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.