Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman: An Evening of Yes Music & More
Another grey day in the cubical. No excitement. No Wonder. No stimulation. The bland, beige walls that could be lifted by a finger crush the soul like a ten ton brick, all while the world continues to spiral into insanity during the most pathetic excuse for a presidential race. I knew if I wasn't careful, my pineal gland would quickly shrivel away into sawdust under the relentless trauma. Luckily, my father bestowed unto me a great wisdom in my youth that would help preserve me through these dark days. The power of prog rock.
I was two weeks into an unprecedented Yes binge, exercising my mind with one of the greatest rock group of all times while I completed the mostly mindless work. Listening to the old favorites, as well as exploring uncharted territory, I expanded my appreciation for the pure talent and collective brilliance of the band. Front man Jon Anderson's otherworldly songwriting and heavenly vocals, Steve Howe's imaginative guitar skills, Rick Wakeman's larger than life keyboard and of course, Chris Squire's powerful bass lines. Isolated they were great, but together they were able to create some of the greatest art mankind has achieved, at moments even seemingly able to touch heaven. I delved into their long, diverse career unlike any other band.
As I absorbed a lifetime's worth of music once, then once again, I gradually grew saddened that I would never be able to see these masters perform. In my time I've managed to check off practically all of the titans of the golden age of the 60s-70s I cared to see. But as time goes on and 2016 continues to claim more and more of those titans, I knew I was born just too late to see the music that was so dear to me live. Last I heard, Jon was suffering from an illness that required a sinus operation which undoubtedly would threaten his delicate, yet powerful singing voice. But, in a curious effort to maintain the illusion of busyness in the cubical, I threw out a harmless search to see any news on the band on the ole internet. My heart jumped out of my chest and my eyes raced across the page in disbelief as they read, "Jon Anderson and the Holy Trinity of Yes Launching Tour." My excitement was multiplied uncontrollably when I noticed the article was posted just two days ago. I rocketed the mouse across the screen and pounded the keyboard to find the tour dates -- so fast and hard that the poor Macintosh couldn't keep up. I nearly wept in joy at what I found. They would be coming back once again to St. Louis, just right up the street at the Fabulous Fox Theater. In a matter of minutes, the hopeless and impossible became a reality.
"You don't know what this means..."
Jon Anderson had recovered from his ailment, and because Howe and drummer Alan White were busy touring with a different vocalist, keyboardist and bassist under the name 'Yes,' he gathered Rick Wakeman of olde and guitarist Trevor Rabin from their 80s-90's days for a World Wide tour starting in October under the name ARW. While I respect Howe as undeniable and essential part of the band, Jon was absolutely its soul, and a Yes without Jon was no Yes at all. Fans across the country and around the world would soon be seeing this 'Holy Trinity' together on stage for the first time in over a quarter of a century. All we had to do was wait a little longer -- and time seemed to stretching out a bit more each day.
"We want to try and take it to another level. But we're certainly not taking away all of the elements and the sound that the songs made." -- Rick Wakeman for Ultimate Classic Rock
Four months of fighting futility in the cubical and surviving agonizing election cycle insanity later, the day had finally come. Orange was officially the new black. Donald Trump had been elected the President of the United States, and the country was more polarized than ever. A seemingly doomed scenario faced us all as our grip loosened on the collective sanity, spinning faster and faster by the day. But for one night it didn't matter. Tonight was the night of the impossible concert. Jon Anderson was coming to town and bringing with him his music. The biggest opponent to ugly times is beauty, and I kept my compass locked towards the five story Fox sign and the beauty to come on the other side of those walls. Sitting in the cube with heavy bags under my eyes after a late night watching the race to the White House, I snuck out of the open cell early to acquire my press pass--and see how far I could take it.
I arrived just in time to collect my credentials and fade into the back of the meet and greet line; a pleasant surprise. The right place at the right time, as usual. My adrenaline rushed in excitement for a chance to meet the group. I never thought I'd see this concert, let alone meet some of the talent behind Yes. I've had a message in my head and heart for some time now for Jon; a sincere and utter appreciation on behalf of myself, my father and the World for the love and beauty he and the talent of Yes has bestowed upon us. How much of a positive influence it has been in my life, and how it continues to help me through the ugly times of life. There have been a great few who have contributed so much to this world, all of which are worthy of appreciation, but Jon and the rest are the ones throughout history that I personally wished to thank in person. Art is surely just as important to humanity as anything else. I eagerly waited in line behind the crowded few that had paid dearly for this privilege, twenty years younger than anybody else there with my camera bag. Not exactly hidden.
"I should have brought a CD to sign!" -- Yes fan
After some time of admiring the ornamental beauty of the theater's lobby, the old hippies had made it through the line and retrieved their VIP tote bags. It was the young hippy's turn to see if he could get in. The first lady I dealt with called over a manager, who then called over another manager, who then called over another lady. The typical progression. Someone had to give eventually. After going through the ranks, hopes were dashed as I was denied entry into the meet and greet. The old press pass trick that had worked so well for me so many times before had failed me. Maybe I'm getting old. It seemed I wasn't going to get that chance to relay my message but I couldn't complain. I was seeing Yes tonight.
"I think we're going backwards with this election, man." -- street hustler
Night had fallen on the Fox and the Lou was coming to life. Cars flooded the streets under the sparkling lights of Grand Avenue as the hectic workday drew to a close. The excited usher waving to the traffic in front of the theater made you feel like you were back in a different time. A simpler time without cellphones, nonstop internet and orange presidents. It was a pleasant way to set the mood as the line gradually formed outside the venue. The clock continued to spin back into the past with each step as the you wandered through and marveled at the Wonder of the old, majestically decorated movie palace. For the next few hours, what would happen on the inside of this grand concert hall would be completely separate from the outside world. A much needed break for the hippies and rock enthusiasts, young and old.
After some time of great anticipation, and following an introduction by Sweetmeat and the KSHE crew kicking off their 49th birthday bash, the months of waiting was finally over. Joined by drummer Louis Molino III and bassist Lee Pomeroy, Rabin and Wakeman made their way to the stage to a roar from the crowd. Rabin sporting a vintage militaristic style garb and Wakeman wearing his iconic flowing wizard robes. They greeted each other with a hug and huge grins, both seemingly excited and thankful to be playing on the stage together again. Their powerful guitar and keyboard opening played for a few moments before Jon finally made his way out and greeted the crowd with a youthful smile. And they began to perform their hearts out.
"The best religion is love!" -- Jon Anderson
Silhouetted by simple colors projected on curved canvas arching behind them in layers, the Trinity played a healthy selection from throughout their extensive catalogue. A nice blend of their lengthy early tracks they are renowned for with some of their more poppy tracks -- luckily for me it was more of the former. Anderson admitted he was fighting a cold, but after his voice warmed up on the first songs, his range was undisturbed. His high notes were clean and smooth, and his performance did not disappoint. Wakeman gave a commanding performance in all regards, surrounded by his mighty rig of keyboards. Some equipment from the 70s, others not even on the market yet. Most notable was his solo during "Awaken" in which he summoned a soul shaking church organ that absolutely moved every person in the room. Rabin gave the fans of the 80s Yes the powerful guitar rifts and shredding solos they were hungry for, but he also delivered on Howe's arrangements impressively. All in all, their essence remained, and each song maintained their greatness, with little live-on-stage nuances that made the show all the more special. During their touching nod to the late great Chris Squire, I was reminded of what my father once said about their music in relation to the peers of their time. "They always stayed positive." Yes is one of the most positive words out there, and the band's lyrics and vibe for the most part over the years reflected that positivity. And with recent studies from actually prove benefits of positive energy and personality, it was a welcome change from the outside world.
"People say, 'Why do you write these lyrics like that?' Because that's what happened. It just happens, you don't think about it too much." -- Jon Anderson
The goose bumps and emotions came in waves as the songs kept coming. The creeping bass line of "Long Distance Runaround," the powerful crescendo of "Heart of the Sunrise," the iconic lick from "Owner of a Lonely Heart," the heartwarming harmonies of "I've Seen All Good People." One after another. It was magical. With the first few bars of "And You and I," hearts began yearning for their second half. Wakeman's whimsical wisps on the keyboard and Jon's gentle voice were absolutely on point along with the rest of the group. My eyes welled with tears at the sights and sensations I was experiencing. Thinking about my love beside me. Thinking about my father, who would have been here if he weren't stricken with the ALS. But he got to see Yes in his and their youth, and now it was my turn. In that moment, embraced by the warmth of the familiarity and love of the very same music he and I have heard all of these years, I felt his presence.
The unforgettable night went on until the predictable yet very welcome encore of Roundabout. Before we knew it, two and a half hours had blown by and we were left with a memory and a heavy afterglow of something wonderful. The smiles smattered across peoples faces -- some from pure positivity, some from something else -- proved the undeniable feeling of togetherness was shared by all. I was incredibly thankful for the experience and I'm sure I wasn't the only one.
There was an old BBC program produced in the early 70s featuring Yes when they were in their youth. They were in their prime, and so was humanity. While creating what by some could be considered some of the greatest music of all time, Jon humbly admitted in an interview his excitement to see the music to come in the future. If the music of the love generation was so fantastic then, it was only going to get more fantastical in the future. As it should have. Sadly, as consciousness and creativity were continuously crushed over the decades to come, his prediction never quite came to fruition. The high water mark the Good Doctor spoke of was all too real. Jon's message of love and positivity gradually faded in time as we've grown more and more apart, culminating in the divide we find ourselves in today. We have all the technological toys to distract us, though. Posting to everybody how great our lives are, while we advance ourselves up our own asses until we reach the singularity. Growing away from our natural state of being and more distant from each other. From humanity. From Love. Instead, we are filling those voids with the dead echoes of a digital realm.
But if Yes can teach you anything, it's that you can't snuff out the fire of love. "They" may have bottled it up to try and sell it back to us in commercials, in iPhones, in cars -- but we can take it back if we want to. Love is the only answer; hate is the root of cancer. Don't surround yourself with yourself. See all the good people, and be one yourself. The only way out of this world of hate and corruption is a collective, conscious effort from the bottom up. The media got us into this mess, and we have to recognize that and wise up to it. We have to remember who we really are. Just because something is hopeless and impossible, doesn't mean it isn't possible. We just have to say, Yes.
Dedicated to my Dad