How to Make Sense of the Anderson, Rabin, and Wakeman "Evening of Yes" Concert
From left, Trevor Rabin, John Anderson, and Rick Wakeman.
Photo by Tracy Feldman
At first blush, ARW sounds like some open enrollment for health care or a retirement plan. Which it could very well be, since this might be the last time Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, and Rick Wakeman land in a band together. You wouldn’t think that Yes would have another supergroup in them. Surely every combination has been exhausted by now, yes? No, as it turns out.
This one has been six years in the making, and the fact that the proposed album is on the back burner means they take it seriously enough not to rush out some product to coincide with a tour like the last time they worked together, which produced the execrable Union in 1991.
ARW have embarked on a debut tour named "An Evening of Yes Music and More." And as Wakeman writes in his Grumpy Old Rick’s Ramblings weblog, “This is far and away the finest line up I've ever been part of playing YES music.” In the rhythm section roles are bassist Lee Pomeroy and drummer Louis Molino III, who, if given equal billing, would’ve made ARWPM III. Not so catchy.
Jon Anderson and Chris Squire founded Yes in 1968, and while Anderson has left and returned several times, Squire was the band’s only constant member. With Squire's untimely death in 2015 at his home in Phoenix, you could argue that the current Yes lineup, which includes only Steve Howe and Alan White, is less legit than this one.
So here for you, cherished reader, is every movement in Yes that two members of Anderson, Rabin, and Wakeman have previously convened for your listening pleasure.
After two albums that barely made an impression, Yes were about to be dropped from Atlantic Records, until they came up with The Yes Album, which saved their asses. Anderson felt that the band needed more symphonic keyboard sounds than the strictly organ and piano sounds they were getting from Tony Kaye. When he refused to provide the squiggly Minimoog and Mellotron sounds they needed, Kaye was booted out and Rick Wakeman from the Strawbs was slotted in.
The album’s opening cut, “Roundabout,” is perhaps the only long-form composition from Yes to make a satisfying three-minute-and-27-second single. Jon Anderson’s lyrical ambiguity had yet to cause people problems because “Call it morning driving through the sound and in and out the valley” sounded great pouring out of an AM radio in morning drive time. Later, Yes would be "cosmic hokum," but not now when the music had this much muscle behind it. When Vincent Gallo included “Heart of the Sunrise” in the strip-club scene of his 1998 film Buffalo 66, it highlighted just how truly menacing this classic lineup could sound.
Close to the Edge (1972)
By far the band’s best album, with the band firing on all cylinders and featuring the album-length title track with four movements. The most moving was the third one, "I Get Up, I Get Down,” which, thanks to the massive pipe organ Wakeman plays on it, you might interpret as the constant kneeling and rising during the Stations of the Cross. The other songs were “Siberian Khatru” and “And You and I,” which was provisionally titled “The Protest Song.” The only true protests came from drummer Bill Bruford, who was beginning to chafe with the band's methodology of "discuss, then play" and quit to join King Crimson. By now, a pattern had emerged that no Yes lineup has remained constant for more than two consecutive studio albums without somebody getting itchy feet and defecting.
Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973)
Faster than you can say “Schindleria Praematurus,” Yes pissed downstream all the goodwill from the public and critics from Close to the Edge with this album. Anderson based the concept on a lengthy footnote from Autobiography of a Yogi that describes four-part scriptures that "cover all aspects of religion and social life as well as fields like medicine and music, art and architecture." Like another Yogi said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Or moreover, “We made too many wrong mistakes.”
When the band played Tales in its entirety in concert, it confounded fans who don’t know how to time their bathroom breaks. And it confounded Rick Wakeman, who never bothered learning the songs or understanding what they meant. Perhaps the most eloquent demonstration of his disinterest was in 1973, when he ordered curry, had it delivered onstage, and consumed it during the show. And as the only carnivore in the band, now everyone in the band had a beef with Rick.
Going for the One (1977)
After replacing Wakeman with the poodle-haired Patrick Moraz for Relayer, the whole band took Wakeman's lead and made solo albums. Going for the One was a back-to-basics retreat for Yes, who opted for letting Rick Wakeman back in the band, sticking mostly shorter songs and ditching the by-now-predictable Roger Dean cover art in favor of a sterile Hipgnosis design. To avoid the censorship they’d run into with featuring a nude female body on their Time and a Word in 1969, here they stuck a naked dude among some skyscrapers.
Punks were calling Yes dinosaurs by now, so the band threw a tomato at its own album as a pre-emptive strike. Actually, Wakeman threw the tomato because he thought the cover was shit and they changed it to that. This album had a real protest song on it, “Don't Kill the Whale,” which some cite as proof positive the band had jumped the shark. Anderson and Wakeman became drinking buddies during the making of this album and left before a third album with this lineup could be made.
Replacing Wakeman and Anderson with The Buggles obviously made sense to someone but, a UK tour where angry fans shouted at the band during the quiet passages convinced the Buggles that they couldn’t rewind and they’d gone too far. Trevor Horn stayed on as producer when Squire and White formed a band called Cinema with Trevor Rabin and former Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye, who by now had gotten over his opposition to keyboards that sounded like food processors and smoke alarm bleeps. Horn did't think Rabin was an adequate lead singer, and they brought back Jon Anderson and opted to call it Yes again. The band scored a massive MTV hit with “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and the lesser popular “Leave It.” But these were hits in the '80s when everyone had poodle hair like Patrick Moraz. And just like Grace Slick’s role in Starship, Anderson was back, mainly as a lead singer and not a creative force.
Big Generator (1987)
This was the album where producer Trevor Horn told Anderson to stay away for three months so he could work on material with the other band members. That’ll teach you to join a band with too many Trevors! This convinced Anderson to form the first supergroup of former Yes and King Crimson members that was not Asia.
Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (1988)
Legally barred from going out as Yes because Squire and White retained the band name, the Fragile/Close to the Edge lineup minus Squire were legally barred from mentioning Yes on their concert posters. Thus the first "An Evening of Yes Music" was born.
Basically AWBH and the Trevor Rabin-led Yes phoning in their parts, a less unified Yes could hardly be imagined. Rick Wakeman dubbed it “Onion” because it made him cry every time he heard it. “The first cassette I received from Arista Records went out of the limo window after about 15 minutes,” he told Keyboard Player Magazine. “The next one went out of a hotel window.” The album was followed by a tour where all nine musicians made nice and played together and Anderson, Rabin, and Wakeman played together for the first time. So, in actuality, since Union was a patch job and Wakeman maintains all his parts were erased, they still have never recorded together.
Ditto for Talk, which Wakeman was invited to participate in but ultimately declined. This marked the first time Anderson was allowed in the songwriting from the start with Rabin, which resulted in a 15-minute song with three movements called “Endless Dream.” Showing Spinal Tap record review brevity, Musician summed the album in two words: “Shut Up!”
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