By Brian Ives
It was very much like a Yes show. Except it wasn’t Yes, per se.
Anderson Rabin Wakeman, featuring founding Yes singer Jon Anderson (who was in the band from 1968–1980, 1982–1988, 1990–2008), guitarist/singer Trevor Rabin (1982-1994) and keyboardist Rick Wakeman (1971–1974, 1976–1980, 1990–1992, 1995–1996, 2002–2004) brought the vibe of the legendary progressive rock band to the stage at Montclair, New Jersey’s Wellmont Theatre last night (October 24).
It wasn’t quite a “reunion”; Anderson spent years in the band with Wakeman in the ’70s, ’90s and ’00, and with Rabin for much of the ’80s. The keyboardist and guitarist were Yes-mates for just one tour — the legendary “eight man tour” of the early ’90s. But Rabin and Wakeman showed a real musical bond at those shows (Rabin went on to guest on Wakeman’s 1999 Return to the Centre of the Earth). Last night, ARW (which also featured bassist Lee Pomeroy and drummer Lou Molino III) were more like a band than a “supergroup.”
What was super, however, was Rick Wakeman’s cape, which he wore frequently in the ’70s, and which he donned for the entire show last night. This was full on progressive rock, no apologies. He was stage right, hidden for most of the night behind his massive banks of keyboards. To the left of the stage was Rabin, who has rarely performed since leaving Yes over twenty years ago. On his last Yes tour (for the Talk album), some fans felt he seemed uninspired, but two decades off the road seems to make him appreciate playing to audiences more (today, he mostly composes film scores). His leads and solos were explosive and it was fun to watch him having so much fun.
Also having fun was Anderson, who was able to slide back and forth through through the decades, between the ’70s (mostly Wakeman’s material) and the ’80s (mostly Rabin’s).
The show started powerfully with an unexpected but fitting opener, “Perpetual Change,” from 1971’s The Yes Album (which actually predated Wakeman’s first term in the band), followed by one of Rabin’s arena rockers, “Hold On,” from 1983’s 90125. For years, Anderson would introduce the song during the thunderous drum intro by saying, “On drums, Mr. Alan White!” White of course, is still in Yes, but Molino did a great job filling in for White and original Yes drummer Bill Bruford, without aping their style. From there, they did another pre-Wakeman ’70s song, the radio classic “I’ve Seen All Good People,” which led to Molino’s powerful drum solo (which was probably unnecessary, but a nice gesture to give him his moment in the spotlight).
From there, the setlist explored the huge differences in the ’70s and ’80s Yes, playing their most adventurous songs followed by some of the most commercial ones; their 10 minute-plus epics switched off with songs designed for rock radio.
“Lift Me Up” from 1991’s Union led into the four movement 1972’s “And You and I.” 1987’s “Rhythm of Love” was followed by 1971’s eleven and half minute “Heart of the Sunrise.”
Yes has had, over the years, a number of keyboardists, singers, guitarists and drummers. But to most fans, there will only ever be one bass player: founding member and “keeper of the flame,” Chris Squire, who died last year. Any time Yes members perform Yes songs without him, something seems off. It was true of the Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe tour in the late ’80s (which featured Tony Levin doing a great job on bass). It is probably true of the current Yes tour (which features Squire’s friend and long time Yes associate Billy Sherwood filling in). And was true of ARW’s show, particularly during “Heart of the Sunrise,” which spotlighted Squire’s playing. But Pomeroy — who played Rickenbacker basses a loa Squire for much of the night — did a great job in a very difficult position.
That position got even harder a few minutes later. After playing 90125‘s “Changes,” they went into 1971’s “Long Distance Runaround.” Back when Anderson and Wakeman were touring with ABWH, they played that song, but didn’t go into it’s companion piece, the Squire-led “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus.)”
Last night, they dedicated “Long Distance Runaround” to Squire and spotlighted Pomeroy again, as he led the band through “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus).” Before playing the song, Anderson dedicated the song to Squire, noting that they made peace before Squire passed away. And while Squire probably would have bristled at the idea of the ARW tour, he would have had to have been flattered by the loving tribute laid down by Pomeroy.
From there, Anderson and Wakeman revisited their ABWH piano ballad, “The Meeting,” before Anderson picked up his harp — that’s an actual harp, mind you, not a harmonica — for one of Yes’s most wild and experimental pieces, “Awaken,” a 15 minute piece from 1977’s Going for the One.
They returned to the ’80s when they went to a bit of the rarity “Make It Easy,” which led to their only #1 hit single ever, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” That song was a highlight of the “eight man tour” — during those shows Rick Wakeman, who wasn’t a member of the band when the song was recorded, ripped into the keyboard solo, with aplomb, playing a keytar. I’m pleased to report that he did the same last night. He and Rabin had a bit of a guitar/keytar duel, thrilling the fans.
Their final song, of course, was “Roundabout.”
The show felt rife with possibility: could this combo record a new album? In the ’80s, when Anderson left Yes for ABWH, they reminded fans about how great Yes was in their ’70s prog-rock heyday. Perhaps a ARW album could have the same effect. More tantalizingly, perhaps Anderson Rabin and Wakeman could reunite with Yes’s longtime drummer Alan White and guitarist Steve Howe, a la the big Yes/ABWH merger of the late ’80s. Perhaps if the band finally are voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, they can discuss it further.
For now, ARW is the closest to a classic Yes concert that you’re likely to get.