Yes by Any Other Name
It’s gotta beat Steve Howe and four other guys calling themselves Yes.
On Saturday night in Chicago, former Yes-men Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman – along with bassist Lee Pomeroy and drummer Lou Molino – performed two hours of Yes music at the a three-quarters full Chicago Theater, and judging from the audience response, this was the version of Yes they preferred. Wakeman in particular has long-claimed that any Yes without frontman Anderson is no Yes at all, though there are probably some who say the same of guitarist Steve Howe, who continued to tour last summer under the Yes moniker even after Alan White suffered a back injury. Perhaps one day Howe and Anderson will perform on the same stage together, though it’ll have to be soon: Anderson is now 72, and Howe 69.
Balancing the setlist nicely between long-time Yes favorites and songs from the Rabin-era, the transition from prog-rock to pop and back again at times felt jolting, but it also kept the concert from falling under its own weight of self-importance. The group performed four songs from Yes’s resurgent album 90125, one from 1987’s Big Generator (“The Rhythm of Love”) and one from Union (“Lift Me Up”), which allowed Rabin to shine in more familiar territory. Oddly absent were any songs from 1994’s Talk, an album many Yes fans believe is underrated. (I am not one of them.)
Beyond that, the setlist consisted of many of the usual favorites, along with two songs I’d never seen performed live before – a shortened “Perpetual Change” and “Heart of the Sunrise" – and the concert pinnacled with an extended performance of the already monumental “Awaken” from Going for the One, clocking in at close to 20 minutes.
The band performed well together, with drummer Molino approaching the songs with the same rock-oriented technique of Alan White, and Pomeroy doing a terrific job imitating the deceased Squire, including a terrific bass solo during “The Fish.” But the standouts for me were the voices of not only Anderson – whose vocal chords should one day be donated to science – but of Rabin, who sounded as strong and clear as he did when I last saw him perform 32 years ago. The newly-added song “Changes” off of 1983’s 90125 allowed him to showcase his chops, and I was surprised to hear him deftly hit the high notes during the bridge. Anderson had to at times choose an alternate melody to the original (the first bridge of “And You And I”), though he seemed to be able to summon his high tenor voice when it counted most.
Wakeman sported a Cubs t-shirt underneath his signature cape – a wardrobe that might have warranted groans were it not for his well-known comedic nature – and surrounded himself with a keyboard setup that wouldn’t have looked out of place in 1972. I counted eight keyboards, including two Minimoogs, which is really kind of silly in this day and age, but there’s no denying his ability and influence. Still, to my ears, he’s a keyboardist who overplays, muddying mixes that would otherwise sound crisp and clean (and I can't stand the synthy-piano sound he prefers to the real thing), which is why it’s probably best that he wasn’t a part of the 80s Yes lineup. There were times in the show when I wanted him to stop playing so I could hear a signature Rabin or Squire lick, though I did notice that the mix from where I was sitting in the balcony was less clear than just one section to my right, so some of the what I heard might have been attributed to poor acoustics more than Rick’s playing.
Rabin primarily handled the licks of Steve Howe well, though there were times when I missed Howe’s subtleties, such as the intro and breakdown of “And You and I,” and the jazz-influenced solo of “Perpetual Change.” Rabin is a different type of guitarist, and Anderson told him from the get-go to approach the songs in his own way. Mission accomplished, and largely successful.
I suspect this will be the last time I see any of Yes’s members perform, be it under the name Yes, ARW, GTR, Bruford-Moraz or otherwise. I saw some semblance of Yes perform in 1984, 1985 (Bruford-Moraz), 1986 (GTR), 2001, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2011 and now 2016, not officially as Yes, but in my book Yes by any other name is still Yes. It’s been a hell of ride for these prog-rockers. Perhaps someday soon it can culminate with an induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.