For me, it doesn’t get any better than Rick Wakeman (ok, maybe Keith Emerson matches him). But the old “Caped Crusader” is da man when it comes to prog keyboarding and one of the few of that celebrated lot who has maintained a solo career; at one time, Wakeman’s solo releases were right up there in popularity with what his band Yes was producing.
With countless albums to his credit, as well as having played on lots of recordings in the late 60’s early 70s as a session musician, and yes, his little stint in Yes, this is a man with lots to give an audience. Wakeman is also known as quite the compiere; in certain circles, he is known more for his emceeing and comedy monologues than his music, as is evident from his “Grumpy Old Rock Star Shows.”
At the Wind Creek Event Center, part of the Wind Creek casino/hotel complex in Bethlehem, PA (a mere stone’s throw from my home environs), Mr. W. gave forth a wonderful hour and a half of music and story last Thursday.
Strolling out in a long jacket and dark sweats, Wakeman began by telling us about his first piano teacher, Mrs. Symes. This is the lady who told Rick all about how when he was playing piano, he should think of each song as a painting, her lesson inspiring the now 73-year-old Wakeman’s latest studio album, A Gallery Of The Imagination. Walking to the piano stage right, Wakeman gave us “Just A Memory” from this release, after leveling the audience into hysterics with a parting naughty aside about Mrs. Symes enormous endowments.
Ah yes, a Wakeman evening had begun!
Telling his story about playing (and never getting paid for the session) the iconic piano on Cat Steven’s “Morning Has Broken,” Wakeman sat at the piano again, then he hit us all with some
marriage cautions (old Rick is on his fourth), then sat at the double keyboard rig stage left and played “Jane Seymour,” from his solo album The Six Wives of Henry VIII.
The crowd was on its feet at the end of this.
A Yes tunes followed melody followed, Rick back at the piano playing “And You and I,” “Wonderous Stories,” and back into “And You and I,” then he stepped back to the keys for “Merlin the Magician,” from his 1975 The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and The Knights of The Round Table.
Having played on plenty of David Bowie tunes and befriended the man (at one time, Bowie asked Wakeman to join him on Bowie’s iconic Spider From Mars/Ziggy Stardust tour as a permanent ‘spider’), Wakeman played “Space Oddity” (a song indeed plays on, but not piano as he did this night) and the fabulous “Life in Mars?” another well-known Wakeman session gem, where e did indeed play piano.
The encore saw Wakeman man the double keyboard rig to roll off “Help!” and “Eleanor Rigby.”
Huge fan of this man as I am, I could have tucked in and sat around for hours hearing Rick Wakeman roll around his many solo albums, but I was pleased with what the affable big man had to give us this night and thrilled he’s still around performing these solo shows.