BY BRETT DELPORTO
It was the dreaded Spinal Tap Moment.
In the classic mockumentary, Spinal Tap is a fictional heavy metal band that begins its American tour playing arenas. When their popularity plummets during the course of the tour, they book smaller venues and ultimately find themselves opening for a puppet show at the local zoo.
Unlike Spinal Tap, Yes’ fortunes have declined over decades, not months. And the remnants of Yes, currently touring as “Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, and Rick Wakeman,” were at least the headliners for Saturday’s show at the Kenley Amphitheater in Layton.
If the band members were disappointed, they didn’t show it. Indeed, Anderson, Rabin, and Wakeman, ARW for short, performed with gusto for several hundred fans gathered across the street from Layton High School. No matter the turnout, ARW proved that the music of Yes has a momentum that defies time, personnel changes, and even death.
Anderson co-founded Yes in 1968 with bassist Chris Squire, who died of leukemia in 2015. Squire’s death was the culmination a long process that splintered Yes. The separation may have become permanent in 2008 when Anderson was sidelined by a respiratory illness. Anxious to get back on the road, Squire, along with guitarist Steve Howe and and drummer Alan White, ditched the ailing Anderson and replaced him with a singer from a Yes tribute band.
Thankfully, Anderson was in peak form Saturday night. His distinctive, somewhat raspy alto/soprano voice showed no signs of age (he’s 72) or infirmity on Yes classics like “And You and I,” “Perpetual Change,” and “Awaken.” As the band’s front man, the jovial Anderson also provided the obligatory commentary between songs, wryly praising the “beautiful and healthy” audience, a condition that “must be because of the water or” (pregnant pause) “the wine.”
If nothing else, ARW proved that Wakeman is indispensible to any group of musicians purporting to be Yes. As the leading exponent of the now largely defunct progressive rock movement, the classically trained Wakeman hearkens back to a time when the synthesizer and keyboards were lead instruments as well as a source of sophisticated symphonic textures. Wakeman’s prowess enlivened every song, even the more mundane hits like “Hole On” and “Rhythm of Love,” but especially on treasured Yes tunes like “Roundabout” and “Awaken.”
And hats off to Lee Pomeroy who ably performed the innovative and complex bass lines immortalized by the late Chris Squire. Squire is recognized for his pioneering use of the bass as a lead instrument. It could be said that he is indispensible to producing an authentic Yes sound, but Pomeroy was not intimidated. He was front and center throughout the show, capturing the precision of Squire’s staccato lead on “Heart of the Sunrise” as well as the bass solo from “South Side of the Sky.”
Rabin, tasked with unenviable job of emulating the brilliance of legendary guitarist Steve Howe, was impressive on Yes classics like “Heart of the Sunrise,” “Roundabout,” and especially “Awaken,” which showed him to be more than capable of reproducing speedy and nimble licks that were Howe’s signature. But Rabin sounded best when performing the songs he wrote for 90125, which is by far the most popular Yes collection. He was most home when grinding out the gritty chords from “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” the band’s most recognizable single, which roused the otherwise somnolent crowd to actually stand and sing along.
The one truly sour note in the two-hour show was the song “I Am Waiting,” a cheesy ballad from the album Talk, which was produced during the forgettable and largely forgotten post-90125 nether-years. The decision to play a song from the Yes scrap-heap was puzzling given that they had so many classics to choose from—songs like “All Good People,” “Starship Trooper,” or even (as Anderson promised in an interview) “Nous Sommes Du Soleil” from Tales From Topographic Oceans.
Happily, the one clunker of the evening was a three-minute ditty, which hardly registered during the otherwise brilliant performance from musicians who amply demonstrated their right to call themselves Yes.
Photo credit: Fred Kuhlman