Tag Archives: Jon Anderson

Yes it is Anderson Rabin Wakeman!

arw_anderson1sf_144dpiLike many fans who read this, I’ve had a lifelong passion for all things Yes, every incarnation of the band, the solo records, the shows… everything. I’ve even braved cruise liners to see a version of the group twice now on the annual Cruise to the Edge voyage, something I thought I would never do. I’ve found something to appreciate in every era of Yes music, whether early on in the ’70s, through the more commercially appealing ‘80s, and beyond. Every lineup featured musical genius; from guitarists Peter Banks, Steve Howe, and Trevor Rabin, lead vocalists Jon Anderson to Trevor Horn, from Tony Kaye, to Rick Wakeman, Patrick Moraz, back to Rick Wakeman, you know the drill. Yes’s music and message at its best challenges the mind, engages the heart, and sometimes even inspires a bit of boogie. All of that was true last Sunday December 4th on last night of ARW’s 2016 US tour at the Masonic Auditorium, San Francisco.

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ARW is absolutely the best combination of Yes alum I’ve seen in the last few years. Jon Anderson is certainly the definitive Yes vocalist, Rick Wakeman the classically trained gem of Britain, and Trevor Rabin the searing guitar player who led the band through the tumultuous 1980s. These musicians are able to traverse the history of Yes music, performing each song with reverence to the original yet with space for improvisation. It was a wonder and privilege to see them together on stage again.

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Though ARW intend to record, the band, which included veteran prog bassist Lee Pomeroy and drummer Louis Molino III is not performing new material at this time, which means this first tour is a journey back through the Yes catalog. Spoiler alert for UK fans: the set list selections went all the way back to 1971’s The Yes Album (“Perpetual Change,” “All Good People”), Fragile (‘Heart of the Sunrise,” “Long Distance Runaround/The Fish,” and encore “Roundabout”), Close to the Edge (“And You and I”), and Going for the One (for the stunning set highlight “Awaken”). Rabin-era tracks such as “Cinema,” “Hold On,” “Rhythm of Love,” Union track “Life Me Up,” a tight version of crowd pleaser “Changes” and closer “Owner of a Lonely Heart” buoyed the set. At some shows, though not ours, the beautiful Anderson/Wakeman track “The Meeting” from the AWBH album was also performed. The more mystical, spiritual Yes songs from the ‘70s and the relatively more urban sound of the Rabin-era work from the ‘80s were perfectly blended for maximum enjoyment, even more so in this setting than on the 1991 Union tour.

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The entire band truly seemed to be happy on stage together, to be greeting audiences and once again playing this legendary music. Before the tour, Wakeman professed excitement at being able to work with Rabin again and it shows in the live setting, as he was prone to broad smiles and laughs whenever Rabin crossed the stage to be nearby, and when the keyboardist donned the portable “keytar” for some dueling solos. Wakeman brought almost a dozen different keyboards, as is his want, to perfectly recreate the sounds of Yes, including an approximation of the real church organ used to record “Awaken.” Anderson was in amazing voice, as good as I’ve heard in the last 20 years; his face alight with the joy of performance and the chance to share his meaningful lyrics with open heart once again. arw_louismolino_144dpiRabin was similarly upbeat and enthusiastic. Despite recovering from a cold, he gave it all on stage, his fluid rapid-fire riffs generating bouts of applause, his vocals adding to the whole. Lee Pomeroy is a singularly talented bass player, as he crosses pop and prog genres, playing on and off again as he does with many prog legends, including Wakeman’s solo band, Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited, Gentle Giant’s Three Friends, and Jeff Lynne’s ELO among others. Pomeroy brought honor to Squire’s bass leads, particularly on “The Fish,” using multi-track capture/repeat gear to approximate the effect of the studio masterwork. Molino’s drum solo, and steady work on skins grounded and punctuated these complex songs.

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The staging was simple but effective, with silk backdrops that reflected dazzling colored lights, and though on both nights I attended there was a bit of trouble getting the sound mix just right, everything coming out of the speakers was ear candy for hungry audiophiles. Patrons in the U.K., Europe and Japan, don’t miss this one when it comes your way!

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(and I got my new book #RockinTheCityOfAngels signed 🙂

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Yes: War and Peace

Yes Relayer CoverThe Yes album Relayer, one of the band’s most adventurous and enduring records, was originally released in 1974. It is a progressive rock masterpiece that includes elements of jazz-fusion, and a looser feel, thanks in great part to keyboard player Patrick Moraz, and the sessions that were part of its writing. The album is a work of art, in its story telling, prose, virtuosic playing and beautiful cover art by Roger Dean. Its release was followed by two tours of North America, England and Europe, each segment utilizing amazing stage sets designed and built by Martyn Dean, resulting in the most impressive theatrical performances of their careers. Forty years after it’s release, Steven Wilson remastered the album from its original multitrack tapes in stereo and 5.1 sound, producing what is now the definitive release on CD and Blue-ray.

THE ALBUM

Relayer’s centerpiece is “The Gates of Delirium” which occupies side one of the vinyl album. Written during the unending turmoil of the Vietnam War, and the August 1974 resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon, it weaves a tale about the evils of war and it’s aftermath, inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s War And Peace. As Anderson described the multi-part suite “There’s a prelude, a charge, a victory tune, and peace at the end, with hope for the future.” It contains some of the most assured and aggressive instrumentals and vocals of the band’s catalog. The music perfectly illuminates the central story and it’s lyrics. Consider the battle scene instrumental, complete with the sound of battle cries and clanging metal, the band creating the sometimes abrasive tones of naked aggression – following the lyric:

The fist will run
Grasp metal to gun
The Spirit sings in crashing tones we gain the battle drum
Our cries will shrill the air will moan and crash into the dawn

This cacophony fades into the peaceful finale “Soon,” one of the most beautiful songs Yes composed and an enduring fan favorite. Just as with the story of war before it, “Soon”, perfectly matches music to hopeful prose emerging from the shadows of battle. Moraz lays down a backdrop of peaceful organ and Mellotron. Steve Howe leads with atmospheric pedal-steel and acoustic guitars, and Jon Anderson delivers one of his most touching yet powerful lead vocals, a reflection of his utopian philosophy:

Soon Oh soon the light
Ours to shape for all time, ours the right
The sun will lead us
Our reason to be here

“The Gates of Delirium” is a prime example of Yes’s large-scale songs that are designed to take listeners on a journey, to take them to a place far removed from their beginnings. The song begins with a state of turmoil, the onset of war and reaches its climax in the middle with a musical depiction of war. A state of peace is attained after the battle, bringing the listener into a world free from the fetters of time and space. The beginning of the piece has a strong rhythmic force, which propels the music forward. The ending has an absence of beat and pulse, and produces a feeling of timelessness, quietude, and contemplation – a hymn-like atmosphere. While Tchaikovsky and Mahler give their final slow movements tragic overtones, Yes’s slow movements portray hope and transcendence rather than tragedy. It is music for the theater in our minds.

The second side of the original LP contains two tracks that are masterful works in their own right. In particular, the jazz fusion influence brought by Moraz is demonstrated in “Sound Chaser” featuring his impossibly fast leads on the Fender Rhodes keyboard backed by similarly frenetic drum and bass runs – some of the best synergy between Chris Squire and Alan White on record. The frenetic middle instrumental passes between key and meter with vocal punctuations (cha cha cha, cha cha!). This music rewards only the attentive listener. The more gentle, melodic “To Be Over” makes a perfect closer for this brilliant album.

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The cover art for Relayer is one of Roger Dean’s most beautiful paintings. I felt fortunate to see this finely detailed work up close at a San Francisco Art Exchange showing in 2009, prior to seeing a Yes and Asia gig in the city. Roger once described the painting: “Relayer was really a pencil drawing –I’ve said it jokingly but it was almost painted with dirty water- its got so little color in it. It wasn’t a conscious intention to do a contrast– it was just how that should have been – just the right way to do it – to this day it’s definitely one of my top 3 favorites.” A poem by Donald Lehmkuhl sets the tone for Jon’s lyrics and Roger’s cover art; it begins with the line, “Snakes are coiled upon the granite.” As rendered, the artwork imagines an otherworldly, nearly colorless historical setting for “Gates” creating the perfect packaging to match the musical genius inside.

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Alan White chats with Doug Harr at SFAE

THE 2014 STEVEN WILSON REMASTER

As to the latest remastering, the CD and Blue-ray DVD present the best sounding versions of the albums I’ve heard to date. In an interesting turn of events, the battle sound effects from the original mix of “Gates” are not included on the remastered versions of that track as they were not found on the multitrack master tapes. Not to worry, as original album versions, including two with the needle drop are included on the DVD. In addition we get single edits of “Soon” and “Sound Chaser” along with a studio run through of each track. It’s nice to have the clean Blu-ray stereo pressing of “Sound Chaser” live from Cobo “Hall” (an arena in Detroit, Michigan) in 1976, though it was previously available on The Word Is Live, and would have been more valuable had it been paired with “Gates” (which appeared on YesShows) and a version of “To Be Over” from the prior year. It would in fact have been a notch better if an alternate live performance of the entire album was included, and even more interesting if any live video had been added. Having said that this now definitive set contains a wealth of audio to consume and appreciate.

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TOURS AND LIVE RECORDINGS

As to live video, the only complete film from this period is a valuable if flawed document of the Relayer tour at Queen’s Park, London from May 10, 1975. The picture is excellent considering the era, though because it’s the early leg of the tour, and the band played during daylight, the staging effects are poorly captured. Unfortunately, the sound is poor during the first segment of the show, and never completely recovers. At some date we may see unearthed footage from later segments of this tour, which eventually ended with the most impressive staging of the band’s history. For now it is the most important footage of this incarnation of Yes.

The staging by Roger and Martyn Dean represented a massive undertaking for the ensemble during the long tour. If we include the 1976 “solo albums” leg of the journey, there were almost 150 performances between November 1974 to late August 1976. The staging went through three iterations – beginning with the Tales set, followed by a set dubbed “Barnacles” for the second U.S. visit between June and July of 1975. A subsequent tour with the same lineup but no new Yes album to support came in May of 1976. Dubbed the “solo albums” tour, this is still referred to by most as part of the Relayer tour, though “To Be Over” had been dropped from the set list to make way for a few alternate and solo tracks. Most importantly, the break left time for Martyn Dean to conceive of his most stunning staging yet, the “Crab Nebula.”

Yes Relayer Ticket 1976The “Crab Nebula” was a three-headed creation that towered over the band, fit out with spotlights, and built to emerge and vanish during the show, because as Martyn noted “Anything that’s onstage for three hours becomes boring if you can’t make it vanish.” Ten people worked for three months on the “Crab Nebula” structure, made with wood, aluminum, foam, plaster and varnish, resulting in a transportable, sturdy construction that kept it intact and functional through the summer tour of stadiums and coliseums, which ended in August of 1976. This was part of Martyn’s work with Yes over a seven-year period, when he and his team produced increasingly sophisticated and impressive staging. Along with the cloth backdrop designed by Roger and made by Felicity Youlette, it represented scenery and craft raised to the level of artful theater.

Music, lyrics, poetry and art come together on Relayer, creating a sumptuous package. Considered along with its legendary performances, this is one of the pinnacles of 1970’s era progressive and classic rock.

More to come on this fantastic album, its long tour, and its place as one of the most theatrical works of the progressive era, when I finish my next book! In the meantime, collect these discs and put on your headphones…

Yes: Beyond, Before and Again

Yes Squire CTTE 2014 72dpiBeen thinking since Sunday about what to say after the passing of Chris Squire, the immensely talented bass player and vocalist for Yes. I’ve seen Chris play live over the years at more than a dozen Yes shows, and every time his performance has been incredibly entertaining and inspiring. He is one of the most important musicians of our time and will be sorely missed by fellow artists and fans alike, as evidenced by the outpouring of remembrances and condolences over the past week. Yet the band Yes will continue and change once again, as they have so many times over these more than 40 years. And that’s an honor to Mr. Squire, and a very good thing indeed.

Chris had been part of the artistic flowering of rock music since it’s maturation during the 1960’s and beyond. The progressive rock and jazz-fusion genres nurtured some of the best bass players of the modern era. Unlike much of mainstream rock and jazz, these adventurous forms inspire each instrumentalist to stretch out, to explore the boundaries of their craft and produce artistic music that startles and amazes listeners. Such was the case with Chris Squire and his signature Rickenbacker bass. To help describe just what makes Squire so unique, I reached out to my collaborator, author and musicologist friend Tim Smolko. He came up with an excellent four-part answer to this inquiry:

  1. Squire’s treble register. Squire spent as much time exploring the upper register of the bass as he did the lower. Utilizing such a wide pitch range gave him the ability to construct his elaborate bass lines, take solos, and interact with the other melodic instruments in the band (voice, guitar, and keyboards). Most players create intensity by developing a low, growling tone. Squire not only did that (the “Roundabout” bass line), but he created the same intensity in his upper register.
  1. Squire’s use of a pick. Squire was not the first to play the bass with a pick, but he was among the early pioneers. His use of a pick gave his playing the speed, execution, and punchiness that most other bassists didn’t have.
  1. Squire’s participation in the “emancipation” of the bass. I like to compare what players like Squire did for the bass guitar to what Beethoven did for the cello. In the Classical period before Beethoven, composers often gave cello players a boring job: just play the root position notes that underlie the harmony. Haydn and Mozart came along and gave cellists more interesting parts, but it was Beethoven who treated the cello as an equal instrument alongside the violin and viola. In his string quartets, the four instruments are equal partners. Chris Squire did the same for the bass guitar. Instead of playing just the basic notes that outline the chord progression, they created melodies of their own and became an equal partner with the other instruments. It’s as if Squire is soloing all the time, but he’s still laying the foundation for the song. Like Paul McCartney and John Entwistle, Squire stands out as a great bassist because he treated his instrument as a melody instrument.
  1. Squire’s band mates helped him become great. It’s obvious when listening to Yes that the other members never dictated to Squire what to play. He had the freedom to make his bass parts as elaborate as he wanted. Not only that, the other players “took over” some of the traditional roles of the bass guitar in order to let Squire become the melodic player that he was. Steve Howe, Peter Banks, Tony Kaye, Rick Wakeman, and Billy Sherwood often played the low-end notes and the basic rhythm of a song while Squire did something else.

All keen and valid observations; thank you Tim! It’s particularly important to understand that his bass melodies share the sonic palette as an equal partner with the other instrumentalists. In addition, the other aspect of Squire’s talent as a musician was his powerful vocals. Chris could almost be called the co-lead vocalist of Yes, so frequent was his simultaneous harmonic pairing with Jon Anderson, Trevor Horn, Benoit David, and Jon Davidson. The signature Yes sound relies in large part on these vocal harmonies. At every show I attended Chris was consistently in strong clear voice, and it’s an important part of his legacy.

Yes Squire White 2009 72dpiWhich brings us to Squire’s longevity and legacy in general. Provided one does not count the Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford, Howe album as Yes, Chris has been in every incarnation of the ever-changing Yes lineup, enduring for over 40 years. Other band members have come and gone, some with fairly prolific solo careers, particularly Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson. Yet with the exception of his outstanding 1975 solo album Fish Out Of Water, and a few other collaborations, Squire’s primary focus had been Yes. He poured every ounce of his focus and his talent into it’s many incarnations, helping drive the relentless touring schedule that has kept the music alive.

yes troopersAnd it is important that Yes does live on and endure, as they have thus far when other band members have passed on or have left the fold. The fundamental reason for this is clear – the band has produced a huge catalog of music, rife with stellar compositions and virtuosic musicianship. This music should and will be played even after the original and long standing members are no more. As evidenced recently when Squire first announced that his illness would preclude his involvement in the upcoming Yes tour and he indicated his support for collaborator Billy Sherwood to carry on in his stead. “The other guys and myself have agreed that Billy Sherwood will do an excellent job of covering my parts and the show as a whole will deliver the same Yes experience that our fans have come to expect over the years.” I for one am very interested to see who will fill in for Chris over the coming years and what kind of interpretations they will do of his work.

Yes Squire band CTTE 2014 72dpiWhich leads me to the broader question, one often debated amongst fans on Facebook and other social media sites, as to what gives a musical group it’s identity. This is the point recently raised by Geoffrey Himes in a Smithsonian.com article. Mr. Himes poses a valid question about rock bands, “How much can you change its personnel before it’s no longer the same band,” suggesting there is both a legal angle and a fan’s perspective to consider, and continuing with other valid points. It’s interesting fodder when considering a group like Yes. I’ve read posts by fans adamant that “Yes is not Yes” without Jon Anderson, who so embodied the band’s core vision and spiritual leadership. But I would argue that like the classical composers of the past, progressive rock music should be played in concert into the distant future for generations to come. In fact, Chris said it best in a 2013 interview with Jason Saulnier “I believe that like a symphony orchestra there could be a version of Yes in 100 or 200 years from now, honoring the music and presumably creating new music as well. That would be a nice thing I think.”

Yes Squire Keys (c) Owen1996  72dpiLet’s celebrate the fact that progressive rock music, particularly as composed by bands such as Yes, is that good. That it is a valid and viable form of music and it can continue to be interpreted for original and new audiences, just as has been the case with classical and original jazz forms. While any original members survive and are able, they should be part of the family that continues in this pursuit. While I can still catch Steve Howe, Jon Anderson and the other band members, either together or solo, and while they can still play, I will continue to attend their live shows, and will continue to recommend others do as well, provided they still enjoy the results. As new musicians come to the fore and perform this music, if they do it well, I will be there to enjoy their mastery of these works and honor the memory of those who came before them.

Like all fans, I was terribly disappointed when Jon Anderson fell ill just before the summer of 2008 tour, as I had 3rd row tickets to the cancelled show in Mountain View. But the band soldiered on, with new vocalist Benoit David, then Jon Davison and we’ve seen every tour since. We’ve also seen Anderson live in solo tours including one with Wakeman in Scotland, and we loved every minute. Last year Davison again took lead vocals for the band at Cruise To The Edge and put in an astounding performance. He hit the most powerful sustained note I’ve seen by any Yes singer for “Heart of the Sunrise” on the refrain “I feel lost in the city….”

The band are on tour this summer with Toto, then hosting the third annual Cruise To the Edge voyage this November and they will begin a tour of the UK and Europe next year, having announced that the set list will include all of Fragile (1972) and Drama (1980). Both of these albums showcase some of Squire’s most intricate bass leads, and so it’s fitting timing that these will be the focus of this upcoming tour. We were all deeply saddened to hear of the passing of the great Chris Squire and I for one will be at the upcoming shows and beyond, to celebrate his life’s work and continuing legacy.

Yes Transcends

Asia Opening
Asia Opening

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.

Siberian Khatru
Siberians

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