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Captures the spectacular performance and momentous event that will be an entry in rock history.
In April 2005, Rick Wakeman, best known as the keyboardist for legendary English prog-rockers Yes, was given the opportunity to perform concerts in Cuba as a benefit for a children's hospital in Havana. It marked one of the few appearances by a Western rock musician in Cuba and Cuban audiences were hungry to see real rock 'n' roll concerts. It's a shame, then, that the performances themselves were not entirely successful musically. Wakeman deserves enormous credit for putting these concerts together, but it's hard not to wish they weren't so flawed.
Rick Wakeman: Made In Cuba was recorded over various concerts in April 2005 at the Karl Marx Theater in Havana, Cuba. Wakeman is joined by singer Ashley Holt, guitarist Dave Colqhuoun, bassist Lee Pomeroy, keyboardist Erik Jordan, and drummer Ashley Soan. Here is the set list:
• "Journey to the Centre of the Earth"
To be sure, Wakeman's music is an acquired taste. In Yes, Wakeman was one of five musicians and his intricate keyboard lines were carefully deployed as coloring and texture. As a solo artist (he doesn't sing, but composes his songs and leads his band), Wakeman can sometimes go over the top. As such albums as The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1973), Journey To the Centre of the Earth (1974), and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1975) show, Wakeman always goes for elaborate concept albums with fairly obtuse storylines and lengthy compositions without much (if any) pop hooks. This has made him a star in prog-rock circles, but it also makes his music fairly inaccessible if you're not already on his wavelength.
It's also makes Wakeman's music difficult to translate onstage. Even with a bank of synthesizers and a crew of backup musicians, Wakeman still has a hard time making his music pack the same punch onstage as it does in the studio. Too often, it sounds rather meandering and thin. It doesn't help that the band members, lacking much of an onstage presence, use the music as an excuse to solo endlessly. These are all skilled musicians but they're also rather faceless, so their soloing is fairly undistinguished. It was especially a mistake to bring back Holt into the band, although he sang on most of Wakeman's most famous Seventies records, his guttural growl doesn't fit with the more ethereal songs, especially on the cover of the Yes classic "Starship Trooper." Wakeman claims that Holt's voice is as strong or stronger than it was in the Seventies, but that's actually not true; it's downright painful at times to listen to him struggle to hit some notes.
Nonetheless, it's hard to dismiss the DVD entirely. For one thing, it's genuinely touching to see the music-starved Cuban audience clearly finding plenty to enjoy in the show. For his part, Wakeman does his part to put on a good show for the audience. He's the star and remains the focal point (and makes sure to do so with his gold-spangled cape and collar) but he does give his band members room to shine, even if not all of them are really up to the challenge. Actually, it's in the songs where the band members play as a band, especially "Catherine Parr" and "Jane Seymour," that the concert really takes off. These moments make the weaker segments, such as the tedious and interminable drum solo "Shed Building," more palatable. At least during the best moments, it's easy to see what Wakeman was going for with his visit, even if he wasn't entirely successful.
The technical specs are mixed. The 1.33:1 transfer looks rather compressed at times and suffers from moments of severe artefacting. The surround mixes, on the other hand, are both pretty good. They have excellent separation and sound loud and clear. The extras include "The Road to Cuba" (28:50), an excellent featurette in which Wakeman explains how and why his trip to Cuba came about, and a photo gallery.
In the end, it's hard not have mixed feelings about Made In Cuba. Wakeman's intentions were honorable and there's no question that the concerts did bring some much needed happiness to people who desperately need it. Nonetheless, even the most devout Wakeman fans will be disappointed with the uneven quality of the performances. Wakeman's best music, which can be heard on a great anthology like Voyage: The Very Best of Rick Wakeman, deserves a better showcase than this one, because this DVD simply doesn't do it justice. As an event, Made In Cuba is worthy of respect but as a concert recording, it's only barely above average.
Guilty of not being a great concert, but let off with a fine for good intentions.
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Studio: MVD Visual
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