YES featuring Anderson, Rabin, and Wakeman at the Kimmel Center

-Mark Casasanto

Perfectly sound at the Kimmel Center.

Rock and roll is a wonderful vehicle and it was on full display last night in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center. Seriously, it was the perfect venue to showcase the brilliant musicianship of YES featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman who recently, along with their once, and who knows, maybe future bandmates, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.

The story of YES, the English rock band, who’s debut album was released in 1969, is a complicated one. The chapters are thick with many protagonists, antagonists, plot changes and main characters coming, going and returning again, only to depart and seemingly return again.

This much is known, in 1968, Jon Anderson founded the group, along with Chris Squire, Peter Banks, Bill Bruford and Tony Kaye. Three years into the band, Banks, Bruford and Kaye were already out, and in what many fans refer to as the classic lineup, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman and Alan White were in. Together with Anderson and Squire, this is what the world of progressive rock grew to know as YES.

Embarking on their 50th year of making music in their various formations, not unlike the Beach Boys, we now have two versions of YES criss-crossing the globe. This past summer, Steve Howe and Alan White, along with several other YES alumnus, took their version of the band, using the trademarked YES name and graphics into town as part of YESTIVAL, when they played the venerable Tower Theater in Upper Darby.

Last night however, Anderson with Trevor Rabin, who first joined the band in 1982, and Rick Wakeman, definitively delivered what Howe’s version of the beloved band simply could not. Equating the dueling YES dilemmas to the aforementioned Beach Boys, there’s no denying the musical genius that is Brian Wilson. But even with that said, there are no Beach Boys without the vocals and showmanship of frontman, Mike Love. I don’t know that I’d want to see Brian Wilson and Al Jardine’s version of the group when I could see Mike Love and Bruce Johnston give me the sound and visuals I grew to know and ummm love, no pun intended.

Enter Jon Anderson. That unmistakable voice and frontman persona with Wakeman’s wizardry on a wall of keyboards just to his left, quite frankly, it screams YES!

My first YES concert was back at the legendary Spectrum in 1979. It was indeed a milestone personal event in that it was my first concert that I was able to attend without brotherly or parental supervision. Last night, I closed my eyes for a few seconds, minus the smell of reefer and my Chuck Taylor’s sticking to the arena’s beer soaked floor, I would have been hard pressed to tell you if “Perpetual Change”, the second song in, was a ’70s flashback or happening live, just mere feet in front of me. Anderson’s voice was pitch perfect and never more evident than midway through the 12 song set when “And You And I” was delivered with clarity and genuine tenderness. As he said in the intro, “we just have to do this because it is about you (gesturing to the crowd) and I (grasping his chest)”. His sincere delivery gave credence to the statement and evident by a rousing standing ovation.

Running through the just under two hour set, the trio were backed on stage by seasoned musicians, drummer and Philadelphian, Lou Molino III and bassist, Lee Pomeroy. Cliche perhaps, but it needs to be said, these guys were tight and impressive. In fact, the night was as close to musically flawless as flawless can be. My only fret… wishing there was one or two more of those classic songs on the setlist that helped to shape the soundtrack of my life.

Still, each member of the quintet took their respective time in the spotlight, Rabin for instance stepped to lead vocals on “Changes” while Anderson strapped on a guitar. Speaking of guitar work, Rabin’s whimsical and airy approach to the riffs on “I Am Waiting” were well timed and in a word, excellent. Pomeroy, the left handed bassist, kicked off “Heart of the Sunrise” center stage, while the sequined draped and caped Wakeman kicked up his mystical sound from his trademark circle of keyboards.

Wakeman, in fact, showed more personality than any other time I can remember, at least as a casual fan of the group. Rabin left the stage just before “Awakening”, prompting Anderson to insinuate, he (Rabin) needed to go to the bathroom. It was then Wakeman was handed the microphone and proceeded to tell a “lady of the night joke”, of course, at Rabin’s expense. With Rabin back on stage to Anderson’s right, Wakeman’s saturation of the orchestra hall with brilliant full pipe organ theatrics had me looking to the rafters expecting to see the Phantom of the Opera. Masterfully, Anderson stayed in stride with Wakeman on the mini-harp as the lengthy “Awakening” cued another of the evening’s multiple standing ovations.

“Owner Of A Lonely Heart” from their 1983 album, 90125- a release that remains their best selling effort to date, yet caused so much drama in the ’80s over the musical direction of the band- rounded out the set. Molino blistered through a drum solo on stage while Rabin and Wakeman walked through the floor of the venue trading licks respectively on their guitar and organ.

A rousing version of “Roundabout” was the only encore needed to send the capacity crowd in the multi-level performance hall to their feet, clapping and struggling to hit the high notes that Anderson so effortlessly and continuously nails.  

After seeing YES this summer with my thoughts resulting in just a ho hum shoulder shrug at the end, I was a bit hesitant, yet cautiously optimistic that Anderson and crew could bring me back to a simpler time and place, when it was okay to get lost in the music, somewhere dare I say, “Close To The Edge”. Fifty years of music and many musicians later, with paired down graphics and visuals, YES featuring Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman proved their worth as rock n roll royalty and yes, made it all about the music once again.

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