Six months after his former band mates in Yes performed at Auckland’s Vector Arena, keyboard wiz Rick Wakeman performed in a more intimate setting at the Bruce Mason Centre. Instead of the banks of keyboards and synthesizers he used in the 1970s with Yes, Wakeman showed up armed only with a grand piano and a microphone….and stories, lots and lots of stories.
This was an evening for Wakeman to spin tales, tell jokes and play the piano. The 63-year-old musician took the stage promptly at 7:30 and sat down at the piano to play Johann Pachelbel’s Canon In D Major, with a backing track providing strings. Aside from a bit of a paunch, Wakeman looked remarkably fit, considering the health scares he’s had over the years…and he’s still sporting that shaggy blonde hair it’s just a bit shorter that it was in 1973.
After his first song, Wakeman stood up, grabbed the microphone and started in on the jokes and stories. As anyone who has followed Rick’s career would know, he’s had lots of experience on TV and radio other than as a musician. He’s become an excellent storyteller and his comic timing is spot on. With that in mind, he spent the next five minutes or so talking about his early life, his music teacher and his first public performance at age 5…all this with plenty of good-natured, and slightly off-colour jokes. This led into a performance of See A Monkey On A Stick, the tune he played as a child, followed by Elgin Mansions, from his 1985 album Silent Nights, which he said, “helps to warm the old fingers up”.
With fingers suitably limbered up, he then launched in to the story behind how he wound up playing piano on Cat Stevens’ 1971 hit Morning Has Broken.
After an instrumental version of the song (no vocals from Rick at all), I was hoping for more behind-the-scenes stories of his sessions, most notably with Bowie. Although he did mention them in passing, he never really discussed them and didn’t play Life On Mars, which I’d hoped he would.
Instead there were piano versions of Merlin The Magician and Catherine Howard from two of his 70s rock operas and then a Nursery Rhyme Concerto, where Wakeman played tunes like Hickory Dickory Dock and Three Blind Mice in the style of the great classical composers.
By then an hour had passed and it was time for the interval.
When he returned Rick Wakeman treated the audience to A Glimpse Of Heaven, a tune he recorded with Strawbs when he was a member of that band in 1971. It was one of the night’s musical highlights.
Rick also played a couple of selections from that other band he was in during the 70s…Yes. Although there is bad blood between Wakeman and some of the members of the band, he clearly is fond of vocalist Jon Anderson (they recorded an album together in 2010). Wakeman was once asked to describe Anderson in one sentence on a TV show and Rick responded with, “Jon Anderson is the only person I know who’s trying to save this planet while living on a totally different one”.
He then played excellent versions of And You And I and Wondrous Stories.
Unfortunately, Wakeman chose to close out the set with a version of The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby “in the style of Sergei Prokofiev”. The result reminded me of the worst excesses of prog-rock bands like ELP and The Nice. Wakeman’s version completely ruined the essence of the song by being too busy, too over-played and too long.
He did come back for an encore…The Jig, which helped remedy the situation.
But it was Wakeman’s between-song banter that was the real focus of the evening. He used his life and everyone in it…friends, family, band mates, even an encounter with Salvador Dali, to regale the audience with stories and jokes. To his credit, the two hours seemed to go by remarkably quickly.
It wasn’t exactly rock & roll, but his fans definitely liked it.
Click here to watch a slide show of Michael Flynn’s Rick Wakeman concert photos:
Rick Wakeman Set List:
1. Canon In D Major
2. Elgin Mansions
3. Morning Has Broken
4. Merlin The Magician
5. Catherine Howard
6. The Nursery Rhyme Concerto
7. A Glimpse Of Heaven
8. Gone But Not Forgotten
9. Dance Of A Thousand Lights
10. And You And I
11. Wondrous Stories
12. Eleanor Rigby
13. The Jig