Yes Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin & Rick Wakeman | August 26, 2018 | Whisky A Go Go | Hollywood, CA – Concert Review
Review & Photos by Shawn Perry Vintage Rock
The tale of two bands called Yes continues to unravel some astonishing revelations in the wake of one-upmanship, especially when it comes to the band’s 50th anniversary. The Yes with Steve Howe and Alan White, which has its own cruise and plays full albums in their entirety at their concerts, celebrated 50 years with a summer tour that included special guest Tony Kaye, the band’s original keyboardist.
The Yes with Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman (formerly and presently, in an amended format, ARW) decided to take a trip back to 1971 when there was only one Yes that headlined the Whisky A Go Go for multiple nights and it cost a mere $2 to get in. To recognize this momentous occasion in the band’s history, the first show of the 2018 Summer U.S. tour for Yes Featuring ARW was unveiled at the Whisky. And it was still only $2 to get in.
Naturally, the small venue and low price enticed more than a few enterprising fans to stake out a place in line on the sidewalk outside the Whisky the night before. By 5:00 the next day, with roughly 90 minutes to go before they started selling tickets and letting people in, the line ran a good block up Clark Street. The cut-off, according to one unidentified Whisky employee, was around 400. Without seeing the end of the line, an estimated 1,000 likely showed up and most were disappointed. For those that got in, it was a different story.
There is no easy way to describe seeing a band with an arena-sized appetite playing a small club with a larger-than-life legacy. The two intermingled at a crossroads in time, and nearly 50 years later, it takes on a whole new meaning. Just think if Cream or Led Zeppelin had come back to the Whisky. It would have been nuts. For Yes, it was more about getting up close and personal. Even Rick Wakeman’s keyboard rig, taking up considerable real estate on the small Whisky stage, didn’t diminish the intimacy.
The nearly three-hour wait was worth it, if just for the camaraderie. You start conversations with strangers at concerts, and the conversation typically turns to concerts. Hardcore fans of bands like Yes often roll out virtual scrolls with a list of every concert they ever attended. You hear something like, “I’ve seen Yes 16 times. First show was at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, 1978,” followed by, “Oh yeah, I saw them in ’72 at the Forum, opening for Black Sabbath.” And on it goes, all around the room. Tonight, everyone’s self-worth was measured by the number of concerts they’ve attended.
The roadies came out and started making adjustments. Jon Anderson’s harp made a brief appearance, and soon the band themselves descended the Whisky staircase and made their way on to the tiny stage. With Wakeman’s barrage of keyboards filling out most of stage left, bassist Lee Pomeroy and drummer Louis Molino III filled out the rest of stage right, leaving an area of about three feet wide and maybe eight feet across for Trevor Rabin and Jon Anderson.
Without so much as a word, the band fell right into the instrumental “Cinema,” the first of four songs from 1983’s 90125. Unlike the other Yes, this Yes has the 80s covered. The Trevor Rabin years definitely boasted the commercial viability of the band, while retaining their progressive rock credibility. No one can say their arsenal of hits from this era were overtly popish. They effectively added a modern twist. It only made sense that they should play at least one song from every album Rabin appeared on — 90125, Big Generator (“Rhythm Of Love”), Union (“Life Me Up”) and Talk (I Am Waiting”).
The sound was big from a small stage, and it was obvious from the get-go that the band was going to make the most of it. Anderson, in black with accents of white sashes, squeeze by Rabin to join in on “Hold On,” and the Whisky was transformed into a sonic temple where the faithful hung onto every word, every nuance, every flip of Wakeman’s red, blue and gold cape as he fluttered his fingers over his Moog.
The prime slice of classic 70s Yes epics gave Wakeman a chance to apply his wizardry (though his imprint on the 80s songs, especially “Rhythm Of Love,” was equally impressive), while Anderson powerfully popped his one-of-a-kind alto vocals into the mix, authenticating that unmistakable Yes sound. And Rabin, as he did in the 80s, easily held his own with the material — adding vocals and guitar lines to “I’ve Seen All Good People,” stroking the heightened intonations of “And You And I,” and balancing semblance and calibration on “Heart Of The Sunrise.”
As for the rhythm section, both Pomeroy and Molino have these songs down cold. Pomeroy, who recently toured with Jeff Lynne’s ELO, stepped out from the shadows to turn over a few low-end phrases in tribute to Chris Squire during “Heart Of The Sunrise.” Molino, fastened in behind a shimmering DW kit, exuded the steadiness and authoritative beat with the proper fills and cues that Yes music requires. Pomeroy and Molino’s value to tonight’s high level of energy and vibrancy cannot be underestimated.
Once the harp was brought down and placed on a small table between Rabin and Anderson, it was all too obvious to seasoned Yesheads that “Awaken” was about to rise. I was surprised to see the other Yes take on this song as it so very much encapsulates the best of everything Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman bring to the fold. Steve Howe, who co-wrote the song, certainly has his chops in the grooves: hearing it tonight, however, truly justified the long wait and the two bucks it took to see this show. Watching Anderson and Wakeman slip into the zone, eyes closed, the feel of the music running through their veins, was in itself meditative to everyone occupying the Whisky floor, besotted with what was taking place just a few feet away.
The mood was significantly lightened when Rabin crushed a batch of chords before diving bombing into “Owner Of A Lonely Heart.” The room was awash in the biggest hit of the scattered Yes catalog of singles. The extended jam gave way to Wakeman coming out from behind his station with a keytar and a twinkle in his eye to engage in a solo battle with Rabin. Afterwards, a few verses of “Sunshine of Your Love” were sprinkled in, perhaps in a slight nod to Cream’s own storied history with the Whisky. Twelve minutes later, the players took their bows, fans clamored with joy, and Trevor Rabin took a tumble in all the excitement. He lay motionless, eliciting some concern, before popping up, a tad disheveled, and remarking that “the fall wasn’t scripted.”
Instead of exiting the stage, everyone returned to their places, and Anderson reminded the crowd what they already knew — it was time for “Roundabout.” The song had just dropped when Yes played the Whisky in November of 1971, and was virtually unknown to the public at large (it didn’t enter the singles charts until early 1972). Tonight, as the chorus echoed through the famed Hollywood club, it was clear “Roundabout” is now a prog rock anthem, etched in time, cherished, beloved, a signature.
After more bows, the room started to clear. Everyone was in a daze, sharing that warm, fuzzy feeling of witnessing history. Seeing the group three nights later at the Greek or in any of the other nine cities the tour will take them to, might make the Whisky a little more special. Then again, on a bigger stage, they can move around and operate more freely, without watching their step. And certainly the music of Yes demands a degree of spectacle, meaning the tour will be as visually stunning as it is musically enriching. No matter where you see them, in a small club or a roomy amphitheater, this is one Yes show that can’t be missed.