Variety Playhouse - Atlanta, GA 22 October 2003 by Wheat Williams

Like a lot of folks who are coming to this web site, I went to see Rick on his current American solo tour. Like a lot of us Americans, I am quite familiar with Rick's work but am not a hard-core fan, so I'm writing this review from that perspective and including a lot of background information. If Rick is coming to your town I highly recommend that you take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a truly entertaining and astonishing evening.

It was magical. It was like Rick invited you and just a few other friends to his living room, and you were all sitting round, kicking back and drinking tea. He told hilarious story after story from his many years in the entertainment biz, and every now and then he'd wander over to the piano and BLOW YOUR MIND.

I managed to be there behind the theater at 6:30 pm to see Rick arrive for the soundcheck. I was empty-handed but lots of people brought their LP sleeves from Six Wives, King Arthur, or No Earthly Connection for him to autograph, and he was gracious. One guy had a program from the 1974 Madison Square Garden performance of Journey to the Center of the Earth (with full orchestra and choir). Me, well, the first time I saw Rick was with Yes in 1979 at the Omni in Atlanta (I was 14) and I have never had the pleasure of seeing Rick solo before (who in Atlanta has?).

There were about 800 people in the Variety Playhouse, and they were rapturously attentive.

Despite Rick Wakeman's being a household name and television celebrity in England , and having sold not only tens of millions of albums with Yes but also tens of millions of solo albums, Wakeman seems perpetually broke. He has had three failed marriages, owns no house, and I have heard that he had a decade of bad investments resulting in felonious tax judgements that make him the Willie Nelson of the British Isles. He could make a totally factual "Spinal Tap II" movie composed entirely of personal experiences touring with Yes, solo and the English Rock Ensemble, and he shared some of these stories with us at the show. Every side-splitting vignette was so memorable I could quote it to you almost word for word, but I won't, because you just had to be there.

In between stories Rick played solo. Sometimes he was sitting at an acoustic baby-grand piano, and sometimes he was standing at a rig of four 88-key electronic keyboards, some triggering a rack of about four synths and samplers. Generally he played abridged solo arrangements and medleys from his recordings, but he also played some legit classical stuff. No singers or lyrics.

Here's a set list from an earlier show contributed by a fan at Rick's web site. The pieces and order were almost the same for the show I saw. I have added my annotations in brackets.

First set:

  1. Canon in D [Pachabel. Rick walking on in the middle of the playing of an orchestral recording and sitting down to improvise along on the piano]
  2. Buy A Broom [piano, don't ask]
  3. Elgin Mansions [piano, Silent Nights]
  4. 'Drunk on stage in Seattle' story
  5. Wondrous Stories [synths, Yes, Going for the One] /The Meeting [synths, Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe]
  6. Nursery Rhyme Concerto [piano, medley of nursery rhymes played in the style of various famous composers for humorous effect]
  7. 'Yes member' story
  8. Catherine Howard [synths, The Six Wives of Henry VIII]
  9. Recollection/Dance Of 1000 Lights [piano and synth, Return to the Center of the Earth; performance along with prerecorded orchestra and choir - the only performance of the night to any kind of backing track. I was thrilled and the rest of the audience leapt to their feet in applause at the conclusion.]
  10. Merlin The Magician [synths and piano, The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table]

Second set:

  1. 'KGB uniform' story [a visit to the Soviet Union in the mid 1970s]
  2. Children of Chernobyl [piano, soundtrack piece from a documentary]
  3. 'Mother and old folks' story [relating to the concert performances of "1984", the album he composed with Sir Tim Rice]
  4. The Hymn/And You And I [synth, 1984 and Yes, Close to the Edge]
  5. 'Cat Stevens' story
  6. Morning Has Broken [piano, Cat Stevens single and on Teaser and the Firecat, composed by Farjeon and Bunessan. Rick explained that he was never paid the approximately US$12 he was owed for the 20 minute session in 1971, and he got no royalties for what is surely one of the biggest-selling and most heavily broadcast singles of the 1970s. Neither he nor Cat Stevens wrote the song, but Rick did some amazing on-the-spot arranging and composing for the piano, transforming this 1:30 church hymn into a nice 3:00 single. Sadly, this event, when Rick was about 18, seems to have set the tone for Rick's entire career with regard to the relationship between his commercial success and his financial reward.]
  7. 'Indian food/DUI arrest' story
  8. Jane Seymour [synth, using samples of the actual church pipe organ used in the recording, The Six Wives of Henry VIII]
  9. Help/Eleanor Rigby [synth, arrangements of Beatles tunes taking extreme artistic license, which I honestly didn't enjoy due to their unsettling departure from the spirit and intent of the original tunes. He transformed "Help" into an ethereal, elegaic New Age piece with a great deal of melodic counterpoint. He transfromed "Eleanor Rigby" "in the style of Prokofiev" into a hard-edged virtuosic shredder with an orchestral concerto arrangement along with orchestral synth patches and samples. I don't need for Rick to remind me that he is a startlingly proficient keyboard virtuoso; these performances severely and insensitively overstated the obvious at the expense of the original material. A low point and bad finish to a wonderful set.]

Encore:

  1. Clair De Lune [piano, Debussy, somewhat abridged]