|The Electric Factory - Philadelphia , PA||29 October 2003||by Tom Russell|
When I was sent an email by Ticketmaster a few days before the scheduled performance at the Tower Theater in Darby (near Philadelphia ), announcing a venue change, I was crestfallen. I held two tickets, right-center orchestra, about nine rows back from the stage. These were the "best available" seats when I learned of the concert a few months prior, which wasn't so bad. I had seen Yes at the Tower earlier in the year and knew the layout, and was quite happy. To add insult to injury, the new hall, The Electric Factory, was general admission. Ouch! We'll probably be relegated to the rafters...
I was both elated and a bit dismayed when we arrived at the Factory around 5:40PM , for a doors-open time of 7PM , showtime at 8:00 . I was number two in line. OK, we're early, but I expected a longer line for a great such as Rick Wakeman. Yes had packed both the Tower and the Tweeter across the Delaware last summer, and there's hardly a Yes fan who doesn't know and appreciate Rick's contributions over the years. I can only write off the poor attendance to really lousy promotion.
There was a silver lining to this, at least for me. I grabbed what was probably the best seat in the house, first row, first seat stage-right, with my converted Rick-fan wife Grace next to me. I could hardly contain myself at this stroke of luck! Rick was about 10 feet away for over two hours; it was practically a private performance, and as an admirer of his work for nearly 30 years, I will always remember my good fortune.
Since I already own "The Legend" DVD I knew in advance what would likely be included in the show. But this in no way spoiled the treat of seeing it live. Some of the stories from the show are not on the DVD- "KGB Uniform","Mum and the Old Folks", and what I now call the "Urgent Curry Reprise" tale, had the house rolling in the aisles.
Watching the musical portion of the show was incredible, aided by the fact that I was so close. It was as if Rick was in my home studio, laying some tracks. He hasn't lost an ounce of speed and accuracy.
If Rick is open to suggestion, I respectfully submit that he lose the Canon as an opener. It's overplayed in general (thanks loads, Madison Avenue), and somehow doesn't suit his capabilities or personality. Pretty arrangement, however. Perhaps Birdman, or something from the New Age days would be more fitting.
The 70's Cat Stevens hit, "Morning Has Broken", is a great insight to those who aren't aware of the hundreds of sessions that Rick has played on, with his arrangement skills providing the magic that turned a short, repetitive verse into a major hit. And, for the most part, un-credited. How many know that Rick provided the etherial Mellotron chords to Bowie 's "Space Oddity"? I just hope that Rick doesn't have to send the artist F.K.A. Cat a royalty check for every performance!
For those who couldn't make any of the shows, and gear-heads in general, Rick had a pretty much stripped down equipment complement: a baby grand for the bulk of the piano pieces (obviously), and four keyboards/controllers in his patented "V" configuration, including the GEM, Roland XV-88, a Triton, and his trusty battle-scared 01/W. Not seen was the collection of samplers used for the tour-de-force performance of Jane Seymour. This piece raised the roof, and won the biggest ovation of the night, closely followed by Help/Eleanor (my wife's favorite). It's scary to think that Rick was this good 30+ years ago.
Hopefully, Rick will bring out his newly-acquired Moog Voyager for the next tour. I'd love to hear Merlin performed with the original arrangement. The Minimoog sound is, to my ears, synonymous with Rick's repertoire. While I can understand Rick's wanting to update his pallate based on the current synth state-of-the-art (and I'm a big Korg fan as well), his earlier works, up to and including Rhapsodies, literally cry out for that screaming Mini lead tone. Now that robust and stable analog gear is readily available, I'd like to see a return to those sounds. If he doesn't want to bring the Voyager on the road, he's welcome to borrow my circa-1973 Mini next time he's in the Philly area. I'll even tune it up!
The other sound inseperable from Rick is the church organ. Just let me hear Judas live (with the Mini in accompanyment) and I can die a happy man.
That Rick has a dedicated set of fans is evident by the story of the middle-aged (i.e., over 35) couple in the next seats over. They drove four hours from Virginia to see him perform, and drove back at 10:30PM . The crowd, about 500 strong, was mostly respectful and quiet during the performance, except for the occasional drunken shout-out from the bar area. This is the only unfortunate side-effect of changing venues at the last minute to a club that normally hosts acts like Rancid and The Disco Biscuits.
This appreciation for Rick's intimate and stunning performance was returned at the show's close (all too soon!) with a warm and genuine "thanks for coming out" and now standard "encore"- nudge-nudge, wink-wink, of Clair de Lune. Unfortunately, we couldn't stay for the autograph session, but I had the pleasure of getting his John Hancock (no offence to my Brit friends!) at the Yes-day event in Philadelphia earlier this year- see the NFTE website for details.
Again, a special night presented by a consummate artist, showman, and all-around great curry-eating guy. Thanks, Rick.