Prog Rockers Yes Prove They Have Plenty of Life Left

Concert Review

click to enlarge SCOTT SANDBERG
Scott Sandberg
As Yes singer Jon Anderson darted out into view, dancing in time with the music at the beginning of last night’s sold-out show at Hard Rock Live, he hardly had the look of a guy celebrating 50 years in music with one band. At 73 years of age, his energy was incredible and to watch him work was to instantly be transported back 20 years, maybe even 40.

With Yes marking its 50th anniversary, a scan of the crowd started to tell the tale before the music had even begun, thanks to a sea of shirts, many of them adorned with classic Roger Dean Yes artwork, representing the various eras of the group. And as the start of the show was approaching, the war stories were coming out as those in the crowd swapped tales of past Yes adventures.

You can see a slideshow of photos from the concert here.

My friend Bob, who had come out to the show, shared memories of seeing the band at the World Series of Rock in 1975, a massive gig at the old Municipal Stadium that also featured Joe Walsh, Michael Stanley Band and Ace on the bill. Truth be told, we could run down a lot of different venues that Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman have played in the Cleveland area over the years.

But up until a few years ago, the three of them had only shared the stage for one tour — the massive Union tour at the beginning of the '90s. During that tour, Wakeman and Rabin forged a bond and expressed to each other a desire to someday work together again. It took a number of years, but finally, in 2016, they lured Rabin away from his lucrative work scoring blockbuster films and everyone’s schedules lined up.

Understandably, after so many years away from performing, while Rabin’s guitar skills were dialed in from moment one, his vocals were a bit rusty when the band first came to the Goodyear Theater in Akron in the fall of 2016. The band’s performance at Hard Rock Live last night was its third appearance in the area in as many years and one that found Rabin in strong form vocally, particularly on “Changes,” a track from the classic Yes album 90125 that found him trading licks in rapid-fire style with Rick Wakeman, one of many times that the guitarist and the legendary keyboardist would interact.

Anderson, meanwhile, sounded a bit shaky vocally as the night began and coughed a few times, which made it seem possible that he might be fighting off some sort of bug. But by the time the band got to the fourth song of the set, he had quickly warmed up, telling the crowd, “Can you believe it’s 50 years of music? We’re going to look back to the '70s and the Close To the Edge album,” he said. “A song called ‘And You And I,’” he added, repeating the title of the song several times in a call-and-response rhythm with the crowd. Rabin played a soaring lead as the song hit its climax point and the crowd erupted as the musical wall of sound fell away, leaving Anderson to sing the classic closing lines, accompanied only by Rabin. At the close of the song, Anderson and the band got the first standing ovation of the night.

Wakeman remains a one of a kind figure in rock 'n' roll. Wearing a multi-colored cape and surrounded by a giant fortress of keyboards, he had the visual excess of the '70s fully represented. When you hear those massive, cavernously epic organ swells that shake the room, as they did during “Awaken,” from 1977’s Going For the One, you’re reminded of his power. And throughout the night, he would move from keyboard to keyboard to keyboard, coaxing out various era-appropriate sounds from each one.

And that’s something that stood out about both Rabin and Wakeman — while Rabin has been criticized in the past for perhaps being a bit too modern with his tones on the earlier material, last night, it was clear how much Rabin had worked to honor the parts of Steve Howe and while they might not be note for note copies, it’s in the zone of where the sound should be. “Heart of the Sunrise” was a good example of this. In fact, it was impressive how Rabin and Wakeman were able to shift seamlessly and so comfortably between the different eras of the band from song to song musically. A lot of credit for this should also be given to drummer Louis Molino III and bassist Lee Pomeroy, who were a big part of completing the vocal and musical mix. Pomeroy, straight from a quick stint of dates with Jeff Lynne’s ELO, has particularly tough shoes to fill, playing the parts of the late Yes bassist Chris Squire. It was important for them to get the right guy — and they got the right guy. His enthusiasm was infectious, and it was cool to see him literally jumping up and down as he played the closing moments of “Heart of the Sunrise.” His enthusiasm was something that was matched by the other members of the band throughout the night.

While the setlist itself hasn’t changed much since they began touring in 2016, they’ve made subtle adjustments here and there, and the current order really works well for bringing the two eras of the band’s career together. One major criticism: two songs from the setlist, the classic “Perpetual Change” and “Lift Me Up,” from 1990’s Union album, were inexplicably trimmed for last night’s show. If the band made those cuts, okay, great — there could be any number of reasons they might have done that and that’s their prerogative. But if that was a venue decision to cut down the time of the show, that’s really unfortunate and unnecessary. The total running time of the set clocked in at about 115 minutes, which, interestingly enough, was still fairly consistent with the set length of the other dates on the current tour.

Whatever it was that happened, it was something that fans in attendance didn’t seem to pick up on — or at least they weren’t vocally griping about it at the conclusion of the show, but it’s still unfortunate. All of that being said, it was a great night, one which closed out with Rabin and Wakeman, now sporting a keytar, meeting up at center stage to negotiate what has become a popular bit of the show. They exchanged a few knowing glances and went their separate ways to head out into the crowd, walking up and down the aisles during “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” eventually returning to the stage to jam through a few crunchy lines of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” The classic “Roundabout” closed out the night, with both the band and crowd in a buoyant mood with band members sharing hugs as they walked off stage.

With two versions of Yes touring, one with Steve Howe, Alan White, etc. and then the Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman grouping, there’s no shortage of Yes music for fans to enjoy in 2018, and when you’re talking about 50 years worth of Yes music, that’s a good thing. What will the next decade bring for Yes fans? That remains to be seen — but last night’s set was a good indicator that there’s plenty of life left in the music and those who still love to play it.
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