A series of essays wherein I explore the numerous musical identities of my favorite musician: from child prodigy to teen idol to guitar hero to singer/songwriter to award-winning in-demand film composer.
Featuring news/updates and commentary/analysis of Trevor's career and associated projects.
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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Trevor vs. Trevor: ear-"Würm"(s)

A continuing series wherein I indulge my love of yammering on about permutations of Trevor's body of work in performance.

"Howe is a craftsman, Trevor is a pyrotechnician...not a rap, just an observation..."
- Facebook fan post 
"I brought my own shoes, thanks."
- Trevor Rabin, 1995

As a long-time Yes fan, I tend to divide my favorite songs and albums between my preferred eras: in my case it's Classic Yes (1971-1978) and YesWest (1982-1995).  In case you're wondering, I listen to a lot of Classic Yes - Close to the Edge is my favorite album from that era.  But there is one particular composition which, for me, spans all eras of Yes as an enduring favorite.  No matter which lineup performs it, it's always great to hear, though of course I still have my favorites.  And it actually serves as a bridge between what I consider to be the two most significant eras of the history of the band.

Starship trooper...go sailing on by.

"Starship Trooper," since its' debut on The Yes Album in 1971, has been a favorite of many fans as well as an incredibly popular song, and thus its' inclusion in the setlist for YesWest, among other selections from the classic oeuvre, was considered not only important but necessary.  But what was even more important, and special, was the way in which Trevor made the piece his own.  Although every member of the band is crucial to its' success as a composition, it is essentially - to my mind - a guitar-driven suite, and thus it allowed Trevor to come to the fore in the context of live performance and wow the crowd, potentially assuage his detractors, assuming the mantle of guitar hero which he rightfully deserved.  He interpreted the song through the filters of his own talent, creativity and experience, not only as a guitarist, but also as a performer, to deliver something which - when he was on and the groove was just right - was entirely thrilling to witness.

If Steve Howe's original was metaphysically uplifting, then Trevor's version was salaciously exciting, as befitting the era in which it was performed, in support of Trevor's view of himself as a "modern musician."

The song in its' three movements was played as a whole on the 9012Live tour, but when it came time to tour in 1987 for Big Generator, the decision was made to play only the end section, known as "Würm," which was Steve Howe's contribution to the suite (the piece itself was written years prior to Howe's first tenure in Yes).  It made sense in terms of the running time of the show, as well as the energy level of the band - coming after the equally epic "And You and I," and with "I've Seen All Good People" and "Roundabout" still awaiting the encores.  But it could be considered controversial from a fandom perspective, to have the young upstart presume to perform the old master's signature contribution.  However, by that time audiences had already witnessed the way in which Trevor reimagined "Würm," and his approach to it didn't deviate other than in terms of performance vagaries.  When the Union lineup performed the whole of "Starship Trooper" during the Around the World in Eighty Dates tour, both interpretations of "Würm" were included in that section of the suite, an acknowledgement of the status of each guitarist within the history of the group.

Amusingly enough, when the DVD of the 9012Live concert film was released in 2006, fans were afforded a previously unknown look at Trevor's opinion of the piece in the bonus behind-the-scenes documentary, titled Access All Areas, which was filmed by Steven Soderbergh.  In fact, overall we were treated to a very raunchy, thoroughly comedic side of Trevor which I term "Tour Trevor" because it's fairly apparent that the rigours of touring require a different personality from one's everyday demeanor.  And he was also obviously playing to the camera, which is part of what makes it so fun to watch now.
Trevor Rabin: enemy of hangers worldwide.

During a scene which is a backstage postmortem, Trevor embarks upon an epic rant - his blatant use of profanity rendered somewhat hilarious as delivered in his well-mannered Johannesburg accent - regarding the way the band performed the show's then-closers "City Of Love" and "Starship Trooper" with bandmates Alan White and Tony Kaye providing a sympathetic audience.  The really funny thing is - and we can assume this happened at least some months into the tour - Trevor gets the name of the end section wrong, and Alan kindly corrects him.  This is an example of why everybody likes Alan White.

But "Würm" was an entirely unique occurrence within the touring history of YesWest and thus it's interesting (for me, at least) to consider those variations which may have resulted in performance, and not necessarily technical variations, but rather ones of emotional intensity.  Even with the distinct movement of the piece, for me the primary value of "Würm" is as a jam - Trevor, Chris and Tony each had their moments in the spotlight within the groove.  And the primary decision a fan would make in regards to whether or not they approved of Trevor standing on Steve's carpet, as it were, was accomplished while listening to what he did with "Würm."  At some shows early on in the tour they did callbacks to other songs - like the ending in Philadelphia where they incorporated "Almost Like Love" and "Heart of the Sunrise" at the same time.  At the opening date of the tour in Omaha, they included "Holy Lamb" as part of the song entire.

And so here is my pick for the very best version of "Würm," (from those I've heard) on January 24, 1988 in Hollywood, Florida.  What is very significant about this performance is that it came after Trevor had collapsed backstage the previous night.  As reported in the Atlanta Journal on February 12th, the band had to cancel six concerts as a result, with doctors immediately prescribing rest for Trevor, who had exhausted himself by performing five times with the flu and a 103-degree fever. The band spent the next ten days in Miami waiting for him to recover.

(Things had a habit of going horribly wrong for Trevor in Florida, have you noticed that?)

Here we have a man hanging on by a thread - and given how thin he looks in the footage, I'd say it's obviously evident he is ill - yet Trevor pulls it out of the fire and delivers a performance I'd rate as otherworldy, almost.  Definitely euphoric and utterly amazing.  It's a classic example of how sometimes when humans are at their worst they can achieve their very best.


But speaking of Florida (and once more, potential disasters) here we have Anderson, Rabin & Wakeman performing this same classic on the opening night of their 2016 tour in Orlando in what I would largely define as Trevor's style, but there's a distinct grandeur to it, a stately grace, which I find interesting; an expression of their Golden Years, as it were.  In keeping with YesWest tradition there's a callback - two references to "I Can't Look Away" - the introductory passage to the song as overture (which is not included in this clip) as well as a tease at the six-minute mark, playing 30 seconds from its' lengthy bravura outro.