This post is part of my series of posts that are something of a retrospective of my concert experiences. This time, I am going to highlight the Rick Wakeman concert I saw on October 29, 2003 at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Rick Wakeman is a world class keyboard player probably most famous for his work as a member of the progressive rock band Yes. In the early 2000s Wakeman was not in Yes and intermittently toured a solo show which interspersed his work with Yes, his solo work, cover songs/pieces, his session musician work (that he originally performed with, among others, the likes of Cat Stevens, David Bowie, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath) and, would you believe, some stand up comedy, mainly in the form of him telling hilarious stories from his career as a world-traveling rock musician. A show from this series of shows has been captured on the DVD The Legend (Live in Concert 2000). A good review of the show I attended has been preserved on Rick Wakeman’s website here.
I attended this concert with my girlfriend, who is now my wife, who joined me for this show among a handful of others during this time (this being her last), and I can honestly say that I think she actually and genuinely enjoyed this show (which cannot be said for some of the other shows she attended with me). I think she liked it because Wakeman is such a great showman and a personally hilarious person; she is also impressed by good piano playing.
His stage setting was very simple. One the left side (from my point of view in the audience) he had a large grand piano with a large candelabra on it like Liberace used to do. On the right side was a wedge of four keyboards.
I did not really know what to expect from this show. I did not get the DVD referred to above until after this concert. Obviously, I knew to expect a lot of keyboard playing but, quite honestly, I was not sure how long I could remain interested in listening/hearing simply solo keyboard work beyond maybe for 30 or 45 minutes. I think Wakeman may be cognizant of this which may be why he added a comedy routine into his shows. Wakeman is known for being funny, and has a quick dry wit, and he was able to translate that to the stage for a truly funny routine (see here for an example of his comedy; he told this story when I saw him). His comedy portions helped flesh out the show, provide interesting insights into his music and career, and break up the potential monotony of simply playing keyboard piece after keyboard piece. Wakeman also included a couple of other fun tid bits. After the intermission, he re-entered the theater wearing a full K.G.B. uniform he acquired playing a rare show in the Soviet Union. He also had some audience participation by choosing some random woman to help him play chords in a piece in a funny and goofy way.
He played a good spread of the music he helped create over his career, all arranged (or rearranged) for a solo keyboard player. He played a fair share of Yes songs. He played a variety of his own solo material. He reworked nursery rhymes in the style of famous composers and played some cover songs. He also played some things from his days as a successful session musician. The one that sticks in my memory is “Morning Has Broken.” “Morning Has Broken” is a Christian hymn famously reworked into a hit song by Cat Stevens in 1972 (you can hear it here). Unbeknownst to many, Rick Wakeman was the piano player on Stevens’ version of the hymn. Surprisingly (at least to me) was that Wakeman was more than just a hired gun for Stevens, but actually helped arrange the version of the hymn that became such a huge hit. According to Wakeman, when Stevens first recorded the hymn he discovered that it only lasted about a minute and a half (a single should be at least three minutes in length). Searching for ideas to lengthen it, Stevens turned to Wakeman to write a piano introduction to the hymn, which Wakeman promptly did in the studio. The introduction added a few more seconds which prompted Stevens to have Wakeman play variations on the introduction as an interlude between verses and conclusion to the hymn. Wakeman then suggested to repeat a verse. After Wakeman’s suggestions and piano work were inserted, the hymn reached (and slightly exceed) the three minutes needed for it to become a viable single. As the story goes, Wakeman waited for his modest check for his session work (which amounted to about $12), but it never came. The hymn became a big hit for Stevens who, as a result, wanted to play it on tour and, accordingly, asked Wakeman for the sheet music for his piano parts. Wakeman refused due to not being paid for his work in the studio with Stevens and, apparently, Wakeman has never produced it to anyone, let alone Stevens, as he, to this day, still has not been paid for his work on the hymn. Just to add some melodrama to the show that is the subject of this post, Wakeman pushed his piano on stage in such a way so as you could not see his fingers from the point of view of the audience. You can hear Wakeman tell this story in his own words here and a more comprehensive version can be heard here.
I took some photographs from the show which are below. There was a “meet and greet” after the show and I got the chance to meet Wakeman, shake his hand, and get him to autograph a couple of things. I had my photograph taken with him. Wakeman is a pretty big guy with rather large hands! Unfortunately, this was back in the days of film cameras, and I took my film to a drug store near my office in downtown Philadelphia for development and they lost my photographs (and negatives!) of me together with Wakeman! Luckily my wife was there and can verify that I did, indeed, meet him! The photographs they did not lose are posted below.
Enjoy the photographs: