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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Concert Review: Owner of a Lonely Heart's Club Band

A second Yes rocks Newark.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yes featuring Jon Anderson (center left) Travor Rabin (far right) and Rick Wakeman (far right) at NJPAC.
Photo by the author.
What's in a name? For Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman, an awful lot. The three musicians banded together last year as "ARW" and started touring playing Yes music. Following the induction of eight band members into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the boys are now calling themselves "Yes featuring ARW", putting their band in direct competition with the "official" version of the band led by Steve Howe. Their version of the band rocked NJPAC in Newark last night with a show featuring different eras of the venerable English prog rock band's 49-year history.

The three Yes-men (Jon sings, Trevor plays guitar, and Rick, keyboards with occasional curries) were backed by two talented session players: bassist Lee Pomeroy and drummer Lou Molino. The quintet proved themselves a tight unit from the opening salvo of "Cinema" (from the 90125 record) to the propulsive chords that start The Yes Album cut "Perpetual Change." And then...the moment of truth arrived. Could 72-year old Jon Anderson still sing in a way that would please his band's devoted following?

The answer is...yes. Mr. Anderson's voice has thinned a bit, though he can push for the upper register notes that are his bread and butter. It now lacks some of the bloom and power that lifted it easily through the gates of delirium and took it on flights across topographic oceans. However, there is something significant in hearing songs like "Perpetual Change", "South Side of the Sky" and "Awaken" sung by the man who wrote their lyrics. Also, his performance improved as the evening went on, the voice warming up and his long experience of singing this demanding music paid off in "And You And I," arguably the most difficult track on the setlist.

Rick Wakeman is now 68. He remains a living legend, an imposing figure made more so by his choice of stage attire (a very '70s cape in velvet with mirrors and sequins) and his huge semi-circle of keyboards. These were used for different functions throughout, including two mini-Moog units, a sampled piano, traditional Roland and Korg synthesizers and a unit that contained a perfectly sampled church pipe organ for blasting through the climactic moments of "Awaken." Mr. Wakeman played some songs on one keyboard, on others he played two at once, often with his eyes closed, lost in concentration.

Mr. Rabin is the youngest of the trio, now 63 and looking well-preserved if a bit stretched at the cheekbones. With him in the band, '80s tracks like "Hold On" and "Changes" benefitted from taut guitar playing, some showboat soloing and the difficult Beach Boys harmonies that open the 1987 radio hit "Rhythm of Love." Indeed, he traded off smoothly with Mr. Anderson and Mr. Pomeroy, creating those trademark Yes harmonies in a way that easily duplicated the band's classic sound. On the '70s tracks, his over-reliance on one type of guitar was a marked contrast to Steve Howe's multi-instrumental approach, making the listener hear this music in a fresh and different way.

The band stretched out on "Awaken" which opened with a tribal percussion intro that featured Mr. Rabin picking up a timpani mallet and joining Mr. Molino on the drum kit, and a meditative middle section with a harp solo from Mr. Anderson. The ending of this song, with its huge organ solo for Mr. Wakeman and its stirring climax tested the band to its limit, as well as the audience who seemed puzzled by the deep cut and took it as an opportunity to get up and go buy beer. Sigh.

The set kept changing eras, with excursions into big '70s works followed by a string of '80s tunes. Memorable moments included the whipsaw rhythms of the aptly-named "Changes" (from 90125) and the totally unexpected appearance of "I Am Waiting", a virtually unknown song from the equally obscure 1994 album Talk. The closer was a thunderous "Owner of a Lonely Heart" which morphed into "Sunshine of Your Love" by Cream as Mr. Rabin and Mr. Wakeman (still in his cape and now playing a keytar) took an excursion into the aisles. The last encore was "Roundabout," the other greatest hit from the vast Yes catalogue.

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