Three Yes members come together to revive band’s musical legacy
Recently, three alumni of the progressive rock band Yes came together to form Anderson, Rabin and Wakemen in order to continue the musical tradition that they curated during each of their respective runs in the band. Original lead vocalist and acoustic guitarist Jon Anderson performed in 18 of the band’s 21 studio albums and toured with them continuously until 2004. In 2008, Anderson was supposed to tour with Yes again until he suffered a near fatal case of acute respiratory failure. The band then decided to move on without him and Anderson has been performing as a solo artist ever since. South African-based Trevor Rabin was the third and most recent lead guitarist to join Yes. During the 1980s and through the mid 1990s, Rabin’s songwriting contributions moved the band away from their progressive roots and toward pop and radio accessibility—a strategy that paid off big time.
Yes made four Top 40 singles, including their sole number one “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” After leaving the band in 1995, Rabin took up a very successful career as a score composer, working on various movies, TV shows and even a ride at the Walt Disney World Resort. Yes has had many keyboard players in their nearly 50 year history, but none more legendary than Rick Wakeman, the second person to fill the role. He also happens to have the most successful solo albums of all Yes members, with his trilogy of concept albums reaching the Top 40 on the album charts both in England and the United States.
Wakeman has been in the band for five separate tenures, the most recent of which ended in 2007 due to health concerns. Conceptually, the idea for ARW is intriguing because of its unification of so many prominent Yes members. With one key member of ‘70s Yes and another from ‘80s Yes being united by someone who was in Yes for five consecutive decades, the lineup brings promise to many longtime Yes fans. It also leads to comparisons of a previous Yes splinter group that featured Anderson and Wakeman, aptly titled Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe.
With the three musicians finally arriving together for this long-awaited collaboration, the trio kicked things off with an introductory U.S. tour dubbed “ARW: An Evening of Yes Music and More.” Last week, the tour passed through New York with a sold-out show at the Beacon Theatre. For both Rabin and Wakeman, this tour marks the first time in years that either of them have played an entire concert of Yes music. To make things more interesting, many of the songs are from both of their respective tenures in the band. For the most part, both of them manage to emulate Steve Howe and Tony Kaye’s original guitar and keyboard parts respectively.
One interesting moment in particular was during “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” when Rabin and Wakeman engaged in a lengthy guitar-keytar duel. Rabin’s skill is complemented by his ability to play Howe’s fills without coming off as an imitation, especially when it comes to transcribing his original acoustic fills with an electric guitar. Interestingly, Rabin also takes up co-lead vocals on a few of the songs while managing to stand beside Anderson without overpowering him. When it comes to progressive rock, Yes had one of the most iconic rhythm sections in the genre. Therefore, special precedent was taken by the band to fill in some large shoes.
On bass guitar is Lee Pomeroy, who previously toured with Wakeman for 10 years. While his bass tone was noticeably subdued compared to the late Chris Squire, Pomeroy gets to show off his skills when the band paid tribute to Squire with a lengthy bass solo in the middle of “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus).” Rabin’s solo drummer Lou Molino III rounds out the rhythm section with a style that mixes the jazz-inspired playing of original Yes drummer Bill Bruford and the laid back style of current Yes drummer Alan White.
While it would have been nice if the band convinced Bruford to come out of retirement to join them on the road, Molino gets the job done well and even belts out an impressive drum solo as a prologue to Lift Me Up. As for Anderson, his signature falsetto voice shows absolutely no signs of age and his natural delivery is in stark contrast to the forced nature of current Yes singer Jon Davison. As far as the set list goes, it has a healthy dosage of Yes classics mixed with songs from Rabin’s tenure in the band, both affectionately and disparagingly known to fans as “Yes-West.” In regard to that era, many of the songs come from the 1983 album 90125, with one song each from subsequent albums Big Generator and even Union.
Strangely, Talk, Rabin’s last Yes album, was ignored completely. This is a disappointing omission, since the “Endless Dream” suite that closed that album was the most progressive piece from Yes-West. While the show features the excellent 1977 suite “Awaken,” there was enough space in the set list for “Endless Dream,” which easily could have served as a balance between both eras. Despite the tour’s name, the band hardly ventures beyond Yes. The closest the show gets to a non-Yes song is when Anderson and Wakeman perform the ABWH piano ballad “The Meeting.”
All three members have curated lengthy solo careers of their own, so it would have been nice if at least one solo song from each of them were performed. The lack of new material was also disappointing. When this collaboration and tour were first announced last spring, the band mentioned that they had already written several new pieces of music and were considering debuting them on the road before going into the studio. But so far, no new music has been played.
The tour seemed like the perfect opportunity for ARW to introduce new songs and change the structure and arrangement during each of the shows, similar to how Pink Floyd debuted The Dark Side of the Moon on the road an entire year before its release. As they are, ARW is a band that embraces two different eras while painting a glimpse of what is to come from the three musicians.
If the band has at least one other major thing going for them, it is that they run circles around the current Howe-led iteration of Yes. ARW’s debut album is slated to be released sometime in 2017.