Rick Wakeman's Grumpy Old Picture Show (DVD)

Rick Wakeman

Classic Media, 2008


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


For the past several years, I’ve written on The Daily Vault about how fascinating a storyteller keyboardist Rick Wakeman is. I’ve sat through two prior DVDs listening to Wakeman tell story after story about his life and history as a musician, and most recently I was given the privilege of listening to the audiobook version of Grumpy Old Rock Star And Other Wondrous Stories, six hours worth of Wakeman reading his book to the listener. (I believe this book is just about to come out in America, but I strongly encourage anyone to get the audiobook, just to hear Wakeman himself tell you his tales.)

I’ve also repeated on these pages how fascinating I think it would be to sit down with the man himself over a good Italian dinner and a pitcher of diet soda and just listen to Wakeman tell his stories. One of these days, his publicists will take the hint. But until that pipe dream comes true, we’re left with Rick Wakeman’s Grumpy Old Picture Show, the third DVD featuring Wakeman telling his stories and playing his music, both familiar and more obscure.

Two things immediately set this disc apart. First, lessons were definitely learned with the minor disappointment that was Another Side Of Rick Wakeman. Unlike his previous disc, Wakeman seems much more energetic, and the times he gets the audience interacting are priceless. Take, for example, his inviting one poor woman up to the stage to help him out in a performance of “Merlin The Magician” -- but to tell any more of this tale would spoil the surprise!

Second, through the use of technology and video screens, Wakeman is able to perform with other musicians, including his daughter Jemma, his backing band, and guitarist extraordinaire Gordon Giltrap (Wakeman said during the introduction to this piece -- the title of which, I’m afraid, I don’t know, as I got this disc from Netflix, and have found no track listings -- that the disc he did with Giltrap should be out in early ’09. From the little I’ve heard I will most definitely be angling for a review copy, as this track is phenomenal.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Does the addition of more musicians help in the presentation of Wakeman’s music? In a way, the answer is both yes and no. It’s yes because Wakeman is able to give the audience a presentation of the song in the manner he has deemed as proper, and some of these -- most notably the performance of “Amazing Grace” with his daughter and a choir -- would not have been as good had it been on solo piano.

But, part of the answer has to be “no”  simply because Wakeman’s talents are strong enough that he can most definitely handle a one-man show, and he has proven this time and time again. Mind you, I’m not saying it was a mistake to include other musicians -- far from it, in fact.

There is a little bit of repetition on Rick Wakeman’s Grumpy Old Picture Show, the most notable being the inclusion of the tale of Wakeman’s first piano lesson and performance of “See A Monkey On A Stick,” which he did on The Other Side Of Rick Wakeman. However, the way he tells the story this time around easily justifies its re-inclusion. And I don’t care how many times I hear tracks like “Birdman Of Alcatraz” or any part of The Six Wives Of Henry VIII. Never mind that the music is so good that it stands up to repeated listenings, the performances of these pieces on this disc -- including, again, “audience participation,” are nothing short of extraordinary.

For that matter, one could hardly call Wakeman “grumpy” in any fashion of the word, as he often is found breaking up at the jokes he’s about to lay on the crowd through the “very rare footage” of recreations of events of his earlier days. (This is, actually, the only real downfall of this video; I’d have found it more enjoyable had Wakeman and the producers found more real people with real situations -- say, members of Yes -- who would have been willing to make Wakeman the butt of their jokes. Still, a minor quibble.)

Rick Wakeman’s Grumpy Old Picture Show is just the latest in what one hopes will be a continued series of DVDs featuring Wakeman telling his tales to a rapt audience, tales which definitely bridge any culture gaps one might think separate America from Great Britain. You’ll enjoy two hours of stellar music, and you’ll find yourself laughing out loud more than you’d expect from a musical DVD. So what if this is the third such disc he’s put out in the last eight years? Wakeman could put one of these out every year, and fans such as myself would be queuing up to get them. Simply put, this disc is well worth your time and money.

One final note: Last year, Wakeman released Treasure Chest, a limited-edition, six-DVD set that contained many performances that were believed to be lost, including the entire 1975 performance of “King Arthur On Ice,” a 1976 concert from the No Earthly Connection tour, and a performance from the 1984 tour. Here’s hoping that, in the very near future, these DVDs will make their way into major release on this side of the pond; the snippets I saw from the teaser video made me instantly envious of our British friends.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2008 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Classic Media, and is used for informational purposes only.