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 Yes featuring Anderson, Rabin, Wakeman) play a show at the at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, PA on October 1, 2017 during the their An Evening of Yes Music and More 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):
This show was extremely similar to the last ARW show I saw, but with the set list shortened and only changed by a couple of songs, so I will not get into the long drawn out detail as I did before (if you want to read it all, then see here), and will instead only focus on highlights here and how it differed from the previous show. In saying that, I will say that ARW still suffers from largely the same things that impaired it before: (1) it is not really a five piece band, it is a trio with a backing rhythm section; (2) while Pomeroy is a good bass player, his reduced stage presence and, more importantly, low in the mix sound and prominence fundamentally changes the music in a direction away from a traditional Yes sound (and not in a good way); (3) Wakeman’s playing seems safe; (4) the set list is also very safe; and, (5) as usual, Rabin’s playing of the Steve Howe material only serves to flatten out well crafted, multi-style, and melodic guitar lines into screaming wankery devoid of any subtly, style, or variation.
What changed? Well first and foremost it seems Rabin has shaken off the rust I noted in my review of my prior ARW show (see here). A year ago, Rabin’s voice was rough, his playing was stiff, and he seemed like he was struggling to play. Well, if the 10/1/17 show is evidence of anything, it is that Rabin is back. I am not sure if I can say that he is at the level he was at his 1980s prime, but he is still an excellent guitar player and singer. Also, the last year of shows has led to an ARW that is very tight and on point. The tempos are what the should be. This made the whole show a lot more exciting, polished, and, frankly, head and shoulders above the show last year. Everyone played really well and Anderson was in great voice.
In terms of the songs, I note that in the 1990s “Rhythm of Love” featured a keyboard lick between the verses that is no longer present in the song. “Southside of the Sky” was added to the set and was very good. It did not have any sort of dueling solos at the end that Yes has done over the last 15 years or so, instead the band just plays the main riff in higher and higher registers until it ends. The middle part involved multiple ways of singing the vocals; in other words, it was not just “lala” but also “gaga” and “dada” and other sorts of things. Also, in this middle part, Rabin added some unnecessary chords played fairly quietly. It did not add anything to the equation at all. The bass and drums seemed more prominent in this section than in previous tours as well. Anderson sings the lead during this portion instead of someone else (ala Chris Squire). In addition to “Southside of the Sky,” the new songs this time around were “Changes” (always excellent) and “I am Waiting” (which is a favorite of mine from Talk). Both of these songs were played very well. Unfortunately, their lack of strong vocal harmonies (due to the lack of Chris Squire and Billy Sherwood) substantially diminished the choir effect on “I am Waiting” in a live setting. They unfortunately played the short version of “Roundabout,” which is my favorite part of the song. Oh well. On the bright side, it did include a reference to “Give Love Each Day” at the end. The last song of the set, prior to the encore, was “Owner of a Lonely Heart” with “Make it Easy” as the introduction. The end of “Owner” was a very long and extended jam which included a bass solo, drum solo, a recapitulation of “Make it Easy,” a cover of Cream‘s “Sunshine of Your Love,” and Rabin and Wakeman strolling through the audience (Wakeman using a keytar). While Rabin and Wakeman walked through the crowd, Anderson and Pomeroy ran back and forth at angle on the stage.
- Interesting instrumentation:
Anderson played guitar on “Changes” and “Rhythm of Love.” The drummer also pitched in with the singing here and there and the bass player sang a lot more backing vocals than he did last year. Rabin seems to stick to his normal vocal lines while Pomeroy and Molino fill in for Squire’s vocals. For the new introduction to “Awaken” ARW plays (not unlike the “Flight Jam” of yore), Rabin assists on the drums. Speaking of the introduction of “Awaken,” that was the only part of the show were I definitely heard backing tracks (or, perhaps, someone playing off stage). There may have been similar backing tracks at the beginning of “Roundabout.”
Wakeman, of course, wore a glittery cape, as is his custom. During the beginning of “And You And I,” Wakeman’s minimoog (on the left side from the audience perspective) became defective. His roadie, wearing headphones, came out and worked on it while Wakeman played the minimoog on the other side. After the roadie finished, Wakeman played a minimoog line and then gave a polite golf clap to his roadie who was now off stage.
After “I am Waiting,” Rabin, without notice, suddenly scurried off stage to his right. The rest of the band were preparing to play the next song and did not seem to notice until the last second. Anderson appeared to say that Rabin had to “go to the loo” so, during the brief interim, Anderson invited Wakeman out from behind his keyboards to tell a joke to fill the time. Wakeman, of course, was happy to oblige and told his joke about the $305 lady of the night. Rabin was back before you knew it, to much laughter, and the show went on as normal. What a fun little interlude!
Although Anderson had some pretty serious health problems a few years back, and is now in his mid-70s, I have to say that he seems youthful and tireless. During the end jam of “Rhythm of Love,” he really upped the ante and started bouncing around while playing guitar, and even took to doing some rock star poses. At the end of the song he indicted he was tired but said the show had to go on! ARW has clearly energized him.
When the band emerged from back stage for the encore, Molino picked up Rabin’s guitar and Rabin sat on Molino’s drum stool and they, for a moment, faked playing the other’s instrument. I am not sure if this was planned because it seemed to go on a little too long to the point where “Roundabout” started without Rabin and Anderson scat-sang the guitar intro to the song and, by the time Rabin was able to play it, Anderson just kept on scatting anyway.
The normal ARW staging was absent – due to venue rules – so the band merely had lights to accompany the music. The venue, of course, was absolutely amazing, majestic, beautiful, and of perfect sound. The wood violin shaped concert hall does not have bad seat in it with regard to sound quality.
While I am not sold on ARW as the “new Yes” or something, they are an excellent band and it is great hearing some Rabin material live. They’re not a new Yes band to me because, first, they are not a true five-piece band and, second, the bass and backing vocals are far to weak to represent the Yes sound. These problems can easily be corrected, however, and I suppose the studio album they have promised to record and release will reveal what sort of band they will be. Anderson is in great voice, Wakeman never seems to diminish, and Rabin seems back to normal. Too bad the rhythm section are secondary players and the backing vocals are on the weak side, as these elements really detract from ARW truly sounding like Yes (not to mention Rabin’s unimpressive interpretations of Howe’s lines).