ARW: An Evening of YES Music @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – 13 March 2017

Posted by Zyllah Moranne-Brown on Monday Mar 13, 2017 Under Art Rock, Prog Rock

Review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown
(Photo of Trevor Rabin courtesy of Dan Higgins; photo of Rick Wakeman courtesy of Fred Kuhlman)

And so to the Symphony Hall for some symphonic prog rock by the legends of the genre. The foundations of tonight’s performance started out half a century ago. Quite literally. When two blokes met in a bar in Soho. And went on one hell of a journey – musically and as a band. The current version of said band is somewhat different  – but tonight, for the first time in 25 years, three members of the classic line-up (including one of the original founders) are here to perform for your delectation. Welcome, Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman – aka ARW – with an Evening of YES music.

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So. The story of YES to say is complicated, is an understatement. It was Jon Anderson and the late Chris Squire that met in the bar that night. Multiple line-up changes  (there has been more YES members than most of us have eaten hot dinners) –  undoubtedly their most successful period came when tonight’s trio was part of the line-up. Squire sadly passed away in 2015 and the current ‘official’ line-up for YES  – Steve Howe, Alan White, Geoff Downes, Billy Sherwood and Jon Davison – continue to record and tour today.

And for many YES fans, and they are here in droves tonight, this gig is sold out – it is the iconic voice of Jon Anderson, the outstanding guitar talent of Trevor Rabin, and the keyboard wizardry of Rick Wakeman, than is THE must see. The last time these and other members of YES performed together was on the highly successful YES ‘Union Tour’ – which saw  members past and present come together for the first (and only) time of the legendary band’s career.  In the 70s it was their prog rock era that saw YES become a stadium headliner, the 80s was their successful pop era; selling millions of records with releases such as ‘Fragile’, ‘Close to The Edge’, ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’, ‘Going For The One’ and ‘90125’, as well as embarking on several record-breaking world tours. ‘YES’ (as a whole) – Grammy nominated, Grammy Award winning and soon members (past and present including these here tonight) will be inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame.

I can’t claim that YES were on my personal music radar. I was a twinkle in my mother’s eye when they formed. And by the time I got into music, it was alternative, punk, indie and everything that was polar opposite of what YES was all about. However, it was their iconic album artwork rather than the music that initially caught my eye; the beautiful hand crafted artwork of Roger Dean – of floating fantasy lands and swirling logos. Music wise, it was Anderson’s work with Vangelis (the later I picked up on through the iconic Bladerunner soundtrack), that whirls round my head before the gig. Indeed my mind is singing ‘State of Independence’,  which was also a massive hit for Donna Summer to be precise. And I did get to see YES (nor ARW) a few years ago, and I have to say, struggled. But its the Wizard Wakeman with Anderson risingly angelic vocals has drawn me to tonight’s performance.

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We’re all in our seats for 8.15pm as the lights lower and the band members one by one take to the stage. This being ARW, does not have the Dean artwork, but a curved backdrop, with atmospheric lighting. They are joined tonight on stage by equally talented and proficient musicians Lee Pomeroy on bass and Louis Molino III on drums. Silhouetted against the lit back-drop they wave to the crowd. Then Rabin and Wakeman (in full Wizard mode with be-jeweled cape) take to the stage – to a standing ovation from the crowd. Same audience response for Anderson, when he too takes his place, and “1, 2, 3, 4….” they’re off with ‘Perceptual Change.’

As you can gather these guys aint spring chickens.  Rabin’s 63, Wakeman 67 and Anderson is 72. But my, Anderson’s voice is bang on. In an industry where many a lead singer struggle to keep their vocal range – after 50 years he still has that iconic high airy sound and is more than able to carry the highest and longest of notes. ‘Hold On’ – well, welcome to the world of prog rock in all it’s musical ostentatious glory. Their idea for the tour was to look back and celebrate YES – the entire band are tight, working and playing as a single unit, from vocal harmonies, to individual performances, all without ego.  And they are clearly massively delighted to be here, and even more delighted that the fans have turned out, and massively enthusiastic to be performing live.  ‘You and I’ Anderson deftly and timely on prayer bells, holding the high notes quite beautifully.

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“Thank you for listening…. especially you up there…” the Symphony Hall top tier is quite literally that high, you can touch the gods. ARW’s set covers songs from a range of YES years, an audio orchestral performance.  Between songs punters rise with standing ovations and rapturous applause.  Anderson declares there is not a day goes by that he doesn’t think of Squire, the man he started the band with 50 years ago. He was just 10 years old, he quips. He used to go to rehearsal on the number 13 bus – politicians are crazy…. kinda crazy…. just like life. Cos’ ‘life is a ‘Long Distance Runaround.’ And another one for Squire – ‘The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)’ a repeating, hypnotic sound overlaid by Anderson’s vocals. A woman is quite literally screaming from above in the tiers. On multiple occasions.

ARW - LIVE IMAGE - RICK 1 - PHOTOGRAPHER FRED KUHLMAN (800)

And then a prog rock opeth ‘ Awaken’, 20 odd minutes plus from Wakeman dabbling the ivories, Anderson’s vocals and playing a mini portable harp. The set itself may be simple but watching each band member perform each demonstrating their exemplary musical prowess, really is quite mesmerizing and enthralling. A full rapturous applause and standing ovation completes the song. It sounds a bit daft to say “…and here’s ‘the hit'” – but here is indeed, the track everyone knows ‘ Owner of a Lonely Heart.’ And as it rolls on, Wakeman, still wearing his Wizard cape, and with portable keyboard, comes off the stage and walks right round the auditorium, stopping to say hi and having his picture taken in the electronic era of selfies.

Quick break and to complete the night – ‘Roundabout.’

Wow. ARW + Pomeroy and Molino III in a celebration of YES music, to the highest possible performance level. They had a blast on stage, the fans had a musical mesmerising blast. I’m sure Squire was watching from the gods and loving every single moment, with a big grin on his face.  This tour is just a handful of dates in the UK whether you be a Wakeman, Anderson, Rabin or YES (in a variety of eras) fan, I truly hope you got your tickets. If not there is more to come, a brand new and shiny ARW album in the pipeline. Go be enveloped in the mesmerising world of YES – the Anderson, Rabin, Wakeman way.

Setlist:
Cinema
Perpetual Change
Hold On
I’ve Seen Good People
Lift Me Up
Rhythm of Love
Heart of the Sunrise
Changes
Long Distance Runaround
The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)
Awaken
Owner of a Lonely Heart

Encore:
Roundabout

 

 

One Response to “ARW: An Evening of YES Music @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – 13 March 2017”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Like you I was there, I love yes and tonight took me back to the first time I saw them on the Going for the one tour at the Bingley Hall. Taking in ABWH tours, the Union gig at the NEC and several other versions of YES ( not the non-Jon lot) this gig was up there with them all. At 72 Jon’s voice is still spine tingling these guys are master musicians in the true meaning of the word. Great review.

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