All systems pointed to a resounding, emphatic exultation of “YES” as ARW — the collective acronym for vocalist Jon Anderson, guitarist/vocalist Trevor Rabin, and keyboard guru Rick Wakeman — converged their mighty collective talents into an uplifting and sonically spectacular show at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey on October 26.
And while I certainly enjoyed seeing the current incarnation of Yes do all of Drama and selections from Tales From Topographic Oceans at the Bergen PAC in Englewood, New Jersey back on August 10, there was an undeniable magic in the air at the Count Basie this past Wednesday, due in large part to the unbridled joie de vivre that naturally emanates from Anderson, singing the songs he was always meant to sing and connecting with an audience in a way few performers can. It’s a rare gift indeed, and one that was perfectly buttressed by the formidable talents of Rabin and Wakeman.
Billed on the Basie marquee as “An Evening of Yes Music,” the 15-song, 132-minute set traveled seamlessly back and forth between the prime Anderson-Wakeman ’70s era and the Rabin-centric ’80s revival period. The mix in the room was sharp, not distant, with fine details like drummer Louis Molino III’s insistent chimes-tapping on “And You And I” and “Awaken” and bassist Lee Pomeroy’s tasteful low-end runs on “Heart of the Sunrise” and “The Fish” as clear and true as the lightning-quick Rabin riffage that punctuated the opening sequence of “Changes,” as well as Wakeman’s keyboard flourishes and Anderson’s mini-harp strumming on the aforementioned, and truly stunning, rendition of “Awaken.” Ahh, if only more live mixes were as well-balanced and vibrant as this show’s was…
Anderson (in a stylish dark jacket and white shirt, and sporting some sort of fingerless sports glove on his left hand) couldn’t help but smile all throughout the evening, and who could blame him? His voice was as pure and natural as ever, without compromise. He humbly thanked the audience a number of times throughout the night (sometimes even mouthing his appreciation during the songs themselves), observing after the crowd’s thunderous response to “Heart of the Sunrise” and prior to Rabin undertaking “Changes” that “It just reminds me that without you, we wouldn’t be playing this music.”
Incidentally, all three members of ARW personally promised me that new music would indeed be on the horizon, and if this evening was any indication of how the three of them will be working and creating together in the days to come, the sky — or rather, the very outreach of the cosmos — is the limit. (Or, as Anderson sang in “Hold On,” “I believe in eternity.”)
Right from the get-go of the show-opening 90125-culled instrumental “Cinema,” Rabin (sporting a black short-sleeved t-shirt with what looked to be either a phoenix rising or a replica of the Earth on the front) played his guitars like a tiger unleashed, fully emerged from the studio cocoon he’s been ensconced in for decades while composing brilliant Hollywood film and TV scores and soundtracks. The grit inherent in “Rhythm of Love” was a revelation, while the set-closing “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” Yes’ first (and only) #1 single, teemed with fist-pumping lead-riffology. And then there was “Changes,” my third-favorite Yes song ever (right behind “Close to the Edge” and “And You And I”), which deftly balanced the emotionality of the lyrics with raw, building energy — and Rabin and Anderson’s poignant lead-vocal tradeoffs.
Not only that, but Rabin had an uncanny knack for turning signature Steve Howe guitar lines into something of his own making while still retaining the spirit of the guitar maestro’s original templates, as he did beautifully with the intro and main break on “And You And I,” and especially in the night’s lone encore, “Roundabout.” (Coming soon to HRAC, Rabin and I talk exclusively about what Yes music he’d like to mix in surround sound and just how he’d go about doing it, so stay tuned.)
An then there was Wakeman, resplendent in his requisite cape, holding court amidst a circular bank of keyboards arranged like the deck on the bridge of a Star Trek Starfleet spaceship. Wakeman moved from his Korg Kronos to his Roland XP-10 (among other key gear) to put forth all manner of masterful keyboard and piano fills, reminding us not only of his soloing prowess but also his skill at supporting complex song arrangements. The unquestionable highlight was the back half of “Awaken,” a blueprint for how to build suspense and drama to a satisfying conclusion. As a counterpoint, subtlety was the key for the stripped-down take on “The Meeting,” a particularly touching track from the 1989 Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe album that served as a bridge of sorts to the 1991 all-hands-on-deck Union Yes reunion project (the album that begat one of the evening’s earlier highlights, “Lift Me Up”).
To say it was an evening to remember would be quite the understatement. In fact, at this point, I think ARW may also very well stand for Amazing Road Warriors. It’s a show I’d certainly welcome seeing (and hearing) again myself.
There are still a number of dates left on the U.S. portion of the ARW tour through early December, so catch them if you can. The pure joy and remarkable musicianship inherent in ARW’s masterful live set should lift you up right from the very first note.