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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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Legitimately Yes? Maybe. Legitimately great? YES!

Content warning: op-ed likely to ruffle a few feathers.  Caveat lector.

This entry concerns my impressions of attending the Los Angeles and Anaheim performances on the ARW North American tour, but first I believe a little op-ed background is in order...

For those of us who had been discussing the idea of a collaboration between Trevor, Jon and Rick it seemed only a case not of if but when.  We imagined this ensemble might become something even as the years were slipping away since its' initial announcement.  It was out of hope as much as frustration that I was driven to make my own now-correct prediction in fandom discussion, and Trevor also appears rather prescient in this excerpt from an interview with Jon Burlingame, published in June 2015 for the Billion Dollar Composer issue of Variety devoted to his career.
The restless songwriter and guitarist for the ’80s incarnation of rock group Yes has a new film coming out (Max, due June 26), is working on two television series and even mulling a return to the rock world. The writer of Yes’ No. 1 hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” Rabin released a jazz album in 2012, is now writing an album of all-original rock material and considering a tour.
After nearly two decades of solitary film-score composition, he says, “I miss the interaction, and this place where time stands still, (where) I’m not worrying about mortgages or ISIS. All I’m trying to do is play the best I can and communicate. So if anyone’s interested, I’d love to play live again.”
I find the timing of this statement interesting (as one would assume the interview was conducted perhaps months prior to publication); a reader could certainly interpret it as a wish to the Universe, a desire expressed to whomever might be willing to hear and consider it.  However, as someone who has studied and chronicled Trevor's career for many years now, I am more inclined to view it as a seemingly open-ended statement of purpose.  Trevor was ready for another course correction, and therefore his motivations for becoming the R in Anderson, Rabin & Wakeman are his own and not necessarily affected or mandated by the sequence of events which has been stated by all of the principles as the primary impetus of their reunion.  In at least one of his recent interviews Trevor noted that he had no desire to go on the road before he was coaxed into doing so for this tour and I would say that was true prior to 2015, even as interviews from the Jacaranda promotional cycle (including my own) illustrate Trevor was at least paying lip-service to the notion.  But his description of Jon and Rick "yanking me out (of) the studio" is perhaps employing some exaggeration.  But I imagine there are readers yelling at the screen: "Who cares why it happened, all that matters is it did!" and I can certainly agree with that sentiment somewhat, but I have an inquisitive mind - one which understands that what is not said is just as resonant as what is and that a seemingly offhand remark is likely anything but in the grand scheme of ARW.


In this era of all-pervasive social media, the concert review has become mostly superfluous, though I do include them in the tour reports when I find them.  It's not necessary for a gatekeeper (whether professional or self-appointed) to mediate and/or decode the experience of a live performance when you can go on YouTube or Instagram or Facebook almost immediately and see it for yourself (or in actual real-time if someone is broadcasting via Periscope).  True, you'll only have access to one particular perspective, but that's really no different from reading a review in my estimation.

Within the last five years or so, it's been an interesting experience to witness a nationwide tour before it even gets to me (as many tours tend to begin either in the Midwest or on the East Coast and then move their way West).  And also to consider the evolution of my opinion, i.e. what I watched online versus what I experienced in a live setting.  Now there are those who will say that you can't fully judge a live act based on YouTube videos and I'd agree but you can get a sense of what they're about.  I believe it is wholly disingenuous to dismiss audience videos outright, and I believe the fans who do are engaged in tone-policing, which - as those who know from interacting with me in the fandom discussion realm - I am not fond of in the least.

A live performance is no longer a purely ephemeral experience given the archival nature of online fandom - something which has existed for several decades now (as example, I have a collection of show recordings from every YesWest tour) - but these performances are inherently unique even as they are also part of a continuum.

Rick was fairly scathing in one of his GORR updates regarding the phenomena as it relates to ARW:
We are looking very seriously at producing a live album from the tour as there are already some very poor quality bootlegs appearing on the internet. We hate these and it's very annoying that people just don't have an ounce of decency or respect for the music but there's nothing you can do so we feel the best answer is to produce a high quality recording ourselves and hope that people would rather wait for that than buy poor quality illegal stuff.
As I have stated in fandom discussion, Rick is entitled to his opinion but I feel it is a bit antiquated, if for no other reason than bootlegs are no longer sold - they are uploaded, seeded and shared for everyone to experience without charge.  Many tapers are actually motivated by love and enthusiasm for the music.  And I believe these recordings are actually the best form of advertising that Anderson, Rabin & Wakeman could have as a legacy act.  Better, even, than a professional review.  Because whatever opinion a fan will form regarding both their setlist strategy and performance acumen will only truly be reached by listening and watching.

But one reason I followed this tour so obsessively was strictly out of sheer joy to witness Trevor taking the stage once more after 22 years - I didn't want to miss a moment of it.  The caption of this Instagram post pretty much sums it up for me.
A photo posted by brian chenault (@sh0egaze) on

Even so, I was dismayed to discover, at least in the first couple weeks, that Trevor appeared under-prepared for this tour.  After the second show he posted on Facebook to apologize for the "rust."
Forgive the occasional fluffs though, it's early days.
I understand there were a few factors involved regarding the rather short preparation time they had to work with, but I will stand firm in my opinion that you don't - whoever you are - ask people to pay (hundreds of dollars in some cases) to watch you rehearse.  And I would say that's exactly what the East Coast got: an entertaining rehearsal.  Fortunately for those of us on the other side of the country, we got the band who had just spent seven weeks getting their act together, literally.  The shows I saw, despite a similar or even identical setlist, were not the same performances others got to see.  They were far better, in my opinion.   But of course we can all relive every date thanks to social media, so no one is missing out by having gone to an earlier show.

Despite my initial misgivings regarding the Orlando gig it now holds a very special place in my heart due to the one-and-only performance of "Starship Trooper," one of my favorite Yes epics.  And in fact one of my primary disappointments - the absence of songs for Trevor to sing lead on - was redeemed at the Clearwater show with the addition of "Lift Me Up."  In all, four primary changes were made to the setlist:
-"Starship Trooper" and "Leaves of Green" were dropped after Orlando
-"Lift Me Up" (Clearwater) and "Changes" (Huntington) were added.
So the setlist I got to experience was one I was wholly satisfied with, even as I still mourn the exclusion of "Trooper."  It's a setlist which has at least a 1/3rd representation of YesWest material and features Trevor singing lead on two songs.  But this tour isn't really about parity among its' principles, I would say.  I believe one's opinion and experience are potentially impacted by knowing what this tour is actually about, which is a demonstration of Yes music legitimacy through the personage of Jon Anderson.  And for many people Yes music is only Yes music when sung by Jon.

But I'm not here to discuss the legitimacy debate (despite the attention-grabbing title of my entry) even as it casts a very long shadow over this tour because ARW is presenting itself - right now - as a legacy act.  I realize this status may change next year once new music is released and performed.

The tagline for this tour (in every market) is "An evening of Yes music and more."  But I think that is a bit misleading when, in advance publicity, it became clear that this tour would feature nothing but Yes music.  The "and more" has amounted to quotations of "I Can't Look Away" (in "Starship Trooper") and "The Meeting" (from Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe), which was dropped in the final week.  It would have been far more appropriate, in my opinion, to bill this tour as "A celebration of Yes music" as Jon has stated during the shows, rather than create a false expectation in the target audience.  ARW seemingly could not escape their identity as a legacy act, but they could have handled that eventuality a bit more adroitly.

As to the overall character of the principles I view it thus: Jon was wholly prepared from the very first night and has proven he is more than capable of re-assuming his mantle as The Voice of Yes.  I was completely impressed and entertained by him from the outset, despite the obvious considerations of age.  Rick and Trevor had some catching up to do but at the shows I attended they were both fully present from a performance and entertainment perspective, fulfilling that prospect we had been hoping for: getting to see them play together again and witness their natural chemistry which, granted, took a bit of time to develop once more but it is there now, and future audiences will immediately recognize it as such.

Opinions regarding the rhythm section seem to veer between writing them off as hired hands and fully recognizing the appropriateness of those particular choices.  Both Lou Molino and Lee Pomeroy have prior experience playing Yes music and personal connections to the principles, thus they are a part of that continuum which Yes fans have long acknowledged (i.e. the answer is always, eventually, "Yes") and their inclusion is entirely purposeful.  I am of the opinion that this Dynamic Duo has provided a completely solid foundation and significantly contributed to the audience's excitement.  Trevor likened Lou and Lee to a "steam engine" driving them all which is an apt analogy.  Having a steady rhythm section is something you only miss when you don't have it.  Luckily ARW have a great one.


The Setlists

As previously stated, I fully admit I had issues with the setlist at first, especially given that the Orlando show contained so little YesWest material, and no songs for Trevor to sing lead on.  As I noted, this was corrected by the next show with the addition of "Lift Me Up" and then in a couple weeks with the further inclusion of "Changes" - a song which I had been championing throughout discussion regarding the tour.  So all things considered I no longer had anything to complain about on that front.  Well...except "Starship Trooper" being dropped (I'd say I'm not bitter but I am, a bit).  What still doesn't make any sense to me is that the principles have stated the criteria for setlist inclusion was at least two of them had to have originally played on a song.  So that was the justification for dropping the aforementioned encore.  However, that does not explain why "Perpetual Change" and "I've Seen All Good People" remain in the setlist.  The setlist does contain songs which they have all played on in past tours, and most of them were played together during the Around the World in Eighty Dates tour of 1991-2.  So I would posit that is the true criteria: songs which they were all familiar with and songs which are classics of the canon.  Songs that they knew how to play together, even as some reworking effort went into them.

Historically Yes has played long shows (the average length of a show on the Eighty Dates tour was over three hours) given the length and breadth of their back catalog, but in 2016 that's not going to happen and some fans were disappointed by a two hours-and-change performance from ARW.  I understand the sentiment but the reality is the principles no longer possess the stamina to play that kind of show.  Once the setlist was solidified to fifteen songs, I believe it was a representative spectrum of what audiences love about Yes: hits, epics, both Classic era and YesWest favorites, as well as a tribute to Chris Squire.  I would have preferred a few different choices but given the overall agenda of this tour I consider it a fair slate.  In future it will be interesting to see how the setlist will change but I believe it will likely remain around the same number of songs and same amount of time per performance.

I am thankful I was able to attend a show featuring the full setlist, as that was not a possibility after Los Angeles.

I have written about "Cinema/Perpetual Change" in a previous entry; I find it a very apt opener and a re-introduction to these musicians in the context of Yes music.  I found myself wondering why Trevor had not performed "Cinema" on the club tour, as I believe it could be considered one of his signature pieces.

I do love "Hold On" even as I am not entirely sure it is appropriate for this setlist, although it was obviously chosen because of its' Union-era association as regards live performance.  But I feel it is missing some key element of excitement even as, from a nostalgia perspective, it was good to hear it again.  I would have preferred Lou's drum solo to precede it as Alan White's did back in the day, though I know the reworking agenda meant they would not make that particular choice.

"I've Seen All Good People" is an obvious choice not only because they've played it together, but also it is a beloved hit.  And it generally has come early in the setlist but I believe it's better suited for the latter half of the show given the round-robin they always employ towards the end.  The four-part harmonies did come off well - both Lou and Lee held up their end, but it is Lee who is performing the true labor as far as backing vocals and his close harmonies with Jon are wonderful.

It took a while for "Lift Me Up" to find its' footing once it was added, but by the time I experienced it in Los Angeles it was the song I love, mostly.  However, I'm going on record as not liking the new ending - this song is Trevor's greatest anthem and therefore it deserves the original rousing refrain rather than the gentle conclusion, although I do like the a cappella repeat of the chorus; as I noted, the harmonies were very well done.  This song had only ever been played on the Eighty Dates tour (beyond Trevor's use of the intro as entrance music on the club tour) so it was great to see it revived.

But returning to a prior point - Lou's drum solo was not well-served by its' placement ahead of this song.  Lou Molino is a truly great drummer and anyone who has heard/seen him solo (during the club tour his full solo in "Sludge" was wholly epic) knows it's a fine addition, but to solo "cold" as he was doing in this set just comes off rather awkward.  Conversely, Lee has been entirely fortunate to perform his two solos organically, as they are an intrinsic part of the songs they appear within.  I would say remedying the situation requires going against the reworking philosophy and returning to a drum solo intro for "Hold On" or Lou creating a solo which begins with the drum pattern of "Lift Me Up," then moves into soloing, and finally returns to the pattern to introduce the song.

"And You and I" is a sacred song to me, and so I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the way ARW is performing it, it's more simplistic and less inherently articulate; although the final "Eclipse" refrain never fails to give me chills, and it could be said Rick and Trevor totally overplay it for dramatic effect, but I love it nonetheless.   I was also thoroughly entertained by Lou and Lee's choreography at the Anaheim performance - I imagine they've been doing it more for their own entertainment value than for the audience.

After watching numerous videos and attending two shows, "Rhythm of Love" remains my favorite of the setlist - not because it is my favorite song, but their performance of it was so exciting to me, the rock energy they brought to it was a perfect fit.  Trevor's extended solo was interesting, as was Rick's Moog solo - a fitting choice as he didn't care to reprise any of the phrasing of the original, and overall it represented that sense of fun they were attempting to invoke.

"Heart of the Sunrise" is another of my favorite Yes epics, and you, dear reader, may laugh at my analogy, but I was amused that they were playing the 6/8 sections more akin to speed metal.  I thought it was exciting, but contained the subtlety which was lacking in AYAI.  Much like that song it hit the emotional peaks I required and Lee's overall performance - including his solo - was excellent.

"Changes" truly represents the litmus test for me - could Trevor actually pull it off?  At the shows I attended the answer is: yes.  I was in full fangirl mode to experience it.  But at first?  Not really.  I think he should have held off until he could get through it without suffering a trainwreck, but the primary philosophy regarding this tour is best described as it is what it is.  I'm entirely happy it was added to the setlist because there does need to be at least one song which provides nostalgia and affectionate appreciation for Trevor's contribution to Yes and "Changes" - more than "Owner" even - is that song.

"Long Distance Runaround/The Fish" serves as the tribute to Chris Squire (Jon had been using the former as a tribute during the AndersonPonty Band tour as well) and I genuinely enjoyed the more funky take on LDR, giving it a spritely feel which was tonally appropriate, in my estimation.  And Lee Pomeroy did both himself and Chris proud on "The Fish," with quotations of other Yes classics - "The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)" from Tales from Topographic Oceans and "On the Silent Wings of Freedom" from Tormato - woven within his solo (similar to when he used to perform "Starship Trooper" with a quotation of "Heart of the Sunrise") which, to my mind, echoed Chris' very large stamp on Yes music as well as Lee's own tribute to that influence and a style which remains entirely unique in rock n'roll.  Someone who both understands and respects Yes music can create something lovingly audacious as Lee has done, and he wholly deserves all the accolades he could possibly receive for it.  In my opinion he is not attempting to replace Chris so much as he is acknowledging that it is a privilege to play this music, an attitude which also informed his previous stints with Steve Hackett (performing Genesis music) and Three Friends (performing Gentle Giant music).  I appreciate that the principles not only acknowledge what a great player Lee is by allowing him to have two solos, but also that he deserves the spotlight for his efforts, as well as respecting bass guitar is an integral part of this music and should be allowed its' full expression as originally composed.

The principles did not have solo spots on this tour - rather solo sections within songs - and "The Meeting" served that purpose for Jon, accompanied by Rick, as he told the story regarding how the song came to be written and recorded.  It was a lovely interlude, but I imagine it was dropped in the last week because it had become too taxing for Jon to sing in the lower register the song requires, as by that time he was also fighting the illness which had gone through their ranks.  But this is the selection I hope might change when next they tour in the US, and if not that ageless chestnut "Soon" then perhaps "Leaves of Green" again or even "Holy Lamb" which would give Trevor an opportunity to play something else on acoustic guitar.

When asked earlier this year, Jon chose "Awaken" as his favorite Yes composition, and so I imagine that is one of the primary reasons it was chosen for the setlist, although I would say it needs to be in the center of the show rather than towards the end.  It is not my jam - as the kids say these days - but I can understand why it is a beloved epic, even as its' reworking is one of the more obvious, which appeals to some and not to others.  I will say Rick's solo section is quite beautiful and my favorite part of the piece.

"Owner of a Lonely Heart" serves as a solid closer, I believe - which is something I wouldn't have said before the tour.  Like some of the material this one evolved during the tour and reprising the "Make It Easy" theme was a good idea to extend the song and change that augmentation from what it used to be, although I have to say I miss Trevor's scat-singing, but I imagine his range isn't up to the task any longer.  Rick has a history of going out into the crowd with his keytar so it was a fun revisiting of that particular performance trope, as they knew they would not be swarmed by the aging Baby Boomer/GenX crowds.  I believe the audience really enjoyed this and it was entertaining - when it could be done - in the type of venues they were playing.  As noted by myself and others in fandom discussion, the performance in Anaheim also featured a quotation of "Sunshine of Your Love" which is a song Trevor had previously quoted in at least one performance of "Solly's Beard" on the 1989 club tour.  Only a few performances featured this detail, to my knowledge, as it wasn't included in the Indio show.

Here's a video from Anaheim which shows that they only ventured up and down the main aisle, I saw them as they passed by but whomever filmed this had a better view than I did.  My seat was about four in from the aisle, I believe.

But I actually preferred to watch Jon and Lee's dance routine which I thought was adorably entertaining.  And for anyone who might say that legacy musicians should not be adorable, well, you're just wrong.

"Roundabout" has usually been the encore across all eras, and so it is fitting to revive that tradition for ARW, and I also believe that the reason they began playing the shortened version of this song was they did not desire to play an eight-minute encore (or in the case of "Starship Trooper" a fifteen-minute encore) however, as not even five minutes elapsed between the last song of the set and the encore this indicates it is only a formality.  I don't believe the audience would feel cheated by the lack of an actual encore if they played the full version of "Roundabout," but I'm not holding my breath for that eventuality.

The Performances

With all the rhetoric being bandied about by everyone regarding tribute bands, one aspect I believe is important to remember is ARW plays Yes music more like a rock band than a tribute band, which would tend towards note-perfect renditions (and so the argument that Official Yes has become its' own tribute band may be considered as a fitting one to some).  But that rock energy is an important part of why audiences have enjoyed ARW, whereas that same attitude has been a buzzkill to others who do not prefer Yes music played so fast and loose and loud, in a manner of speaking.  For me, these were fun shows, and so...is that what it is all about?  Trevor did advance this very notion to his fanbase, and a more cynical take on his sentiment would be that he means it's not about musicianship in the strictest sense, it's about fun.  In my estimation they were asking a rather high price for something as amorphous and situational as fun, even as I was willing to pay it (though my motivations are a bit more complex than that).

But a concert is whatever you want it to be, one supposes.  In the end it was best not to expect the world from the principles, only that they would entertain you.  I was definitely entertained, I had fun, so I was likely a more sympathetic audience than at least those who have not aligned themselves on the side of Jon's version of Yes, or would even acknowledge that ARW might be equally as deserving of the name.  Those who are driven to choose a side in this current musical landscape likely have enough evidence now to do so.

As regards the production, I wanted to note that there have been numerous complaints/observations regarding the sound on this tour, and I don't know that it can be placed upon the shoulders of Front of House, given that I thought the mix in Los Angeles was fine (although others did not agree).  It's my theory that the PA they were touring with was the culprit and apparently was not a system they could adjust the parameters for based on the particular venue, as is possible with contemporary consoles.  It may have been too powerful for these places, as they were all in the 1200-3000 range as far as seating capacity, I believe.  My primary complaint was the frequencies in the top end and midrange were far too shrill, as if the PA was unnecessarily pushed into overdrive, as well as the master volume being much too loud.  And one might say volume for the sake of volume tends to hide a multitude of (performance) sins, but I don't believe it was necessary that far into the tour.  Additionally, the lighting design had been changed, as I noted in a previous entry, and although we don't know the specific reason behind the change I will say that I would have appreciated the additional visual element even as one might speculate that they preferred the focus to be on the performers.  It was also possible that not all venues could accommodate the projections - in Anaheim the backdrop had to be pared down to two panels due to the dimensions of the stage - and so it was decided that the entire design would be changed instead.  But I felt that such a simplistic choice wasn't entirely complimentary for the show as a whole - with no offense meant to Smeeton's replacement, who was just doing his job.

But it was a nice scene to enter into: the stage bathed in purple light as Brian Eno's Discreet Music played as the walk-in music (and as others have noted Rick's rendition of David Bowie's "Life On Mars?" served as the walk-out music).  In a smaller venue it was entirely obvious how the volume of the music changes as the space fills and showtime draws near, but I found it rather jarring to sit through ten minutes or more of loud music in a place which doesn't entirely benefit from volume.  The entrances were fitting in that the hierarchy was clearly illustrated: as Trevor's overture played first Lou and Lee entered to applause, then Trevor and Rick from their respective sides of the stage, meeting up in the middle for a hug before settling in, and as "Cinema" came to its' conclusion Jon appeared to overwhelming cheers, assuming his pedestal and his position as the Prime Mover, as it were.  I would tend to think that people my age and older aren't as moved by obvious choreography, but as this experience is meant to appeal to our emotions it seemed effective from that perspective.  And the final bows/hugs were wholly touching, it appeared the moment of genuine gratification for all of them.

Los Angeles could have been considered a hometown show in some respects (at least for Trevor and Lou), and as a resident of the company town known as Hollywood I knew Trevor had no intention of letting anyone down - he was determined to bring it for family, friends, and business associates.  Fans were perhaps the least of his considerations but they would also be pleased.  And because Los Angeles has a reputation for being a difficult audience to impress - I refer to the attitude as "LA blase" - I figured the show would be great and so I wasn't surprised in that respect (even as Trevor was ill that night).  What did surprise me was the total lovefest from the audience, but I had spoken to a number of longtime Yes fans/prog nerds before the show, so these were their people, entirely glad ARW had arrived, and I can count myself as a member of that particular tribe.  My overriding emotion was a welling of that sheer joy I referenced earlier in this entry.  And it was only enhanced by a performance in a wholly beautiful venue.  It was also very special that Ryan made an appearance - as GROUPLOVE was taking a little break in their current tour - and to see the firm of Rabin & Rabin onstage was a dream come true for me.

Anaheim was a different story in that the venue was less than spectacular, the sound wasn't up to par in my estimation, and the overall energy appeared to be distinctly lacking, at least from where I was sitting.  I imagine all who were seated in the first section were quite enthusiastic, whereas in my section there were as many people engaged with their smartphones or getting up and down for refreshments as were focused on the performance.  My enjoyment at being closer to the stage was diluted by being in the midst of a typical distracted crowd.  But the onstage demeanor of the band was about the same: smiling, affectionate, interacting with each other and with the audience.  Week nine meant the guys were likely tired and we knew illness had been taking its' toll, but they did their best not to show it.  As much as I was grateful that a date closer to me (geographically-speaking) had been added, thus enabling me to attend another show, if all I'd had was Los Angeles that would have been enough.  But I did have a chance to say hi to Trevor and Shelley in Anaheim, so if for no other reason it will always be a special show for me.

Unlike some fans, I do not require a version of Yes in my life even as I acknowledge it is a potentially interesting turn of events that there are two versions now extant.  So I have never desired ARW to serve as a representative of Yes music although it is not an identity they can afford to shun.  However, I can only hope that the fun and entertainment evolve to something more, something interesting, something which will add to our pride in what the Maestro and his associates have accomplished with this tour.  As fans we love Trevor's artistry and his exploratory spirit, and all I could possibly desire is a progression of this consideration in what are now the actual golden years of Trevor Rabin - no longer hermetically pursuing his musical inspirations, but out in the world sharing them with all of us.