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.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review! I'm not a huge Wakeman fan-- I guess I've always leaned towards the Tony Kaye and Geoff Downes camps when it comes to Yes keyboardists. I don't dislike Wakeman and I do respect his talent, but I've never been much of a fan.

    I did once hear that he and fellow keyboard virtuoso Keith Emerson can't stand one another, but I don't know whether or not there's any truth to that.