YES featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman
50th Anniversary - Live at the Apollo
What do Yes and the Austro-Hungarian Empire have in common? Fifty years of existence, naturally. Original vocalist and co-founder Jon Anderson, former keyboardist Rick Wakeman and ‘80s-era guitarist/vocalist Trevor Rabin celebrate that milestone on this collection, culled from an evening at Manchester, England’s Apollo Theater in early 2017. This two-CD, three-LP and DVD/Blu-Ray finds the trio of Yes veterans joined by drummer Lou Molino III and bassist Lee Pomeroy as they work their way through a series of compositions culled from classic-era LPs as well as from the Rabin-centric 1980s.
Stalwarts and computer keyboard pundits will find reason to be skeptical before they’ve heard a note. The truth, however, is they needn’t worry. Wakeman is arguably the quintessential keyboardist for that most affirmatively-named progressive rock outfit (no easy feat considering his predecessor/successor Tony Kaye’s role and the contributions that Geoff Downes, Patrick Moraz and his own son, Oliver, have made in that role) and hearing him attack the material here with his flourishes and fluidity proves worth the price of admission alone.
Wakeman has long said that one of his great regrets was that he and Rabin had not been able to work as the sole guitar/keyboard unit in Yes. When they toured together in the early 1990s, in support of the Union LP they were both doubled by Kaye and Steve Howe, respectively. Instead of reaching for authentic note-for-note re-creations of these well-known songs, listeners are instead treated to something more spectacular. New ground is broken, new possibilities realized.
“Hold On,” which originally appeared on 1983’s 90125, becomes an amalgam of the Wakeman era and Rabin’s would-be heavy metal-cum-New Wave tendencies, swaying and simmering with a newfound vitality. “I’ve Seen All Good People” retains its buoyancy while also taking on unexpected British folk rock properties surprisingly not always evident in the original recording. “Long Distance Runaround/ The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)” receives ample treatment that brings it fully into the new century.
The Rabin-Wakeman merger proves especially exhilarating. The guitarist adds flourishes that weave their way nicely between the keyboardist’s original parts, giving the composition a renewed urgency and creative spark. One can hear it in “Lift Me Up,” which sprang into the world via the aforementioned Union. The original always revealed itself as an ace composition even if the production-by-committee sealed it in Reagan-Bush-era aspic that stilted its true potential. Here, it breathes with a swirling excitement that will have you seeking a new shaman by the time it winds to a close.
Meanwhile, “Roundabout” zips with a newfound urgency and (ahem) drama that suggests it will live long beyond the lifetime of its composers. Wakeman, to his credit, plays the tune as though it’s the first time he’s finding the nuances, his touches all soul and excitement and the thrill of creation.
And Anderson? Well, it seems impossible to imagine that he was in this fine a voice into his early seventies and yet he never disappoints. What could this outfit do with new music?