mexico City’s zócalo (center square), right downtown facing all the government buildings. Will he read his letter there? I can’t imagine why not.

So then the question remains, will he ever be invited back?

Final note: As you can see from the pictures, we were at the opposite end of massive Foro Sol from the stage. With such a grandiose production, these seats were fine — and when the spotlight was right we could clearly see Waters stalking back and forth when he put down the bass or acoustic guitar and focused on singing.

These, the cheapest seats, cost 370 pesos each, less than $20 USD (with the current exchange rate). So, while of course spots up front cost $100 USD or more, there were plenty of good seats available for much more modest prices. Thank you, Mr. Waters.

The Charreada: a Mexican Rodeo and Cowboy Show

I can’t imagine a nicer way to spend the second day of a long weekend than watching a charreada, a Mexican cowboy competition.

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(Except perhaps riding my bike up and down some crazy mountain roads, but I’ll do that tomorrow.)

Forget Cinco de Mayo — September 16 is Mexico’s Independence Day, the reason I have the day off. The night before on the 15th, cities and towns all over Mexico host a party in the zócalo (central square), with a big stage set up for live music, taco stands, and children spraying each other with foam from a can.

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In Temoaya, a small town in the State of Mexico (about an hour from western edge of Mexico City), the charreada starts at 1:00 pm the next day, Friday.

A charreada is like a rodeo, only more of a sport (no clowns). Language note: in Mexico, a rodeo (pronounced with the accent on the second syllable, ro-DEI-o) is a rowdy country-style bar where you drink buckets of beer and listen to loud banda music.

There are two teams, one in red and one in (mostly) blue or white:

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The first competition is to show control of your horse with a quick stop and some fancy footwork, making for a dramatic entrance. This is Froy, my wife’s cousin:

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One of the next events is to take down a bull by pulling on its tail, called las colas, or steer tailing. Yes, animal lovers, it’s not gentle, but it’s better than being tacos.

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Keeping an eye on things:

Riding back for another trip down the gauntlet:

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At a big party tonight the queen of the festival will be chosen. Here a candidate does some friendly campaigning:

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Here we’re treated to some lasso work:

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Get on that bull!

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Big excitement near the end of the charreada: chasing down a yegua (a mare, female horse) and lassoing it at high speeds:

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And the final competition: el paso de la muerte (the pass of death), when the rider jumps from his horse onto the mare:

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Like a hat trick in hockey, you show your appreciation by throwing your hat, boots or beer bottles onto the dirt, which is also a good chance to get your favorite charro (cowboy) to notice you when he returns the hats:

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Who won? I don’t know. But two hours, many beers, and a headful of dust later, the charreada is over. See you next year.

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Tips for Living in Mexico

So many things I wish I knew before I moved to Mexico six years ago: residency requirements, getting a job, finding an apartment, dealing with authorities, traveling around the country, and learning Spanish.

All those and more are in my new article What You Need to Know to Live in Mexico: Insider Tips, which I’m proud to say was chosen by Transitions Abroad as the 1st-place winner of their 2016 Expatriate Writing Contest.

Here are some tips from the article:

  • Most visitors can stay as a tourist for six months. If you don’t plan on working (or getting the visa for permission to work), leave the country when the six months are finished and then simply come back for another six months.
  • To find a job, ask for a job interview in person by visiting the company, not by email.
  • Bring originals of all official documents, like your birth certificate and university transcripts, and get them officially certified with an apostille.
  • Be polite and calm with authorities at all costs. Never show impatience or anger, or you will get nowhere.
  • Don’t take first-class, long-distance buses in Mexico. Domestic flights are usually cheaper and obviously much faster.
  • You don’t need to go to a school to learn Spanish, but can do it yourself with a 20-minute daily commitment. Some ideas: Learn grammar from a book, practice reading with the newspaper, practice listening with songs on YouTube, and practice speaking with a language exchange.

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For more advice, details on those above, and lots of online resources, please read the article on Transitions Abroad. And thanks for visiting my blog.

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