Tag Archives: Asia

Yes, No or Maybe?

YesAsiaPalmer2019_ad2I’ve been a Yes fan and patron going back to my teenage years, and I’ve seen them more than any other band since. My first chance to see the group was during 1977’s Going for the Onetour at the fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California. It began a lifelong patronage.

The Revolving Door: Before and since that first experience, the lineup of musicians who play as part of Yes has been ever changing. Jon Anderson (original vocalist), Steve Howe (guitars), Rick Wakeman and Tony Kaye (keyboards) have come and gone more than once. Guitarist Steve Howe joined after original member Pete Banks left, and Trevor Rabin replaced him in the 80s. Drummer Alan White joined after original maestro Bill Bruford left just before the Close to the Edgetour. In 1980 Jon left for what turned out to be one record, and Trevor Horn sang vocals while Geoff Downes, his partner in the Buggles played keys. Personnel changes only accelerated after that, from 1980 up through today.

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I’ve continued to see the band many times since original singer Jon Anderson’s second departure in 2008, due to health issues. When Anderson left for that second time, the band first recruited singer Benoit David, then current singer Jon Davison, who is skilled at covering Anderson’s vocal parts. In 2015 we mourned the passing of Chris Squire, the exceptional bass player and vocalist for Yes and it’s most consistent member. When Squire first announced that his illness would preclude his involvement in the remainder of 2015’s Yes tour, he also indicated his support for collaborator Billy Sherwood, who stepped into the role with grace and reverence, bringing his own skills and style to the stage. Alan White’s recent surgery sidelined him, and ex-Hurricane/Conspiracy/Asia drummer Jay Schellen replaces White for most of the show. Last year, and two years prior, we were able to catch three other core members of Yes billed as ARW – Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman for several solid performances that found Jon’s voice completely recovered from prior illness. Whew, so many Yes’s so little time!

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Which Yes is Yes?Unfortunately, rabid fans carp about “which Yes is Yes” constantly on social media, acting as if they hold the title of band manager, planner, and critic. A common post is “no Yes without Jon” as fans then argue about whether the “official” Yes led by Steve Howe (and Chris Squire before his passing) have any right to play the songs without Jon Anderson. Some of the critics attended the limited ARW tours over the last few years and when they decry the official act, call it a “tribute” or “cover” band. Taste is subjective, but the criticism of particular members gets harsh.

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The Important Point:In reality, there’s been something to admire in every Yes tour since the band’s inception and always there have been transcendent moments, no matter what combination of musicians are on stage. Fundamentally, the compositions are amazing and the performances are inspiring as Yes builds their long songs to astral crescendos of power and emotion. They are truly an amazing band, packed with virtuoso musicians whatever the collective, and they are the musicians I’ve seen play live more than any other. This fan catches as many Yes (official), ARW, and Wakeman or Anderson solo tours as possible. Soon, with the passing of time, there will be no more original members of Yes, unfortunately and the baton will be “officially” handed over to tribute bands. If I’m still on this mortal coil I will be there still as this music is meant to be heard in a live setting, and it’s magical when done right.

Case in Point:This year the band booked a summer tour of America, the Royal Affair tour with openers Asia, John Lodge (of the Moody Blues) and Carl Palmer (of ELP) opening.

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YesAsiaPalmer2019_KR_Asia1The show at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga was fantastic. Carl Palmer led his small band through several highlights from the ELP catalog with Arthur Brown covering lead vocals and delivering us his 1960’s hit “Fire” as well. I have to admit we skipped the set from The Moody Blues’ John Lodge’s to go talk to Roger Dean who was showing his work, but he was very well received. We were back inside for Asia, who nailed a rousing set of their best tracks, along with “Lucky Man” from ELP. Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal expertly covered the lead vocal duties formerly helmed by the late John Wetton, and played guitar through the first part of the set, after which Steve Howe did a walk on for the older songs.

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Once Yes took the stage, they performed rousing renditions of songs like “Tempus Fugit” and “Siberian Khatru” at the proper pace and with accuracy. The centerpiece moment this time was a piece of music they hadn’t played for decades, side one of Relayer (1975) — “The Gates of Delirium” and “Soon.” This is over 20 minutes of the most challenging progressive rock the band ever wrote, with one-time keyboard player Patrick Moraz. While it cleared a few rows of attendees out of the venue, we were transfixed. Howe sliced thru the staccato guitar riffs that lead into and reach crescendo during “the battle” section of “Gates…” as the long song tells the tale of the development, pursuit, and aftermath of war. Downes hit his leads, Davison nailed the highest notes, and Sherwood gently colored “Soon’s” soft tones with care that would have made Squire proud. If the group as rumored will be back to do the whole album with Moraz guesting, it will be spectacular.

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Every band that night had experienced the loss of former colleagues who have passed on. We lost Asia’s John Wetton, and Keith Emerson and Greg Lake from ELP just over the last few years. Songs were highlighted during those sets as being played for these fallen musical heroes, to somber effect, and some celebration of lives well lived and music shared.

All in all a great show – one that left an exclamation mark on the statement that anyone interested in seeing members of Yes ply their most amazing trade live, should be going out to support them. In addition, Rick Wakeman just played Journey to the Center of the Earthon two nights in London for what he says is the last time. He is doing a solo tour of the states this fall, as is Jon Anderson. So hey, we get to see almost every key member who’ve been in Yes over these many years, just on different nights – go for the one!

(A shout out to Kim – Most fabulous photos above © kimreedphotos.com)

Dear John

John Wetton just passed away. Many fans have known that this brave and talented artist had been fighting cancer, going through successive treatments that did not lead to recovery. I didn’t know John, only met him twice, but I love his work and have great respect and admiration for his life and journey. The verses and choruses of his greatest music have been running through my head this morning since waking to read the sad announcement. He was and will be remembered as one of the most important and prolific rock artists of our time.

Just want to say a few things, without a deep encyclopedic review of the man and his work. While John lent his time to several projects early in his career, the first really impactful music I heard from the man was from his work with King Crimson. Back when we used to accost our friends to exclaim, “listen to this record!” one of mine handed me two LP’s – wettonjohn2017_crimson_lark_72dpiCrimson’s Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (1973) and Starless And Bible Black (1974). I found this music cast a kind of strange spell while at the same time being aurally shocking, challenging beyond belief, utterly lacking in the kind of sound that would attract anyone but serious musicians. It captivated me and made me a lifelong fan of those who contributed. These two albums capture almost everything that made John such a compelling songwriter, player and vocalist. To be sure, his work on that thunderous monster bass was often stunning – take “The Talking Drum,” a relentless dissonant instrumental driven by Bill Bruford’s tuned toms and John’s four-string attack. The momentous sound of his bass could and sometimes did overwhelm the mix in concert. Full stop… one great bass player.

But what always stuck with me, and kept me collecting John’s work through the next 40 years was his truly golden expressive voice. There was a majestic power to that voice, an incredible sustain and phrasing that alternated between sarcastic and sublime, often with a touch of vibrato but more frequently long clear pitch-perfect tones. This was a voice tailor made for progressive rock, particularly on those songs that seemed to come from an earlier time, that pre-industrial acoustic-meets-electric modern renaissance. Take his gorgeous vocal on “Book of Saturdays” and lines such as “Every time I try to leave you, You laugh just the same.” Or, something more intense and biting from “Easy Money” “Getting fat on your lucky star… Making easy money.” John had an uncanny ability to deliver what dynamic prog music demanded, a lead vocal that could easily flex between gentle and more violent passages. Right from the start, that voice had everything in its arsenal -a yearning that brought the blues, a bite, a howl for justice, a plea for sanity, or just a call to celebrate.

wettonjohn2017_uknancover_72dpiAfter Crimson’s untimely disbandment in 1974, John cast about a bit, eventually forming U.K. with prog luminaries, a band that racked up just two albums followed by a live one taken from the tour I saw, their sophomore outing supporting Danger Money when they opened for Jethro Tull in 1979 as a three piece. This legendary band, though short-lived, tops my list for great Wetton compositions played with maximum dynamics by virtuoso musicians Eddie Jobson, Bill Bruford, Allan Holdsworth and Terry Bozzio. To a great extent, while similar to Crimson in dynamics, this work finds John in his best voice, alternating between near ballads like “Renevous 6:02” and “Ceasar’s Palace Blues.”

When this outfit also broke up, John released his first solo album, which made clear that he was well capable of writing music that was easier on the ears, more major tones, a bit less minor. With this under his belt, John went on to form “super group” Asia where he found the commercial success that had eluded his more musically challenging work of the 70s. With the debut Asia album John finally made a more accessible form of pop music that also captured a wider audience. The concert in support of the album was unforgettable, a master class in prog and pop that I will never forget. I’ve seen him live in concert numerous times over the years, and never saw a lazy or subpar performance, even when he had a cold or off night.

John left behind a large catalog of solo work, and collaborations with so many peers, including most notably keyboard player Geoff Downes and guitarist Phil Manzanera. These albums explore every facet of the rock art – some jazz-infused, some progressive, most really essential rock music with some pop to balance it all out. He worked tirelessly, releasing numerous albums, touring frequently. Sure there were some bumps in the road, but there is so much treasure in the man’s large catalog of music that it will stand the test of time as a major contribution to the form.

wettonjohn2017_arkangelcover_72dpiMy favorite moment of John’s is on his 1998 solo album Arkangel. It reportedly came at a time of personal challenges for this artist, and it’s hard not to consider the title track and some of the content overall as autobiographical. Opening with a crack of thunder, this powerful tome includes fitting lyrics for the fighter:

You are my arkangel, my heart and my right hand
When in the face of danger we stand

The danger is over, the artist now quieted, rest in peace John Wetton, safe journey.

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Because John is featured in my book for his work with both U.K. and King Crimson, I searched for months for photos of the man, and fortunately discovered Lisa Tanner, one of the great photographers of the era, who captured this really beautiful shot of John and his frets…thank you Lisa!

Yes Transcends

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Finally!  After a year of uncertainty about the future of Yes, I am pleased to report here that the show last night at the Warfield theater in San Francisco exceeded my expectations making the long wait worthwhile.  Asia opened and played a set list that included several songs from their debut, two tracks from the followup, and one from the most recent release. Group members presented something from their past –  John Wetton (King Crimson/In the Court of the Crimson King), Geoff Downes (The Buggles/Video Killed the Radio Star), and Carl Palmer (ELP/Fanfare for the Common Man), each representing a bit of the the history of their 1970’s bands.  While Asia was always this “progressive supergroup gone pop”, their work was pleasent, powerful and certainly less angular than their predecessors.  John Wetton is one of my favorite vocalists and he delivered with accurate, clear vocals throughout the show – awesome and unexpected after all these years.

When Yes took the stage for the opening track, “Siberian Khatru”, any fears that this ensemble would have troubles melted away.  This first track would be a litmus test for any band, given the complex interlocking passages and strong harmonies. This band showed right away that they are up to the task, as Chris Squire (bass), Steve Howe (guitars), and Alan White (drums) played as well as I have seen, and seemed to enjoy themselves during the almost two hour set. Though this music calls for precision timing and accuracy, the band kept a the slight looseness to some passages which added to the experience.  The only minor complaint for me is that while Oliver covered his father’s material (and Geoff/Tony) faithfully, he never really stood out in the mix, but that has been a common affliction of Yes keyboard players other than Rick Wakeman.

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Most important was the question – would the absence of lead singer Jon Anderson, the zen center of Yes, render the show a lesser form?  Would the emotional integrity of the experience be intact?  Covering for Jon Anderson is even more difficult than what we have seen with other ’70’s acts such as Alan Parsons, Journey, Foreigner, Boston, etc. because Jon is so much part of the fabric of the whole Yes experience.  The main reason most of us love this band is simple, and goes beyond exceptional musicianship and compositions – its that when Yes hits it marks, we are taken somewhere on a transcendent journey, getting in touch with an energy outside ourselves.  The band construct these intense, chaotic passages, which build, and then shift into the most angelic, harmonic major-chord-based resolves imaginable.  Jon seems at the heart of this journey, embodying his spiritual lyrics – often obtuse, but imparting radiant, positive messages.  When this is presented properly in a live concert setting, the results are powerful.  On this night, of course we missed seeing Jon himself, but even without him in this lineup, all was well in the Yes universe.

The current vocalist Benoit David has Continue reading Yes Transcends