Rick Wakeman | March 20, 2024 | Welmont Theater | Montclair, NJ – Concert Review

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Review by Ralph Greco, Jr.

Supposedly rolling through my local theater concert spot at the beginning of what will be his “Final Solo Tour,” keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman delivered a setlist of very few songs that filled a full hour and a half.

Stepping to his dual keyboard set up stage left, the lumbering keyboardist opened with a mashup of his “Jane Seymour” and “Catherine Howard” from his The Six Wives Of Henry VIII opus. This kind of fitting songs together would be something that happened throughout the night.

Walking to the grand piano stage right, we got a funny story from Wakeman as a way of an intro hello. At these solo shows especially the musician is known for telling humorous, often bawdy tales from his past; they always go down fantastically. Then he swung around to give us “Space Oddity” and “Life on Mars,” his tribute to David Bowie, whom Wakeman accompanied in his pre-Yes days session work.

It was back to the keyboard rig for a melody from The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table. Although I have seen Wakeman plenty over the years, he managed to offer a particular passage of music from his 1975 album I haven’t heard him play before. This was the highlight of the night.

Back to the piano for what he has taken to call his “Yessonata,” written for this tour, Wakeman offered what seemed to be about a 20-minute piece of bits and pieces of Yes music he has been involved with. As he said, some of what he played among the 40 touchstones peppered throughout the piece was improvised on the spot, but it was fun picking out the familiar bits and hearing his famous lines from “Roundabout,” played on the piano.

Ending with something I have heard him manage before, Wakeman played the Beatles’ “Help!” and “Eleanor Rigby” in the style of two different composers (not Lennon and McCartney) then he returned for an encore of “The Dance Of A Thousand Lights,” from his Return to the Centre of the Earth backed by some strings pumping through the house PA.

I don’t know how long this final solo tour will last or if Wakeman will ever swing through my town again. I’m just glad to have caught another one of his keyboard-led, story-rich evenings. There is no one, to my mind, who compares to this prog giant.

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