This post is the part of my Yes concert series of posts. I started this series here and you can read the others here.
I saw the progressive rock band Yes (technically ARW) play a show at the at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA on October 16, 2016 during the their ARW Tour. You can read more about this show here.
The line-up Yes(ARW) fielded that show was:
The set Yes(ARW) played was (the album from which the song comes is in parenthesis):
- Cinema (90125)
- Perpetual Change (The Yes Album)
- Keyboard ditty
- Hold On (90125)
- I’ve Seen All Good People (The Yes Album)
- Drum solo
- Lift Me Up (Union)
- And You And I (Close to the Edge)
- Rhythm Of Love (Big Generator)
- Heart Of The Sunrise (Fragile)
- Long Distance Runaround (Fragile)
- The Fish (Fragile)
- The Meeting (ABWH)
- Awaken (Going for the One)
- Make It Easy
- Owner Of A Lonely Heart (90125)
- ENCORE: Roundabout (Fragile)
About the band:
This concert was my twenty-third Yesshow, though technically it was an ARW show. While the official Yes exists and is touring (see here), former Yes members Anderson, Rabin, and Wakeman decided to form a band and tour in order to do homage to their common heritage as members of Yes. Anderson is, of course, a Yes founder and main song writer, while Wakeman is their most important keyboard player, and Rabin was their prime mover during their 1980s resurgence. Wakeman recruited his friend Pomeroy while Rabin netted his friend Molina to flesh out the band. While technically (i.e.: legally) not Yes, the band’s tour is being advertised as “An Evening of Yes Music and More” and in interviews the band seems to view themselves as the next phase of Yes or at least a Yes-band even if they cannot legally use the name. A similar phenomenon happened in 1989 with ABWH and that band seems to have been folded into official Yes history. So, I will treat ARW as Yes for the purpose of my review and concert statistics. The official Yes has a lineup which has been greatly watered down and I have written a piece on whether it, philosophically/spiritually/ontologically (not legally) speaking, can really, legitimately, and in good faith claim the name Yes (see here). Once I collect my thoughts on the subject, I will write a similar piece on ARW in the near future; I will not comment on the subject in this review as this post is really about the show itself.
As a Yes fan, I have to say that this show was something I never thought I would ever see: the return of Trevor Rabin into the Yes fold (after a 22 year absence) from his lucrative film scoring career and, not just that, but his return would also be accompanied by Rick Wakeman’s return as well (from an 11 year absence). To top it off, Jon Anderson, who has not been in Yes since about 2006, returned as well. So, needless to say, this show was a great nostalgia trip and a fulfillment of a fan’s dream.
Anderson, who has been struggling with health problems for several years (which caused him to be unable to sing with Yes for a few years), seems to have largely overcome them. Granted, his singing is, at times, a little quieter (or less powerful), and sometimes the songs have been put into a different key, but it was still strong and on key. It was wonderful to hear the original voice of Yes singing his own songs again! I will say, though, he did play it safe. He did not shoot for the dynamic high notes or take a more exciting or aggressive tone with his voice. He kept his voice clear, deliberate, and, therefore, on key and consistent through the show.
Rick Wakeman was, for me, the man to see. I have not seen him since his last tour with Yes in 2004 (see here). For all his health problems and seemingly being, at times, down and out, he seems ageless when he performs. His playing is, I think, as good as it’s ever been, and his showmanship is always great to see. He is an exciting and dynamic player and he keeps his stage performance at a high level. As usual, he had an enormous keyboard rig, including a keytar, his famous cape, a mini-moog, and his signature lightening fast fingers. He always seems to add something new to his performance repertoire. This time around, his new element (new to me at least) is to play his keyboards from behind them. During “Owner of a Lonely Heart” he walked around with his keytar and, instead of going back behind his keyboard rig, he simply reached over the back of the keyboard and played it from behind. Amazing stuff!
Trevor Rabin finds himself back into the Yes fold for the first time since 1994. Rabin and Wakeman never played on a Yes album together, but they did tour together in 1991-92 during the Union Tour. They each really respected each other and enjoyed playing with each other and expressed a desire to do it again. Unfortunately, it took nearly twenty-five years to make it happen, but, hey, better late than never! Aside from a performance here and there, Rabin has not played live since he left Yes in 1994. Although I was excited to see Rabin’s return to Yes, and see him reunite with Wakeman, his years away from live performance was readily apparent. His singing was warbley at times and his playing lacked the excitement and pyrotechnics he used to exhibit during his prior tenure with Yes. He used to a showman, walking the stage and playing to the audience, but, now, that aspect of his performance was gone. His stage performance was reserved, perhaps even conservative, as he seemed to be concentrating on his playing as opposed to his stage presence. I do hope this is all due to some rust and getting reacclimated to live performance instead of a decline in his musicianship; only time will tell. I have to admit, also, that I am not a Rabin fan. Although, as a Yes fan, and a fan of its history, I was excited to see Rabin back, my preferred guitar player for Yes has always been, and remains, Steve Howe. Rabin’s style has always tended toward a sort of one dimensional generic 1980’s shredder sort of playing (with a vague John McLaughlin edge). His playing always seems to tend toward screaming Stratocaster sounds, with a lot of notes and a lack of diversity in sounds, tones, and instrumentation. As a result, just as he did in his last tenure with Yes, he continues to reinterpret Steve Howe’s guitar parts by flatting them out, eliminating the subtly and stylistic variety and tonal variety and instrumental variety (replacing acoustics, twelve string, steel guitars, etc with a single electric guitar) Steve Howe brought to the music, and replacing all of that with his trademark faux-Van Halen playing. In this way, he has not changed one iota.
The band was fleshed out with a drummer and a bass player (noted above). Unlike Yes – or a true five piece band – these two musicians were clearly support musicians. They, more or less, stayed out of the spotlight and were there to support the main three – the ARW. The drummer played a low sort of drum set that looked like a jazz drum set with double bass drums. He was a capable drummer, but largely stayed out of the way of ARW. Although he was a decent drummer, I have to say that his snare drum sounded like a cardboard box filled with old clothes, which is not at all what Yes drums sound like. The bass player seemed like he was a good bass player, but, unlike Chris Squire, Billy Sherwood, or even Tony Levin, his sound levels was rather low as compared to the other members. Again, because I think he and the drummer were to get out of the way of ARW.
The show was clearly one of nostalgia and enjoying the company of one another and, in that way, it was a great night with a lot of great memories. In saying that, though, if there was one thing that marked the show is that it was safe. The performances – notably Anderson and Rabin – tended toward the safe notes. Instead of a dynamic high note, a safer more standard note was sung. Instead of the blistering solos of old, Rabin tended to play it safe and were more measured. Even Wakeman – though still amazing (noted above) – did not play some of the things he used to play. For example, he did not play his more juiced up keyboard parts on “Rhythm of Love” as he did on the Union Tour or similar interesting playing on “Cinema” that Igor Khoroshev played. In his case it seems like a lack of preparation.
Even the set list did not really have anything creative. I was surprised to see how few Rabin songs there was in the set. I got tickets hoping to see a good swath of Rabin material, but, alas, that was not to be. Indeed – obviously – his guitar style on those songs works a lot better than the other Yes songs. Perhaps the set was due to the fact that these guys – as coming back into the Yes fold – really wanted to play the songs they enjoyed from tours of old as opposed to try something new and interesting. Also, as noted above, this tour was supposed to be “Yes music and more,” but unfortunately there was no “and more” (in favor of the safer route of playing tried and true classics), and even the “reinterpretations” that were to happen amounted only to, more or less, keying down some songs and bringing back how Rabin played the Howe songs from his previous tenure in Yes.
What was not safe was the stage set which was an interesting screen of multiple intersecting parts with cool lights and images projected onto it. It seemed like an interesting mesh of the classic Roger Dean art work with the art from the Rabin era of thee 1980s.
There were some interesting moments during some of the songs. First of all, I have never seen “Hold On” and “Lift Me Up” live before, and it was great to finally see these songs in a live setting. Cinema was a great experience too as I have only seen that song once before (see here) and it was not played by Rabin and suffered for it. Wakeman played the weird vocal sounds on “Hold On” on a keyboard which was a cool change from prior performances way back when. Unfortunately, Wakeman added very little to “Hold On,” “Lift Me Up,” and “Cinema.” I am not a fan of “Rhythm of Love” but I enjoyed this performance because the introduction (which consists of layered vocals on the album) was done in a different way with Wakeman filling out the music and vocals on keyboards while the four singers contributed to the vocal parts on the introduction. It, I think, was the best arrangement of the introduction Yes has ever attempted live. Wakeman played a solo at the end of the song, but, unlike his performance of the song on the Union Tour, he played it on his mini-moog instead of a digital keyboard and, this time, it was so much better. I really liked the little keyboard ditty before “Hold On.” Granted it was only about a minute long, but it showed promise, and I hope more of that starts to develop as ARW continues to perform and mesh as a group. While I loved hearing “Lift Me Up,” the drum sound was completely wrong. The clacking sort of drum pattern was sorely missed as it is a key element to the sound of the song. The pattern was played but on the wrong sort of drums (standard drums instead of whatever was played on the album). On “Long Distance Runaround” Rabin did not double the keyboards like Howe does. Instead he played these swiping sort of chords over the keyboard parts. This changed the dynamic of the song and was one of the few truly interesting reinterpretations of the show. “The Fish” was a weird piece to include. “The Fish” is not so much a piece as a solo feature for Chris Squire, so it is a little weird for someone to play someone else’s solo. Anderson presented “The Fish” as an homage to Squire and, to his credit, Pomeroy played it in a way that I would have expected Yes to play it for years. “The Fish,” on the album, consists of multiple bass lines, all played by Squire, overdubbed over each other. In a live setting, Squire merely played a bass solo that – no pun intended – was based on the album as opposed to play the album itself. Pomeroy, using on stage recording devices, played each separate bass line, recording himself live, and then played the next bass line over his own live recording. Once he finished layering his own recordings he went ahead and played a solo. Again, to Pomeroy’s credit, once he created his layers of bass guitars (which duplicated Squire’s rhythms on “The Fish”), the solo Pomeroy played was entirely his own as opposed to trying to duplicate Squire’s solo. “Awaken” started with something that sounded like the “Flight Jam” they would play before it back in the 1970s. The “Flight Jam” and the middle portion took on a theatric aspect, and some tribal drumming, to give it a modern and different interpretation. To my ears, the reinterpretations reminded me a lot of the reinterpretation of “Firth of Fifth” on The Tokyo Tapes. Unfortunately, the bass player only used his standard bass (instead of a triple neck) and Rabin did not use a twelve-string or steel guitar, and those changed the dynamics to the song (though not in a positive way to my ears). The middle portion was less classical (or baroque) and more theatrical with tribal drums. Unlike Howe, Rabin stayed on stage and he played the ticking-clock sort of guitar line instead of the bass player. As far as “Roundabout” is concerned, after 22 Yesshows I sort of tune it out, but I did really enjoy Wakeman playing the solo as only he can play it. In saying that, they played the shortened version – with the middle section taken out – which is disappointing to me as that is my favorite part of the song. I have no idea why they remove that part of the song. It makes no sense. Finally, I have to comment on “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” I am not a fan of that song and I have seen it live so many times I tend to tune out during it as much as I do with “Roundabout.” In saying that, this was the best “Owner” I have ever seen. First and foremost, it had Rabin playing the guitar lines and solo as they were meant to be played (no disrespect to Howe’s attempts). Further, it also reintroduced the “Make it Easy” introduction. Perhaps what made the song so cool, for me, is that they added an instrumental jam at the end of the song which featured Wakeman (on keytar) and Rabin trading solos. While they were playing they walked through the audience for a little while! In addition, their soloing would recapitulate the “Make it Easy” theme in order to keep it all together. So very cool!
As I said above, I am not going to get into whether ARW is truly Yes in everything but name (that will be another post); however, I do want to make a brief comment on the band’s overall sound. Yes’s sound has always been marked by the involvement of five completely integrated musicians, each often struggling to make themselves heard in the face of four other strong musicians. Even Tony Kaye or Benoit David, arguably the weakest and/or most humble members of the band, were fully integrated into the sound of the band. By contrast, the bass and drums were clearly secondary to ARW. While it is difficult to down play the drums, to me the biggest contrast with Yes was the bass. It has nothing to do with Pomeroy’s chops. It has to do with the fact that a key element to Yes music is a big, fat, and prominent bass sound pushing back against the guitar and keyboards. The bass parts are not just loud, but key elements to the music itself. Sherwood has kept this tradition alive and, during his brief tenure, Levin respected it. By contrast, Pomeroy’s bass was subdued, and not an equal part of the music as compared to ARW. In addition, strong vocal harmonies is also a key element to Yes music. While Anderson’s voice was backed up by the other members of the band, the strong vocal harmonies that are so integral to Yes were missing. The other singers were not mixed nearly as high as Anderson and, quite frankly, Anderson’s voice was not mixed particularly high either. Suffice it to say, the backing singing just was not as as strong as one would expect for Yes. As a result, the music had a much different feel and sound than what one would expect from Yes. This is not necessarily a criticism – it is just a way to reinterpret Yes music – but it, I think, speaks to ARW’s relationship to Yes and its music and history.
I had one of the coolest experiences I have ever had at a Yes concert at this show. The break down of the stage seemed to take place at a record pace. I left the theater within a reasonable time after the show and as I walked through the parking lot, I noted that the delivery doors were open and the staging was already being taken out the back and rested on the outside walls. I could see into the theater to the back of the stage and saw the roadies breaking down the stage and instruments. In doing this, the roadies blocked off a section of the parking lot with cones and ropes and the tour bus and truck were near. I saw the roadies break down the keyboard rig and, suddenly, I saw the members of the band pass back and forth. So, I waited about 30 minutes in the parking lot and, amazingly, Wakeman came out and shook hands and said hello, followed by Rabin, and finally by Anderson. They all were so cool and personable and happy to see everyone! I was able, among 40 other people, to shout my appreciation and pat them on the back. Other people were ready and prepared for this (they seemed to know this would happen – with items to sign and ready to pose for photographs – but I was totally unprepared as I had no idea this would happen). Either way, I was able to take a few snapshots and, at least momentarily, spend a little time in the presence of my musical heroes. Thanks guys!