Thursday, June 22, 2006

Rick Wakeman Live At The Keswick Theater, Glenside, PA, June 21, 2006

I admit I was quite skeptical when the opportunity arrived to see Rick Wakeman's "Grand Piano Tour." I was expecting dinosaur rock & roll from a dinosaur musician but instead we were all treated to an outstanding night of music from a man who is a true keyboard virtuoso.

Wakeman played alone on his grand piano all evening. He didn't have a band and he didn't need one. He performed music from all phases of his career and regaled us with extremely humorous and detailed stories about every piece. We heard music from his days with the Strawbs. He played two Yes classics, "Wondorous Stories" and the lengthy but superb "And You And I" from Yes's Close To The Edge. He played half of his 1972 solo album The Six Wives Of Henry The VIII and an instrumental version of "Morning Has Broken," the Cat Stevens classic. Fans of that song should listen closely the next time you hear it because it is Wakeman playing his own piano arrangement on the singer-songwriter's huge hit single. The record features some of the most beautiful piano playing ever to grace a pop hit.

To show off his virtuosity even further Wakeman closed the main show with two Beatles songs. First he played an arrangement of "Help" as he believed it would have sounded if the French composer Saint Saens had written it followed by a Serge Prokofiev version of "Eleanor Rigby." I think both composers would have approved.

The encore was a big surprise. Wakeman played the Keswick's house organ for a rousing version of "Jane Seymour" from Six Wives. The crowd went wild.

Another major surprise, at least for me, is that this ultra-serious musician, who became famous playing in an ultra-serious band, is a major cutup on stage. His humor spiced his stories and kept people in stitches all evening. The man could have been a standup comic if he hadn't pursued music.

At one point Wakeman mentioned that Yes's Jon Anderson is one of his best friends but he also said that Anderson is a bit out there (as if you couldn't tell from his lyrics). He described the Yes singer as "a man who is trying to save this planet while living on another one." Believe it or not Anderson apparently appreciates this assessment of his personality.

There are a lot more stories I could repeat here but much of the humor and impact are lost out of context. Perhaps someday you will get the opportunity to witness this comic act for yourself.

The Keswick was not quite full but neither were we. Wakeman could have played longer than his two hour performance. Most of us would have stayed all night.

You will laugh hysterically with the man and simultaneously cry at his beautiful piano music. Let's hope a DVD and CD of this tour become available soon.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Standin' On A Corner In Winslow, Arizona

I just got back from a vacation to Arizona.

One of my family's stops included lunch in the northern Arizona town of Winslow, the town made famous by the song "Take It Easy." The tune became the first hit single by the 70s country-rock band The Eagles. Because passing nearby Winslow on Interstate 40 was part of our planned route on the way to Flagstaff we decided to get our pictures taken on the notorious corner. Imagine our surprise when we discovered the town has made an industry out of the song.

Here are the lyrics that made this small town famous:
Well, I’m a standing on a corner In Winslow, Arizona
And such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford
slowin’ down to take a look at me.
Winslow has erected a small park celebrating the song. There is a mural painted on the wall that features a picture of a girl in a flatbed Ford and there is a REAL flatbed Ford parked in front of the mural. There are two stores on the corner of the main downtown intersection, that includes part of the old, original, Route 66, blaring Eagles songs on loudspeakers and selling souvenir T-shirts, (naturally I bought one with a picture of the mural on it) magnets, and key chains. The park is predictably called "Standin' On the Corner Park."

According to the store clerk where I bought my shirt The Eagles have promised to come and play a concert there if the town can find a venue large enough to hold the event. Considering the size of the area, that includes the marginally nearby towns of Flagstaff and Sedona, it seems the Eagles will perform in Winslow when "Hell Freezes Over."

Here is the link to the homepage to the park's website. Be sure to read the history section to see how and why this beat up old Western town is milking a 34 year old song. The mural is at the top of the webpage.

It was all silly but fun.