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Anderson-Ponty Band Concert Review, 10/27/15 Glenside, PA

This post is part of my series of posts on progressive rock, which you can see here, and Yes which you can see here.

On October 27, 2015 the supergroup Anderson-Ponty Band (APB), led by Jon Anderson, the vocalist/harpist/guitarist co-founder of the progressive rock band Yes‘ and virtuoso progressive rock (and classic fusion bands and Zappa alumnus) violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, played show at the at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA in support of their “Better Late Than Never Tour” in support of their new album of the same name (see here).

The band was:

  • Jon Anderson – lead vocals, mandolin, guitars, percussion
  • Jean-Luc Ponty – violin
  • Jamie Glaser – guitars
  • Wally Minko – keyboards
  • Baron Browne – bass
  • Rayford Griffin – drums & percussion

The set list for the evening:

  • Intro (a new piece which is sort of like an overture for the APB album)
  • One in the Rhythm of Hope  (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • A for Aria (a new piece)
  • Owner of a Lonely Heart  (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Listening with Me (a reworked Ponty piece called “Stay With Me” (see here))
  • Time and a Word (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • One Love/People Get Ready (a Bob Marley cover (see here))
  • Infinite Mirage (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • Soul Eternal  (a reworked Anderson piece (see here))
  • Enigmatic Ocean Parts 1 and 2 (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • Drum solo
  • I See you Messenger  (a new piece)
  • New New World (a reworked Anderson piece (see here))
  • New Country (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • Never Ever (a reworked Anderson song (see here and here))
  • Wonderous Stories (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Long Distance Runaround (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Renaissance of the Sun (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • State of Independence (a reworked Jon & Vangelis song (see here))
  • Jig (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • And You and I (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Roundabout (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Re-Remembering the Molecules (a reworked Ponty piece (see here)) – which included bits of Yours Is No Disgrace (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Soon (a reworked Yes song (see here))


As I said when I reviewed the ABP album (see here), I am not going to comment on the songs themselves as nearly all of them are classic songs from legendary prog-rock albums and do not originate with this band.  I am only going to comment on their presentation at the show.

This was my first time seeing Jon Anderson live since the last leg of Yes’ Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Tour on September 3, 2004 (see here).  Much of what I said about Jon Anderson on the ABP album holds true here (see here).  This is post-asthma attack Anderson (see here).  His voice is not as strident or as powerful as it was in days past.  In saying that, he, as a consummate professional, does not struggle to try and duplicate his old singing style.  Instead, his voice is more soulful and breathier (is that a word?) and he conforms the music to his new singing style.  His onstage persona is much different than how he used to present himself with Yes.  Obviously his Yes stage presentation evolved with the band and their music, yet now, with ABP in 2015, Anderson comes across like a wizened and beloved person who has so many years under his belt that he is completely confident on stage playing and singing directly to the die hard fans that have followed him for fifty years now as opposed to something of a new age spiritual hippie guru.  There is very little “persona” now for him.  He does not play with long flowing robes or quasi-monk overtones.  No, instead he comes across as a man who knows he is older, knows he has been around a long time, and knows the people hearing him are the ones who have been fans for decades.  He was loose and appreciative.  He played guitars and percussion and, instead of a harp (as on the album), he plucked at a mandolin here and there (practically inaudibly for me).  Ponty was just a cool guy with no frills playing his violin.  It is amazing that both of these men are in their 70s!

The rest of the band were mainly guys recruited by Ponty.  The drummer, who reminded me of Niacin’s Dennis Chambers (see here), was a powerful and loud drummer who unabashedly plays in the style of fusion.  Although he was an excellent drummer, his playing was a bit too much a lot of the time for the more mellow rest of the band.  The guitarist was very hard for me to hear from my vantage point in terms of the mix.  I was there to see Anderson and Ponty and he played well enough to keep the music going but did not distract away from the main attractions.  As a side note, he reminded me a lot of Jim Belushi in his looks and mannerisms.  The bass player looked like he stepped right out of a reggae concert.  His playing was clean and in the style of traditional jazz.  Like the guitarist, he played the music but did not distract from Anderson and Ponty.  Finally, the keyboardist is the biggest mystery.  His playing, when allowed to expand, was very jazzy, but I felt that he was not particularly creative in his arrangements and approach.  His best playing was his jazzy piano playing.  His keyboard-synthesizer playing was the weakest part of his playing.  In my review of APB’s album (see here), one of my criticisms was that it was far too twee.  After seeing them live, I have come to realize that one of the biggest culprits causing the twee sound is the keyboardist because his keyboard sound is so light, airy, and, honestly, cheesy.   This description may not be helpful to all readers, but his keyboard/synthesizer sound is more eighties than Rick Wakeman‘s was in the 80’s.

In terms of the sound mix, thankfully the violin and Anderson’s vocals were louder than everything except maybe for the pounding drums.  The keyboard was loudest after that followed by the bass, the guitar, and whatever Anderson tried to strum at a given moment.  The bass player and guitarist offered background vocals but they may as well have had their microphones switched off as they were nearly completely inaudible.

The songs on the album that were played at the show (and all of them were) all sounded basically like the album, which stands to reason as the album was a live recording.  The only differences I can remember is that the solos were sometimes a little longer), the bass player played the acoustic guitar intro to “Roundabout” on the bass (this intro was omitted on the album), and the band added the instrumental section of “Eclipse” to the end of its version of “And You And I” (also omitted from the album).  “Eclipse” was appended to the end this band’s version of “And You And I” (and lacked the steel guitar) and, I thought, was one of the most powerful, dramatic, and emotional portions of the show and it is regrettable that it was omitted from the album.

When it comes down to it, this show was really a tale of two concerts, with the line of demarcation being the intermission.  The first half was, more-or-less, in the style and sound of the APB album and my comments and criticisms about that portion of the show are basically the same as those I had for the album (see here).  Enigmatic Oceans, which was played during the first half of the show and does not appear on the album, prefigured what was to come in the second half.

The second half of the show moved away from the twee and song based approach of the first half and went headlong into a new-age-jazz-fusion direction that was extremely well performed and musically and sonically very interesting.  The keyboardist, notably, focused more on his piano than the keyboard during the second half which contributed significantly to the overall change in sound, tone, and form.  Moreover, the guitarist played acoustic guitar for several of the pieces.  So, between acoustic guitar, piano, violin, and voice, you had the makings of a very interesting sound in the new-age-jazz-fusion style.  One of the highlights for me was “Long Distance Runaround,” which really revealed the impact that arrangement can have on a song.  The original Yes song is a classic song with multiple, and fast moving, contrapuntal lines.  By contrast APB presented it without any of its traditional instrumental trademarks (e.g.: the walking bass, the bouncy piano, or the punctuated guitar).  Instead, APB turned it into a contemplative jazz piece which, if it were not for the vocal melody, I would never have guessed that it was “Long Distance Runaround.”  As an aside, it is this sort of cover of a song that I really like; why simply play someone else’s song when you can make it your own?  “State of Independence” was very powerful and quite a surprise that Anderson would try and mine that part of his career with APB.  That song is a classic that is often overlooked when thinking about Anderson and/or Yes because too many assume it is a Donna Summers song (see here).  This song, too, was a brilliant reworking.  The original (and even Summers’ version) had a terribly 80’s sound with the drum machine and synthesizer (which has an almost midi type sound) and cheesy 80’s saxophone lines.  APB transformed the song into a fast paced and powerful jazz rock song.  Fantastic.  The Ponty pieces were presented more in line with how he recorded them, which makes sense as the members of the band played with him before and they were, more-or-less, presented in the same style in which they were written.  Anderson composed and sang lyrics over some of his music.  The pieces featured long and mesmerizing instrumental sections led by the violin and it was here that the drummer’s talent really came to the fore.  The instrumental sections really showed off the musicianship and prowess of the band and their ability to tastefully, yet intensely, show off their chops while remaining musical and interesting.

The audience was really into the show the entire night.  At this point in their career, and considering the size of the venue (~1000 seats), the audience seemed to have a direct relationship with Anderson and Ponty while they were on stage that perhaps would not have been there when in their prime (when they still had an image protect and project) and/or in bigger arenas where the audience and musicians are too geographically remote.  So the band, particularly Anderson, interacted personally with members of the audience the entire evening.  Anderson’s birthday was two days before the show, so there were a lot of cries of “Happy Birthday!” throughout the show (to one of them Anderson responded with “Merry Christmas!”).  Before introducing “Infinite Mirage,” Anderson starting speaking of “infinity” in a typical Andersonian-spiritual sort of way and someone shouted “You’re getting heavy Jon!” and Anderson responded with “not yet it’s too early!”  He really seemed to have fun and truly appreciate and feel the love the audience had for him.

Over all it was an excellent show and great way for Yes fans to see Anderson in a band setting singing the classics.  As indicated above, the first half of the show was somewhat uninteresting and lightweight, but during the second half the band, and, indeed, its prog-rock potential, came through with some really great new-age-jazz-fusion arrangements and some furious playing.



Anderson-Ponty Band, Better Late Than Never, a Review

In September 2014 progressive rock band Yes‘ co-founder and vocalist/harpist/guitarist Jon Anderson teamed up with virtuoso progressive rock (and classic fusion bands and Zappa alumnus) violinist Jean-Luc Ponty to form the supergroup Anderson-Ponty Band (APB) to play a live concert to be recorded for an album (CD/DVD) which was released in September 2015.  The set list they played consisted of mainly reworked Yes, Anderson, and Ponty pieces with a couple new tracks thrown in for good measure.  Apparently (see here) the actual set list was a little longer and included a few more pieces left off the album.  The live concert from September 2014, upon being recorded, was then modified and edited and overdubbed in the studio.

CD Track List:

1. “Intro”
2. “One in the Rhythm of Hope”  (a reworked Ponty piece)
3. “A for Aria”  (a new piece)
4. Owner of a Lonely Heart”  (a reworked Yes song)
5. “Listening with Me”  (a reworked Ponty piece called “Stay With Me”)
6. Time and a Word”  (a reworked Yes song)
7. “Infinite Mirage”  (a reworked Ponty piece)
8. “Soul Eternal”  (a reworked Anderson piece)
9. Wonderous Stories”  (a reworked Yes song)
10. And You and I”  (a reworked Yes song)
11. “Renaissance of the Sun”  (a reworked Ponty piece)
12. Roundabout”  (a reworked Yes song)
13. “I See you Messenger”  (a new piece)
14. “New New World”  (a reworked Anderson piece)

DVD Track List:

1. “One in the Rhythm of Hope”
2. “A for Aria”
3. “Owner of a Lonely Heart”
4. “Listening with Me”
5. “Time and a Word”
6. “Infinite Mirage”
7. “Soul Eternal”
9. “Renaissance of the Sun”
10. “Roundabout”


  • Jon Anderson – lead vocals, harp, guitars
  • Jean-Luc Ponty – violin
  • Jamie Glaser – guitars (Jamie Dunlap was part of the original line-up of APB and thus performed live on 20 September 2014 at the Wheeler Opera House, Aspen, Colorado, United States but by January 2015, he had left the band and had been replaced by Ponty’s guitarist Jamie Glaser who, as a result, overdubbed Dunlap’s parts on the present live album)
  • Wally Minko – keyboards
  • Baron Browne – bass
  • Rayford Griffin – drums & percussion


So, like most reviews, what one thinks of an album depends on what one expects from it.  If one expects a prog-rock tour de force, then one will be sorely disappointed.  Despite the pedigree of Anderson and Ponty and, indeed, the fusion background of the rest of the band, ABP does not live up to its potential.  Instead, the music is very light (even when it is heavy like during “Owner of a Lonely Heart), often twee, and and is more a fusion of new age and rock, with jazz sounding bass, than a fusion of jazz and Anderson.  Of course the underlying Yes, Anderson, and Ponty music is amazing and the stuff of prog rock legend, but I will try and keep this review just about the interpretation that APB has given them.

Anderson, I think, does most of the heavy lifting in the creation of this album as he wrote most of the music and pushed the kickstarter campaign (see below for more on that).  Excluding “Intro” (which is something of an overture written by Minko), 7 of the 13 remaining songs are from Anderson’s prior work and at least one of the new songs “I See You Messenger” is derived from Anderson’s stock of unreleased material.  Ponty’s solo compositions are instrumental and Anderson’s contribution to them are largely adding lyrics and melodies with which to sing those lyrics over Ponty’s music.  So, Anderson has a writing credit for every track on the album save “Intro.”  Aside from singing, he also strummed a guitar, plucked a harp, and a played very small stringed instrument which seems to be turned to a specific chord for him to strum (I do not know the name of this instrument).  Ponty is an excellent, virtuoso, and experimental violinist, and his playing throughout the album is technically top notch though not particularly inspired.  He more-or-less noodles over the Yes/Anderson material – though on occasion he plays something interesting – and, probably obviously, seems much more at home with his own material.

Of course, the music – especially the Yes material – is rearranged to fit a vaguely new-age-jazz sound which is often stripped down in its complexity compared to the originals, but and some of the interpretations are interesting.   In saying that, I really did not need yet another version of “Roundabout” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”  It is worth noting that “Time and a Word” is a reggae interpretation with some Beatles references thrown in here and there.  Although this version is fun, it is hardly original to APB as Anderson has been doing since at least 2008.  Various quotes from songs like “I’ve Seen All Good People” or “And You And I” or even “Don’t Kill the Whale” (in “I See You Messenger”) are sprinkled throughout.  As an aside, I really like the “Don’t Kill the Whale” quote and I think that song is catchy and the quote makes it doubly so.

As a huge Yes fan, I was most interested in Anderson.  It is very nostalgic for me to hear a new recording from this legendary singer who has made so much music that has such an impact on my life, especially since he nearly died not long ago (see here).  His range is still there.  His spirit is still there.  His emotion is still there.  Despite that, his strength is not nearly what it used to be.  The power of his voice is greatly diminished.  Though still ethereal, his voice is more “breathy” (for want of a better term) and less strident now.  I have to say that, despite this, Anderson, as always, seemed to be very aware that his voice is very unique and tries to use it uniquely if only for it’s sound and he does that here as well (e.g.: the vocal sounds on “One in the Rhythm of Hope”).  Lyrically, he is not really offering anything new.  There are various Yes song references (e.g.: lyrics like “Second Attention” or “That that is”) here and there and the remaining new lyrics fit Anderson’s long standing custom of writing about the sun, light, innocence, Earth, love, moon, and other sorts of “mystical” things.

As a brief editorial, considering Anderson’s diminished voice, stale lyrical ideas, and rather pedestrian musical ideas on this album, I do not think he would be an improvement over Jon Davison (Yes’ current singer) in Yes as Davison’s voice is stronger and his writing is much more creative and interesting right now.  Of course, none of that speaks to the nostalgia and love of/for having Anderson back in Yes and I, for one, would not oppose his return in the least, nor does it in any way diminish Anderson’s influence, creativity, and impact on Yes and prog rock in general.

This collaboration started its life as Kickstarter campaign (see here) and took over a year to prepare, perform, record, produce, and release.  The extended time it took to go from inauguration to release is the inspiration for the title “Better Late Than Never.”  I have to say, as far as expectations are concerned, for an album that took over a year to put together, I was truly hoping for more than just some fairly twee rearrangements of old songs and a couple of light weight new ones.  I was hoping some true creativity would work its way into the music.

All in all this album is really only for Anderson and Ponty fans who enjoy nostalgia and enjoy the idea of these two luminaries working together and enjoying the music of other.  So, as fans of both Anderson and Ponty, I really enjoyed the music and hearing the collaborate, but I was disappointed that they did not really do anything special or creative or really stretch themselves at all.



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Yesshow Review (with pictures): 8/9/15 Atlantic City

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 play at the Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey on August 9, 2015 during their North American Summer Tour.  The opening band was Toto.  You can read more about this show here.

The line-up Yes fielded that show was:

The set Yes played was (the album from which the song comes in parenthesis):

I have taken a few days to think before I sat down to write this review because I have a lot of mixed feelings about this show.  I am not sure if I have resolved those feelings completely, but I think I have crystallized them enough to write something sensible here.

  • A Word on Yes 2015

By way of background, Yes co-founder Chris Squire, who has played on every album and every tour and every concert in Yes history (the only Yes man who can claim to have accomplished this feat, the technical and arguable issues of ABWH aside), passed away rather suddenly on June 27, 2015 (I wrote more about this here).  Now, as any Yes fan knows, Yes’ membership and lineups are notoriously unstable.  Except for bass (Chris Squire’s slot in Yes), every member and instrument has changed hands (and often changing back) many times over its forty-seven year history (and many more than once), and that even includes bass if one counts ABWH as Yes.  So, the loss of Squire, in theory, ought not be more significant than the loss of anyone else, especially co-founder and vocalist Jon Anderson, as Yes has shown itself to be more than the sum of its parts and an entity that exists regardless of and despite its membership as the Yes sound nearly always seems to continue regardless of who is in it; however, despite all that, the loss of Squire seems to be the biggest loss Yes has ever experienced and, in my mind, has plunged the band, or at least my view of the band, into an existential crisis.

It should be noted that, despite having the reputation for having a rotating lineup, Yes’ personnel is actually a lot more stable than people like to admit.  Yes formed in 1968, founded by the duo of Squire and Anderson.  Squire has been in Yes ever since (until now).  Starting in 1970 the core of Squire, Anderson, and guitarist Steve Howe formed.  In 1972 that core expanded to include drummer Alan White.  From 1972 to 2015 there has never been a Yes (again leaving the technical and arguable issues of ABWH aside) without at least three of these men in the lineup and all four have been in Yes from 1972 – 1979, 1991 – 1992, 1996 – 2008.  With Squire’s passing, Yes’s “core,” for the first time since 1970, has been reduced to just two and neither can claim membership in the original quintet, which consisted of Anderson, Squire, Bill Bruford (drums), Peter Banks (guitar), and Tony Kaye (keyboards). It is now possible, for the very first time in Yes history, to watch or listen to a Yes lineup (or indeed even ABWH) that contains no current Yes members.  This is perhaps why Squire’s loss has hit me so much harder than the loss of Anderson.  At least with the loss of Anderson the core still retained three of them (as it did without Anderson during the Drama era for example).  Now the core is reduced to two and, in a five man band, can two really be considered “a core,” especially since neither, either together or separate, can lay claim to every era of Yes?  For the very first time in Yes’ history, its lineup has lost all continuity with its origin.  Looking at the current lineup, they have no members from the original lineup, one member from the Bruford years, two members from the classic lineup, and one member from the 1980’s version.  As a result, I think, for the first time since its founding, a line up of Yes is now together which should be experiencing an existential crisis.

Is the current Yes really Yes or a very qualified and authentic tribute to Yes?  Well, I think the answer to that question really depends on how the current Yes moves forward.  Who are in Yes?  Well, Squire has been replaced by Billy Sherwood as bass player and backup vocalist.  As Yes fans will know, Sherwood is not just some bass player off the street that did well in an audition.  Sherwood has a long pedigree with Yes.  He became friends with Squire back in about 1988 and, from that time on, became something of Squire’s protege.  He started his formal association with Yes as a session player and song writer who wrote and performed a song that appeared on the Yes album Union in 1991. In the early 1990s, Sherwood joined Squire’s side band The Chris Squire Experiment.  In 1994 Sherwood toured with Yes as an on stage backup musician on their Talk Tour.  After that he helped engineer and mix Yes’ Keys to Ascension and Keys to Ascension 2 albums.  All of this culminated with Sherwood joining Yes as a full member, not as a bass player (because Squire was in the band) but as a second guitarist and second keyboardist, and making Yes’ Open Your Eyes and The Ladder albums and touring in support of them.  Sherwood departed Yes in 2000 but then, after that, joined forces with Squire in a band called Conspiracy.  Eventually, Sherwood again returned to Yes for more engineering and mixing work in 2014 for Yes’ Heaven & Earth album.  Sherwood has been a huge Squire fan since his childhood, which made him pick up bass playing and singing to start with, and his 25+ years as Squire’s protege makes Sherwood the natural successor to Squire if there ever was one, not to mention the fact that he is a world class bass player and singer in his own right who can more than play in Squire’s style.  Geoff Downes also has significant Yes pedigree, being the keyboard player during the Drama era, the Fly From Here era, and now the current era which includes Heaven & Earth (of course, he also has had a long history with Steve Howe in Asia).  Finally, Jon Davison, who joined for the Heaven & Earth era also has two Yes live albums under his belt (see here and here).  Davison is an amazing vocalist that is a worthy successor to Anderson as he can sing all of Yes material very well, is a multi-instrumentalist, and prolific song writer.

So, the current Yes has a strong line up and good connections with Yes past and has a lot of potential.  I think if the current Yes wants to have credibility as an authentic and vibrant iteration of Yes into the future, as opposed to merely a band doing great homage to great music, Yes needs to make new music with the new line up and focus their live shows on material which features Downes and/or Sherwood and/or Davison.  I think live sets heavily featuring other eras of Yes is just too disconnected from current Yes to sound truly authentic.  I think rather the current line up should sprinkle their sets with the old classics while focusing on material more relevant to its actual members, as opposed to material that too few – or indeed any – current member was involved in when it was written and recorded.

Unfortunately, promoters want Yes to keep playing full album tours (like here and here) which feature too few current members, but, on the bright side, Yes intend to include the entire Drama album in their set for their 2016 touring (which includes three current members) and Sherwood and Davison are very keen on making, and focusing upon, new music (especially Sherwood) and, word has it, Downes and Davison have an epic length piece prepared for recording (reportedly called “Pyramids”) and there are a lot of songs from the Heaven & Earth sessions that still remain to be recorded and released.  So, Yes is truly at a crossroads between falling back into becoming a nostalgia act and slowly closing out their career or retaining their vitality and continuing to make new music and establish their sound and identity for the future.  I hope Yes is able to thread the needle by playing a whole classic album live which is balanced out by new material.

I really like everyone in this iteration of the band and I really think they can come together to form a fantastic version of Yes, create their own (and credible) live versions of Yes classics, as well as make new music that will stand up proudly in the Yes catalog.  I think, with the addition of Sherwood, they have a great core of composers and between him, Davison, and Downes, can embark Yes on a new and modern era.  I just hope they take the opportunity to do it!

  • Thoughts on the Show

This show was in a casino and was effectively a “double bill” (with Toto), which is to say that Toto was not an “opener” but had equal stage time (a similar double bill with Yes and Styx can be read about here).  My complaints about seeing a Yes show at a casino have been expressed many times before and can be seen here.  As a result, Yes had to keep their set short and sweet and concise, which, unfortunately, does not bring the best out of Yes or do their music justice.  I brought a couple of friends to this show (their first Yes show) who have observed my Yes fandom for the better part of twenty years (one of which lived with me in college and heard it first hand every day for a couple of years) and, I have to say, was hoping for a set that explored Yes’ more complex, dynamic, longer, and diverse back catalog more than it did for their first time seeing them.   I hope they give Yes a chance to expand a little more at another concert.  At this show the set focused on shorter and simpler songs to accommodate the length of the show and the sort of show it was (a double bill “summer rock” type show) which, I do not think, really represents Yes’ music as well as it could.  The pieces were all played at a decent tempo similar to their tempos as originally recorded in the studio.  The live arrangements of the songs was pretty loyal to the studio as, I imagine, they are still trying to find their feet from the loss of Squire as opposed to experiment with live arrangements, so this show did not feature very much divergence from the studio recordings or flashy performances aside from the solos.  As one may expect, Squire’s dynamic and larger-than-life stage presence was sorely missed.  This is not to say that I did not think Sherwood did a good job, quite the contrary; I think it is possible to say both that Sherwood did a great job and that I miss Squire at the same time.  Indeed, I hope, as Sherwood continues to evolve into his role as Yes bass player, the void left by Squire can be filled a little better and I hope it is filled by Sherwood.

I thought Yes’ performance was precisely average for them.  Now, I will give them the benefit of the doubt.  They were playing only their third show of the tour and only the third in their history without Chis Squire and it was clear, to me, that his memory weighed heavily on them, especially Sherwood, as they were trying to find their feet in developing a new sound, style, and performance without him.  As a result, their sound was almost reticent at times (though that may over state the case a bit).  I trust that as this quintet continues to gel that they will break out and truly rock.  Indeed, Alan White has stated in interviews that he had to try and educate Sherwood of all the unspoken things he and Squire have done together in the rhythm section for the last forty-three years.  I thought their individual performances were very good.  I have to say that Howe’s playing was not quite as aggressive and flashy as it usually is, but I think that is because he spent so much time during the show conducting the band, which is a role he never really played before, or at least not to this degree.  On many occasions through the show, Howe could be seen facing the band and, often using his hand, counting off cues and drum breaks.  I imagine this can be chalked up to Yes still finding its feet without their founding bass man.  Sherwood’s performances did Squire proud, though I found his playing and stage presence to be somewhat reserved, likely due to the emotions he feels filling in for his friend.  On Facebook Sherwood has stated that he still feels the weight of Squire on his mind and with each passing show it gets a little lighter, so I expect his performances to become more dynamic as the tour continues.  Downes’ playing was solid as usual but, considering the set list, there were few true keyboard workouts for him to play.  Downes’ style is markedly different from Rick Wakeman‘s style, which is not to say Downes is not as good necessarily, just different.  Downes tends toward a “less-is-more” approach whereas Wakeman’s reputation (which is well deserved at that I would say) is to try and cram as many notes as fast as possible into each measure.  Now some (including me) think Wakeman’s approach is exciting and impressive and flashy, but I try not to allow that impression to be mistaken for “better.”  The problem for me is that Wakeman’s sound is so ingrained in Yes’ sound that Downes’ more reserved approach is very noticeable to my ears.  Davison continues to get stronger and stronger.  His stage presence has really improved and he truly owns his role as Yes’ lead singer by respecting the long shadow cast by Anderson but by also being himself on stage.  His musicianship, aside from singing, has really come to the fore in his excellent guitar playing and percussion playing.  Finally, Alan White’s performance has been the same for the last five or six years, which is to say a more modest approach to the drums which, I think, is a concession to his age (the pony tail and hat is a new and fun addition to his on stage look).

The mix was average at best, which is disappointing because I got seats directly in the middle of the theater to ensure I heard the best sound.  For about the first half of the show Sherwood (both bass and vocals) and Downes were mixed very low while Davison’s singing, Howe’s guitar, and White’s snare drum mixed really high (consistently with Toto’s sound).  Howe’s singing was almost impossible to hear throughout the show.  When Sherwood’s bass became more audible the show, for me, markedly improved.  Behind the band was a large stage-length screen which had images projected onto it throughout the show.

As an aside, some guy two seats down from me was recording the show as I saw his microphone between the sets.

  • The Songs

In terms of the songs, the show began with a memorial to Chris Squire.  The memorial featured Squire’s vintage Rickenbacker 4001D bass guitar under a spotlight in Squire’s spot on stage while slides depicting Squire through the years were presented on the screens behind the band and Squire’s song “Onward” was played (the band did not play the song, it was the album recording).  This memorial led into a truncated recording of Yes’ typical walk-on music (the Firebird) which led directly into “Don’t Kill the Whale,” a rarely played song which has never been played as an opener before.  I assume “Don’t Kill the Whale” was selected because it is a Squire song with a “fishy” theme as an homage to Squire’s nickname “Fish” (Sherwood goofed the introduction by coming in on the wrong beat).  Yes then launched into quality versions of “Tempus Fugit,” “America,” and “Going for the One,” all of which seem to fit the “summer rock” vibe.  Between “Don’t Kill the Whale” and “Tempus Fugit” Davison (on electric bongos) and White on cymbals played a brief percussion duet while Howe switched guitars.  Each track got a little more lively than the previous as the show progressed.  Davison led the audience in thanking Squire and remembering him before “America.”  Howe did the introduction for “Going for the One.”  This led into the big surprise of the night: “Time and a Word.”  Howe used hand gestures to keep time during the song.  The song was the big surprise because (1) no one in the band originally played it and (2) aside from when the song was first introduced in 1970, the three Keys to Ascension shows in 1996, and very brief excerpts in 1989 (here) and 1999 (here), Yes only played this song in 1978 – 1979.  The version of the song in 2015 had the sound of the original (minus the orchestra of course), was electric, like in 1978/79, but more-or-less had the arrangement from the Keys to Ascension era.  Naturally, as an electric song, the keyboard solo was played on a synthesizer (as opposed to Wakeman’s piano on Keys to Ascension) and in decidedly Downes’ style as opposed to Wakeman’s very busy style.  I have to say that these first five songs were very unexpected, and pleasant, surprises, as none are frequently played.  Aside from the rare “Time and a Word,” “Don’t Kill the Whale” is nearly as rare (played only in 1978/79, 2002, and only occasionally in 2004), and “America” is pretty rare as well (after 1972 it was not played until the three Keys to Ascension shows, 1997, 2002, and 2012).  Since 1977 “Going for the One” was not played until the three Keys to Ascension shows and then played in 2004 and 2013.  Of course, “Tempus Fugit” has been played a lot since 2008 but it was never played between 1981 and 2007.  So, the first half of the show felt new and different and interesting in the songs selected.

The remainder of the show was more “classics” oriented.  “Clap” was cool in that Howe appended the introduction to “Astral Traveller” to the beginning of “Clap”, which got the crowd excited.  On “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” Howe finally turned up the distortion and played with a strong muscular sound for once and that makes all the difference for that song.  He even added some good effects to the solo-break to sound more like Trevor Rabin’s solo (good on for Steve Howe for being a team player!).  “I’ve Seen All Good People” is the same as always, and I have to note that Sherwood retained Squire’s “oh oh oooh!” toward the end of “Your Move” which Squire added live and does not appear in the studio.  Also, they goofed on the intro to “Your Move.”  Howe introduced the song and then broke into singing its first verse, which is a cappella, entirely by himself (as opposed to in three part harmonies with Davison and Sherwood), which prompted him to say something like “I’ll be singing this song by myself apparently!”  It was a funny moment!  “Siberian Khatru” is one of my favorite Yes songs and I was happy to hear them play it live.  I love how smooth it is despite all of the twists and turns it takes.  Notably, aside from a couple of more-or-less isolated exceptions, this is the first time this song was not played as the concert opener.  “Roundabout” was not the encore but was played as the last song of the main set.  I suspect if this was a set of typical length it would been first encore with “Starship Trooper” as second encore.  Speaking of the encore, “Starship Trooper” concluded with its traditional “Wurm.”   Sherwood played a very modest bass solo recalling what Squire would have done, but kept it very simple.  Downes whipped out a keytar for a little flare at the end of his solo in “Wurm.”  My complaint for this song is that Downes’ seemed to strip down some of the Hammond sections in “Life Seeker” and simply did not play for a few measures.  At the end of the “Wurm” Davison added some vocalizations that recalled what Anderson did years before as captured on Yessongs.

  • A Brief Word on Toto

My fandom of Toto has always been a part of my fandom of Arena Rock in general.  I enjoy it and listen to it but will never be a fan of it like I am of prog rock.  So, I appreciate Toto in that vein and this concert reinforced my perspective on them.  Toto’s concert, and entire presentation, naturally bears a lot of similarity to Styx when they opened for Yes in 2011.  So, very loud, a lot of bombast, excitement, and stage presence revving of the crowd was the order of the day.  They played really well and I enjoyed them.  Toto suffered from the same bad mix as Yes for much of its set where only the singing, guitar, and snare drum could be heard most of the show.  The keyboards did not become more prominent until about half way through.  The bass guitarist could have not been on stage at all as he was so inaudible as to make him pointless, and the same goes for the percussionist as well but for the couple of times he was featured.  Before this show I did not realize just how big Toto’s stage membership is, which includes a guitarist, bass guitarist, percussionist, drummer, two keyboardists, a lead singer, and two backup singers.  Each keyboardist played with one hand a lot of the night, so I am not sure why two were necessary when one could have played both parts using both of his hands.  I got the feeling keyboardist Steve Porcaro is in the band, despite having very limited involvement in the music, mainly to ensure a Porcaro is in the band after the death of both of his brothers, both of whom were in Toto.  As a side note, Steve Porcaro’s stage moves are really awkward and resemble the dance moves of Elaine Benes.  Toto began the show with a variety of sound effects from the classic Wizard of Oz film, for obvious reasons, and played a good mix of their hits and new material from the latest album.  Although I enjoy their music I was happy that they played my favorite song of theirs: “Hydra.”  During the course of their show Toto made a few references to Yes, and Squire in particular due to his recent death, and described Yes as their musical heroes.  Indeed, Toto dedicated their new song “Great Expectations” to Squire.  The audience was really into Toto and, in fact, some guys near the stage tried to body surf and someone else ran up and down the aisle waving his hands.


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Yes Concert Reviews: 11/21/08 – Front Row and on the Radio!

Here is another addition to my series of Yes music posts.  I started this series here and you can read the others here.

I saw the progressive rock band Yes play at the Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey on November 21, 2008 during the first part of their In The Present Tour.  You can read more about this show here.  Technically speaking this show was initially not considered a Yes show but a “Howe, Squire, White Show featuring Oliver Wakeman and Benoit David,” but at the end of the leg of the tour of which this show was a part the band faced reality and acknowledged that they were the new iteration of Yes.  Starting with this show, and concluding with the Yes show I saw in 2013, I attended each one with my friend and former neighbor Mike March.  He has incredible luck in getting good seats which will be described below.  I also have posted some photographs from the show below.  This show took place about six weeks after my first son was born and my wife reminds me that I should thank him for being born on October 12 and not only not interrupting our seeing the Phillies in the World Series but also not interfering with this show (my second son had similarly good timing which I will describe in a later post).

The line-up Yes fielded that show was:

The set Yes played was (the album from which the song comes in parenthesis):


This show was the first of four shows I saw this line-up perform over the course of its “In the Present Tour” which spanned the better part of three years (2008 – 2010).  I saw this line up also perform in 2011 for its final tour called the Rite of Spring Tour.

To date, I have seen this lineup perform more often than any other though, sadly, it was the weakest of the Yes lineups I have seen.  When I review the other shows of this lineup I will discuss different details regarding its origins, strengths, and weaknesses.  I reviewed the 2010 show of this line up here.  In September 2004 I saw the classic Yes line up perform for the last time (you can read about that here) and, after that tour, Yes went on hiatus.  In 2008 Yes reformed with Jon Anderson continuing as lead vocalist but without Rick Wakeman due a conflict with his prior commitments.  To replace Rick Wakeman, Yes hired on his son Oliver Wakeman to play keyboards, who is a very skilled keyboard player in his own right.  This quintet went ahead and scheduled the Close to the Edge and Back Tour.  Unfortunately, this tour was cancelled due to Jon Anderson suffering a severe asthma attack.  Controversially Yes went forward without Jon Anderson and hired Youtube Yes cover singer sensation Benoit David to replace him.

Due to Yes now touring without the man who is considered to be the band’s face, soul, primary composer and lyricist, and inspiration (Jon Anderson) and without their long time and most popular keyboardist (Rick Wakeman), they decided to tour the crap out of this new lineup.  Losing Jon Anderson was a huge blow to their image, identity, and to their fan base, and Yes felt they had to pull out the stops to reassure the fans that Yes is still, well, Yes.  So, they toured practically non-stop for over four years to get as much exposure as possible and to convince the fans that Yes is still the band it has always been.  In an attempt to up the ante on their trying to reassure the fans of their Yes-cred, they played some real deep cut rarities and toured with a stage set designed by Roger Dean to boot.

I have to say that I thought this show an amazing and truly excellent show.  The band played really well.  David’s voice was strong, clear, and did Anderson’s parts justice.  His stage presence was rather goofy, hokey, and some what amateur, but it did not affect the sound at all so I did not really care all that much.  O. Wakeman’s playing was really good.  He was able to replicate his father’s playing, Tony Kaye’s playing and Geoff Downes’s playing with aplomb.  My only complaint about his playing was that it was totally nondescript and he had absolutely no state presence at all.  He played his parts technically really well but offered no personal flair to any of the parts whatsoever.  His playing was practically by rote, which disappointed me because other players who join Yes tend to place their personal stamp onto the music even if it was initially played by others; ironically perhaps the best at that was Wakeman’s father.  At the time, I sort of assumed that this lack of a personal stamp was due to circumstance.  It seemed Yes was very focused and intent on ensuring the fans knew that this was Yes and the next stage of their career and not messing with keyboard sounds and arrangements may have helped fans embrace this new line up due to the familiar sound it could produce.  Regardless, for me, at this time, between the excellent playing and the Dean stage set, this iteration of Yes seemed to be the real deal and a worthy continuation of the band, even without Anderson and, to a lesser extent, R. Wakeman.

I also have to say that the set list was excellent and that was an amazing feature of the show for me.  The set included rarities from Drama (only ever played in 1980), “Astral Traveller,” a great song that had not been played since 1970, “Onward” which had only ever been played live three times (all at the Keys to Ascension shows), and they brought back their tradition of introducing “And You And I” with “Apocalypse” (ala Yessongs).

Unfortunately this show was performed in a casino, which, for me, is one of the worst venues for a concert.   It is the worst because (1) I have to drive at least 75 minutes to the show; (2) it takes place in a craphole city (Atlantic City); (3) a fair amount of the audience got tickets at the casino for something fun to do but were not really fans and, therefore, spent the show being drunk and talking instead of involved in the show; and worst of all, (4) the set list is shorter than usual due to casino rules.  Despite the excellent set list, it was shorted and did not include other songs on this leg of the tour, including “Parallels,” Long Distance Runaround,” The Fish,” “Soon,” “Aliens” (a song played live but never recorded by Yes but eventually included on the first Squackett album), and a Steve Howe solo spot.

The most memorable part of this show has got to be the seats!  As I said above, Mike has incredible luck with seats.  The local classic rock radio stations 102.9 WMGK was promoting the show and one of its disc jockeys, Ray Koob, was there broadcasting live.  Koob promoted something like a drawing for a “seat upgrade” and all one had to do was text WMGK to enter.  Mike and I entered and he looked at me with confidence and said “I am not going to sit in our seats because it’s a waste of time considering we’re getting a seat upgrade.”  I grinned but had no expectation to win.  Mike assured me we would win and was getting amped up for front row seats.  Miraculously I got a text from WMGK which bumped up our seats to the front row right in front of Squire!  It is the only time I have ever had front row seats for Yes.  I have to say that it is a really exciting place to be.  You truly get a view impossible anywhere else in the theater, though, admittedly, the sound is better in other places in a venue.  As I was right in front of Squire, needless to say his bass and voice dominated the sound for me.  When we got the ticket upgrades, Koob interviewed Mike and I on live radio and we went home with some promotional material.  My wife, who was spending the day with her sister, listened in from home.  We also had our pictures taken (posted below) with our winning tickets and the photographs were posted to the WMGK website.  It was a really exciting moment for me – and something of a whirlwind – to show up to a show expecting to sit in the fifteenth row and, within about 15 minutes, get bumped up to front row and interviewed on a live radio broadcast!  On Christmas 2008 Mike was nice enough to buy me a beer stein with our WMGK photograph on it!

Needless to say, my first Yes show in 4 years, a great show, a great performance, a good stage set, a great set list, front row tickets, a radio interview, and a 6 week old son made for an amazing night!

Previous Review:

I reviewed this show a few days after the show and posted it to the Usenet group alt.music.yes.  Back in the mid 1990s the old message board system of newsgroups on Usenet was in its heyday and, being a sucker for internet debates, I gravitated right toward it.  Nowadays Usenet has been taken over by Google Groups but, needless to say, social networking things like Facebook and Twitter and any number of other options have made Usenet all but obsolete save for some loyal diehard hardcore users. I found my old review preserved at the website Forgotten Yesterdays and can be found here.

My old review has a lot of details about the show I have forgotten.  Here is my old review (typos and all): Here are my thoughts about the AC show:

I posted elsewhere that the set was absurdly short due to the venue. I complained about it there and will not repeat it here. Suffice it to say that despite the short set, the evening was magical for me.

On a personal note, 102.9 WMGK was there broadcasting live. They did an “Owner of a Lonely Heart” game where you had to guess how many times various classic rock musicians have gotten divorced. My friend and I gave it a go and won a couple of radio station t-shirts. They also had a text message raffle for a first row seat. On a lark my friend and I both sent text messages. After a while it got close to show time and I wanted to take our seats, but he said “no way, we’re going to win those 1rst row seats”. Wouldn’t you know it, but 2 minutes later we won the tickets! So, we moved up a couple of dozen rows for out front row seats! directly in front of Chris Squire. So, needless to say it was awesome just on this note alone for me.

About the show:
BD: very good. Great stage presence. Moves around and interacts with the band and the audience very well and in a more “normal” sort of way as compared to JA. He also moves and dances a lot to the music (and according to its rhythm too!), so this is different from JA also. Obviously no spacey talk. Over all, a very good performance. Of course, we all missed JA but BD made us feel right at home.

SH: really hot. He’s a strange guy, people say he is slowing the band down in terms of tempo. However, his performance is hot and cold in terms of speed. A few moments he is playing either slower or less notes than the album or previous performances in years past (i.e.: TF). Other times (such as “Wurm”) he is blisteringly fast. So, I cannot tell if he thinks playing slower is more mature or refined or he can only sustain it occasionally. He got really angry at least twice during the show. While introducing AT he told some folks in the audience to “shut up” because he was talking. During the quiet part of “I Get Up, I Get Down” when CS is doing some noodling, he looked toward those same folks with a look that could kill and mouthed “shut up” and made a motion with his hand to tell them to keep it down. Overall, his performance was spot on and he was very animated at times.

AW; same as always: solid.

OW: I think he does not get the credit he deserves. He was mixed somewhat lower than RW. However, I have found with the exception of perhaps PM, every keyboardist is mixed lower than RW. There was at least one time when SH motioned to the sound guy to turn OW down – I cannot for the life of me remember what song that was. What he did play was spot on like the albums. I think his main “problem” if it is one, is that he has absolutely ZERO stage presence. He never looks at the audience and only acknowldged the band (CS specifically) one time that I can remember (during the “Roundabout” solo). When he has no keyboard part to play he often clasped his hands in front of himself looking at the floor. He also does not make his playing look challeging. He uses a smaller rig than RW, taking full advantage of new technology (unlike RW who seems to enjoy using 1,000,000 keyboards all of the time). He rarely played more than one at one time and does not sway/leap/run back and forth between them or, as RW did in 2002 – 2004, criss-cross his hands constantly. I guess it can be summed up by saying OW has no stage presence and no showmanship and I think a lot of people confuse that with inferior keyboard playing which is, I think, a mistake.

CS: what can I say about him? He was 5 feet from me so I saw everything and he took a lot of my attention. Really great playing and singing and he does not look like he is slowing down. I think he clearly looks like he is in charge of this group again. He is playing as good as he ever has played I think. My only suggestion is to stop wearing pants so tight. His package was way too prominent and his old man legs way too evident.

The set was as follows:
Firebird Suite
Siberian Khatru
I’ve Seen All Good People
Tempus Fugit
Astral Traveller
Close To The Edge
And You and I (starting with “Apocalypse”)
Machine Messiah
Starship Trooper
Owner of a Lonely Heart

The details are largely the same as other shows, but here are some details I noticed that may not have been shared perviously. No major issues or flubs. Overall a very tight performance considering the complaints from recent shows.

SK: during the quiet parts at the begining CS had something caught in his bass and fiddled with it for several seconds.

TF: I was 4 feet from CS. I can tell you that he seemed very confident playing the challenging bass parts. However, he seemed to REALLY struggle singing at the same time. He got most of his lines however he would pull back from the microphone at times and sort of scat the melody. Some of the lyrics got garbled by him. It really could not be noticed unless you actually watched him fromt he distance from which I viewed him. Overall, however, great playing.

Onward: CS plucks the strings with 2 fingers during many moments in the song instead of playing as he typically does. SH sat on a stool the entire song.

CttE; they pulled out the dry ice mist during the quiet parts. They also did some spacey improv circa 1972 during those same moments. I do not think SH’s blue guitar on a stand does justice to the sitar sound. The sound round of pipe organ is supplimented by SH doubling the melody and CS and AW souping it up a bit as they have done on previous tours. The tempo was more or less album tempo with a ripping guitar solo at the beginning.

AYAI: great and tight overall performance but awkward guitar playing when not using a steel. SH did not use his acoustic 12 string but opted for that 6-string blue guitar. As a result, the song was different (i.e.: more electric) and a lot thinner due to the lack of 6 more strings. So, I think that took away from the music if being true to the fullness of the acoustic 12 string is important for the listener. Also, not sure if it was intentional, but the blue guitar was facing to the left side of SH and not directly in front of him. As a result, when he had to sing the “Coins and Crosses” part he had to stretch his arms to the side while his face was forward toward teh audience. Very uncomfortable looking. Was it like this at other shows? The two note keyboard chords during the keyboard solo were prerecorded.

MM: AMAZING!! SH’s slow building guitar growl was just great and CS was blistering. Great job. Not sure what the point is for BD to play the acoustic guitar as SH is not playing his own guitar during those moments but competant strumming nonetheless. They also used the dry ice during the slow ending. CS’ singing on this one was intermittent. He would come in and out of the same verse and I do not think he did the same on the album.

ST: in terms of performance, probably the best and tightest performance of the night. Again the blue guitar used for an the acoustic sound during “Disillusion”. The solos at the end are as good as they have been in recent years. A REALLY well done rendition. During the “Follow…” part of “Disillusion” it sounded like OW played some keyboard effects that sounded like harmonized voices to boost the vocal sound of that section.

OoaLH: pretty standard. AW introduced it. SH looks less angry than bored playing this now, and actually played it pretty well and put some effort into it (unlike previous tours, I thought). The electronic drums were prerecorded and there were no shreeks from JA. OW played the little trippy transition parts. BD came in with the chorus at the end a little too early and looked at CS and the both laugh it off. BD sort of laughingly shrugged and CS did the same.

Roundabout: AW introduced this one too and it was again, pretty standard. The whole song too, none of this shorted nonsense. Again the blue guitar substituted for the acoustic and SH plays the “acoustic” parts with his fingers, which I do not know if he generally does that.

There you have it from AC!


From the WMGK website:

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My own photos:

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