Journey To The Centre Of The Earth
The Legend
Live From Buenos Aires

Rick Wakeman

Out of all the classic rockers who have harnessed the power of the digital versatile disc (DVD), none have been quite as prolific as virtuoso keyboardist Rick Wakeman. With a recorded legacy already bursting at the seams, Wakeman's extraordinary career has been faithfully documented over three recently re-released DVDs from Classic Pictures: Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, The Legend, and Live From Buenos Aires. Each disc takes full advantage of the format, enlisting comprehensive and flashy menus for track selections and a variety of ample sundries. Now that Wakeman is back on the frontlines with Yes, there has never been a better time to get acquainted with one of rock's most musically accomplished and charismatic characters.

Despite its somewhat primitive cinematography (even the director's assistant puts in a cameo), Journey To The Centre Of The Earth is a show to behold — for historical reasons as well for an element of pure aplomb. Filmed on February 4, 1975 at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne, Australia, in front of 30,000 people, Wakeman, donning a cape no less, was on a mission to move mountains, adapting classic stories like the Jules Verne novel and wrapping them around progressive pretentiousness of the first order. The centerpiece — which includes an early edition of the English Rock Ensemble along with the Melbourne Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Verdon Williams), the Melbourne Chamber Choir and a hip-looking narrator (!) — is sandwiched in between selections from Wakeman's other two opuses: The Six Wives Of Henry VIII and The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table. Together, they capture the pinnacle of the excessive passion and artistic ambition that Wakeman unabashedly gushed forth. Packaged with a CD from the very same performance (just in case the television is on the frits) Journey To The Centre Of The Earth is an intriguing spread for the curious and fans of old. Younger people might think the whole thing is a complete farce ala Spinal Tap. But hey — it was entertainment back then.

Fast-forward 25 years and The Legend finds the master in a completely different setting. Filmed within the intimate confines of Marlborough College in Marlborough, England, Wakeman goes it alone, playing favorites, Yes and Beatles covers and classical pieces tempered with witty banter to boot. While it occasionally meanders into a sort of new age haze, watching Wakeman work the crowd as a performer, showman and player is an amazing and invigorating spectacle (he puts a whole new spin on nursery rhymes). Six additional audio-only songs fill out the DVD. Among these is an instrumental version of "Morning Has Broken," the Cat Stevens hit that Wakeman originally embellished as a hired hand. The DVD also includes an all-inclusive biography and a delightful pictorial chronicling the musician's multi-layered occupation. The bonus CD replicates the concert and includes an extra track, "Merlin the Magician."

Live From Buenos Aires finds Wakeman accompanied by the newest edition of the English Rock Ensemble for a lively 2001 concert at the Gran Rex Theatre in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Offering the best of the three, in terms of quality audio and video, the concert covers the gamut, along with a strapping crack at "Starship Trooper." Even as some of the band members seem mildly out of place, Wakeman's son Adam is a chip off the old block when it comes to holding his own as a keyboardist. Aside from the random sampling of songs, the DVD's other redeeming quality may be the reaction the band gets from its South American audience. Elsewhere, Wakeman's own "Behind The Music" piggybacks the extras section while the package is bundled with the obligatory CD. The Official Bootleg, as it's called, is a crude sounding recording from July 1997 that mischievously makes the whole experience worthwhile. Clearly, these reissues have left no stone unturned.

~ Shawn Perry

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