Live Nation presents: Rick Wakeman – Grumpy Old Rock Star Tour
Review and photos by Patrick Dunn
The name Rick Wakeman has been familiar to me since first being introduced to the music of YES in the ‘70s. All these years later, The Even Grumpier Old Rock Star tour was a fantastic opportunity to see him solo and in a more revealing fashion. Billed as An Intimate Evening of Music and Laughter, Wakeman traded time between a commanding Steinway grand piano, Korg keyboard workstation and microphone, and was a master entertainer on all fronts. The opulent Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis was a wonderful setting for this performance and provided the level of acoustics necessary for this show to shine. Having the Steinway positioned in a way that allowed the audience to see Wakeman’s involvement with the keyboard was an excellent choice in what was a simple but effective stage setup.
The performance consisted of two sets that included an interesting selection of songs with significance that ranged between influences and Wakeman’s actual involvement in the composition. Between each song he stepped out from behind the keys, grabbed a microphone and shared stories, told jokes, and provided responses to fan questions that had been written down in advance.
“The Jig” was a lively opener performed with an orchestral setting on the Korg that demonstrated Wakeman’s ability to fill a room with music, not requiring the aid of any additional players. An early reminder of the success he’s had collaborating with other musicians came from the glorious melody on “Morning Has Broken” (Cat Stevens). As I intently observed Wakeman’s playing, I couldn’t help but notice how much real estate his hands could cover on the keyboard and yet how soft and simplistic his touch appeared to be.
Leading into the stirring “Gone but Not Forgotten” Wakeman shared his desire for the song to pay tribute to friends we’ve lost in recent years, specifically he was referring to two other outstanding players of his era, Jon Lord (Deep Purple) and Keith Emerson (ELP). An ambitious set closer gave YES fans a taste of what they had been waiting for with a scaled down but sufficient version of “And You and I”.
Clearly warmed up, the second set got off to a fierce start with a dynamic combination of “Catherine of Aragon” and “Catherine Howard”. The 11-minute piece began with a flurry of notes and meandered back and forth through dark moody moments that resolved to sections that felt more like a celebration. Another standout was a pairing of Beatles tunes where Wakeman chose to perform “Help” in the style of French composer Ernest Chausson leading into “Eleanor Rigby” done in the style of Russian Composer Sergei Prokofiev. It was a crowd favorite. Having been asked earlier if there was a piece of music that he was particularly proud to be a part of, Wakeman answered that question with his encore performance of “Life on Mars?” (David Bowie)
Morning Has Broken
Dance of a Thousand Lights
Gone but Not Forgotten
And You and I
Catherine of Aragon / Catherine Howard
After the Ball
Help / Eleanor Rigby
Life on Mars?