The Heroic Frontman—
The group called Yes, has split into two factions, Yes ARW, with Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, and Rick Wakeman; and Yes, with Steve Howe, Alan White, and Geoff Downes. There are original and senior members in both lineups. Here, we will focus on Yes, with new vocalist, Jon Davison, who serves as the focal point of this article.
Let us start with the naysayers, who proclaim that if you remove the front man, you’ve killed the band. We used to be part of the dissent. After all, the history here is not on Yes’ side. All one has to do is point to Van Halen, Queen, or The Doors. The frontman seems to be irreplaceable. It’s just not the same band, anymore, as the frontman embodies the band’s persona. But, hang on… exceptions do exist, as when Genesis took in Collins. A Trick of the Tail and Wind and Wuthering followed. Enough said.
In the case of Yes, some say that Davison is only there because he’s a Jon Anderson sound-alike, and more…that it’s demeaning to him, and insulting to the fans. Well, we’re not insulted. Our first and purest response was… Why not enjoy both? Without any pain of argumentation or justification, or analysis or elaboration… Why can’t they both exist in this universe as enjoyable entities?
But, for the sake of good sport and hopefully, fun and fruitful banter among music fans, we will elaborate.
We will start by addressing Paul Rigby, who feels that “often in a band there is an irreplaceable link, without whom the band loses its identity, no matter how much the remaining members might wish it were not so. Sometimes that band member is a vocalist. Sometimes it’s not.” He continues, “I think my romanticization, as you call it (of Jon Anderson), stems from what Anderson does to a Yes song when he sings it and how the magic drains away when Anderson-imitators have a go.”
While we enjoyed Rigby’s article and appreciate his point of view, we respectfully disagree. Firstly, his position carries a presupposition, from the get-go. How about if we don’t come into it thinking of him as an “imitator?” Perhaps, like a cherished musical play or performance of a classical concerto, we may look upon music of this caliber as timeless, to the point of overshadowing its original members altogether, in the sense that, no matter who delivers it, it has the capacity to continue on and shine. Granted, it may be a rare moon when the stars can align in such a way, but we think they have, in this case.
Ship of Theseus—
There is a thought experiment that we find relevant here, which explores the idea of identity. What makes you, you? Or, in this case, what makes a band, a band?
This question comes by way of the famous ship sailed by the hero, Theseus, which has been kept on display in a harbor, as an object of antiquity. As the years go by, all the planks begin to rot and are replaced, one by one, by new ones. After a century or so, all the parts have been replaced.
Is the “restored” ship still the same object as the original?
As an additional curiosity, suppose that each of the rotted pieces were stored away, and after many years, were restored and reassembled into a new ship. Is this “reconstructed” ship the original ship? And if so, is the restored ship in the harbor still the original ship, as well?
The analogy reflects back on our two versions of the group called Yes, both with claims of genuine identity.
The Ship of Theseus serves as a reminder to think of ourselves as works in progress, rather than as finished projects. Perhaps a band is also a work in progress. But it also asks us to reconsider the importance we place on continuity…where is the continuity? There are original members in each lineup, but even there, they are not the same people anymore, themselves. If identity change is slow and gradual, at what point can we all agree that enough parts have been changed so as to warrant the announcement of a changed identity?
Enough Mind Games—
The point is, we can’t and won’t agree. So, after the mental experiments are exhausted, we’re left with the heart…and the only question that matters to the heart, is…Do you like it? Do you feel anything in the presence of this performance? The answer to that, for us anyway, is…Yes.
But even with that said, a bit of magic happens in any art form, when something sincere and authentic is being expressed. And this something comes through, even in cases where some form of “duplication” is at work. Consider Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes…they worked because there is something new to say…there is something that needs to be expressed and it is beyond what the eye can see. In the case of music…it is heard, or better, felt. And it comes through the delivery when that delivery is heartfelt by the performers themselves…and then met by the receivers in like heartfelt openness. It’s a synergetic union.
All artists borrow. They’re all influenced by what came before. But in a new amalgamation, in space and time, newly embodied, freshly inspired and in complementary interaction with others, something fresh is born. But that offspring itself, is ever-changing and evolving. In this case, it’s the body of work, called the Yes catalogue, which will see many incarnations that may likely outlive its original creators. It’s constantly being newly created, anyway, even by they, themselves, each time they come together.
Because Davison feels what he is singing—and this was apparent to these viewers—it becomes his at that moment of delivery. During delivery, he wholly embodies the material and is wholly in that point in time, wholly present, in heart and mind, and therefore, the material is, at that instant, his. And when we join in as viewers, it is ours.
After all, even an original lineup can end up being a parody of itself, if uninspired and burned out. Meaning…”real” has to come from someplace else…some other ingredients than sameness of physical bodies.
Inside out…outside in…he sang, in “Perpetual Change,” and as his smooth falsetto soared first, into the ethers, the layers of musical patterns ballooned into a multi-textured phenomenon of rhythms and harmony, underscored by Howe’s steel guitar. And together, they ascended, in playful dance, like a regal spacecraft lifting off and gliding up toward the celestial spheres, with fluid and effortless lift toward transcendence.
So, to the notion that Jon Davison is merely “copying Jon Anderson,” there is so much more at work. Our experience was not one that was reduced to “copying.” He happens to be a right fit. Like when two lovers find each other. The chemistry is right…the conversation is right…the personalities are right…and a host of other things are right, that we will never even fully understand. He was born and gifted with that angelic voice…or, deeper than the voice…it’s the spirit that comes through the voice. And he seems to channel the spirit of Yes. He’s not not singing the words. His soul and his voice find themselves at home here. And so, a rendering is born.
And, like Thesius’ ship…why pick one: each ship, at this time, is a unique “event.” Nothing stays the same, ever; everything is in perpetual change.
The bottom line is, authenticity. To the naysayers, we’re here to be the other voice. And it was a sight to behold. He gets it. He really gets it. He understands he is standing with legends. And he will die with the distinction of having stood next to them…masters at their craft.
Yes’ Set List at the Ford Theater June 19th, 2018 (7:30PM-10:30PM)
Lineup: Steve Howe, Alan White, Geoff Downes, Billy Sherwood, Jon Davison (Guest: Tony Kaye)
1.Close to the Edge
4.Mood for a Day
6.Fly from Here
8.Heart of the Sunrise
10.Does it Really Happen
13.Yours is no Disgrace