Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Formed nearly 50 years ago by Jon Anderson and Chris Squire, Yes is known for its extravagant performances, elliptic lyrics and convoluted music. And, of course, the many changes in line-ups as members came and went over the years. Anderson, together with long-standing ex-band members Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin, formed ARW and they are now touring, playing a mixture of classic Yes songs. It could be argued that the combination of Anderson’s naturally high and pure voice and Wakeman’s flamboyant keyboard skills are at the centre of the archetypal Yes sound, so this evening should be a treat for Yes fans everywhere.
And it is the sound that is at the heart of this evening’s offering. The set is minimalistic with a largely plain backdrop with simple projections and a relatively modest light show, but what a sound.The set opens with the driving bass of Perpetual Change – not a bad motto for the various incarnations of the band – that gives way to the delicacy of Wakeman’s keyboards and Anderson’s vocals. Throughout the evening, the arrangements seem to have been tweaked so that the particular strengths of each band member are complemented. During the evening, each will also have moments in the spotlight with what often feel like extended improvised sections to established pieces. The structure of Perpetual Change also sets the tone for much of the evening, and for much of the music ARW are playing, combining heavy beats with pastoral and delicate sections and with changes of texture always just around the corner. Pieces are played by virtuosic performers, multi-layered to the extent that it sometimes appears that each musician is playing something completely different from his peers and yet the whole somehow being greater than the sum of the parts. Yes could be accused of self-indulgence at times and the arrangements tonight stray that way – especially the epic Awaken – but pull themselves back from the brink just in time.
Centre stage is the still youthful and pixie-like Anderson, his voice still almost painfully pure. He rides the highest notes effortlessly and seems to imbue the often confusing lyrics with meaning. And still flamboyantly dressed in a heavy wizard-like glittering cloak is classically-trained pianist Rick Wakeman, surrounded by banks of keyboards, switching between them smoothly so that one never knows which is to be next. Wakeman’s movements are a symphony themselves. If Anderson’s voice is often pastoral in tone, Trevor Rabin’s forms the counterpoint. Sharing some of the vocal duties with Anderson, Rabin’s voice is a more traditionally rocky voice, complementing his often muscular lead guitar playing. His skills are beyond doubt with fingers flying across the fret board, though it seems he is more at home playing with power than with delicacy.
Music as technically complex as that played tonight requires more musicians, and ARW also comprises drummer Louis Molino III and bass guitarist Lee Pomeroy. Both are totally at ease with Yes’ complex rhythms and structures. Following a moving tribute to Squire who died in 2015 from Anderson, describing Squire and himself as the ‘ying and yang of the band’, Pomeroy plays The Fish, a piece forever associated with Squire, a piece that feels almost hypnotic and forms, together with Long Distance Runaround, a fitting tribute. Molino keeps the band on track with driving rhythms combined with delicacy. His drum solo, however, while undoubtedly impressive, does feel a little as if it stands alone and starts and ends out of nowhere.
Any criticisms, however, are quickly put aside as the music that this audience came to hear is played with skill and panache, recreating days that one might have thought long gone.
Reviewed on 13 March 2017 and on tour | Image: Contributed