YES ARW: Greek Theatre 8.29.18

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Yes ARW: August 29th, 2018—

After a two hour set, which started at 7:45 PM, Jon Anderson—who looked as great as he sounded—closed the show with his message, to “give love each day.” It won’t sound romanticized to longtime Yes fans to consider that this is what he has been doing for over 40 years, through the gift of his voice and lyrics, which seem to be divinely channeled for the purpose of transporting us to higher realms.

Yes splintered— 

Tension had been increasing since the death of founding member and bassist, Chris Squire, in 2015. So, it wasn’t a huge surprise when Yes splintered into two versions of itself, after their Hall of Fame induction, just last year. This lineup, with Jon Anderson on vocals; Trevor Rabin on guitar and Rick Wakeman on keys; Lee Pomeroy on bass and Louis Molino on drums, goes by the name, Yes, featuring ARW, with the acronym standing for the three original members.

An Assessment: Jon Anderson & Jon Davison—

As exuberantly noted in our review of the other Yes faction, who we had just seen with Steve Howe, Alan White, and Jon Davison, at LA’s Ford Theatre, we were more than accepting of Davison on vocals, despite the resistance of many other Yes fans, and still believe he is the one to carry on Yes’ mission and sound for the next generation. For now, the world is better for having both.

This is a story of the teacher and the apprentice. It is the story of a fine craftsman at work. It is a tribute and a salute to Jon Anderson, whose craft is his song. It is a lesson in mastery. It is a tale of The Grand Duke and The Count, where Anderson is Duke and Davison is Count… Or, the Shogun and the Samurai, though the teaching is indirect. And if they were to spar, we can well imagine them humbly bowing in deep respect to one another.

Those in audience on this night, under the faintly illuminated stars at LA’s Greek Theatre, were watching a consummate performer at his craft. Although it may seem trite to point to the most commercialized of offerings, it was “Roundabout” that made this most evident.

The Assessment Continues: Roundabout—

Roundabout was one of only a few songs that both lineups played…and it was the one they both saved for last. As if by some unseen, but divinely ordained appraisal by the high court in the sky…it became the ultimate test. The final battle. The concluding duel.

It was the only song our little angel, Davison faltered on, but by official cosmic decree, it had to be played. The people want to hear it. Well…Anderson soared, as he did on every song. He freewheeled through the air. He performed elegant pirouettes and light-footed chassés, with his seemingly ageless, crystalline voice. And so, at the final moment, we see the color of the mantle and cross…the master is revealed.

The Assessment Continues: Howe & Rabin—

As it happens, “Roundabout” would confirm another impression…one which, like a whispered confession, we divulged with some hesitation to one another, after only a few songs in: Rabin was the true weak link in this lineup. Despite the years he has been with Yes, it became painfully clear that without Howe holding the reins, his one man guitar show was lacking in shimmer and shine. On song after song, we continued to notice that all the special little twinkling accents went missing…all the perfectly placed twangs and impeccable little plucks, like exquisite seasonings dashed in just the right amount in just the right places…all the extras that give Yes their virtuosity, simply went missing. The fairy dust had been swept away.

In place of the majestic white horse that could whinny proudly, while up on its two hind legs, we had a little pony. Where Howe went from lap-steel to Fender to Gibson, in a heartbeat, or sometimes two at a time…depending on the texture he needed at the moment, Rabin never once switched out his one trusted guitar, “old faithful.” A one trick pony. If you think this is unfair, or if you have any doubts…watch Steve Howe play this song on the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, with Geddy Lee on bass, and Rabin on second guitar.

On the way home, with iphone recordings in tow, we scrolled through video clips from last month’s show at The Ford, with Howe & Davison. There it was! “Roundabout” in full. Howe’s attention to detail was so fresh and so immediately apparent. All the enchanting acoustic strums were as they should be. All the little particulars that Rabin left behind, sparkled forth with precision in Howe’s dexterous hands.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYA97-csEfI
(Yes ARW: “Roundabout” Live)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUJz5SlVWaY
(Yes with Davison & Howe: “Roundabout” Live)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1-NsnlPc54
(Yes with Geddy Lee on bass: “Roundabout” Live at Hall of Fame Induction)

Awaken—

Running over 15 minutes long, and described by Anderson himself, as an epic piece of music, “Awaken” is, like so many Yes songs, about nothing less than human transcendence. It began with Anderson on his harp…soon joined by Wakeman’s unmistakeable toy piano-like riff in minor chords, which together, create a feeling of suspense, like the gap inbetween incarnations…the bardo…while waiting in the wings to meet God.

As Anderson himself, has explained, the lyrics were inspired by the book, The Singer: A Classic Retelling of Cosmic Conflict by Calvin Miller.

All of this suspense, while drummer, Molino, adds drama, by hitting his tom-toms with cannon-fire thuds, done with super-padded drumsticks. Wakeman begins to add embellishments, and the chords lighten; the somber, almost ominous minor key gives way to major…like the curtains opening. The air becomes thinner. And Anderson’s voice sails above the pressure line in the atmosphere…soaring now, effortlessly, up to the angels’ gate…as if to say, “I’ve triumphed over the trials and tribulations of this lifetime… I’ve passed the test.” And as he sings:

High vibration go on
to the sun, oh let my heart dreaming
past a mortal as me.
Where can I be?
…he takes us into the mystical realm, into ecstacy…into timelessness.

And you and I—

Anderson clinked his tingshas—Tibetan ritual chimes, and thus began “And You and I.” This magnum opus of a song is a dedication to our collective reunion with the divine. The first thing any longtime Yes fan (what other kind is there?) would notice is, again…Howe’s missing acoustic accents. But nonetheless, he sang:

And you and I climb over the sea to the valley
And you and I reached out for reasons to call

The music then changes. The story changes…for that’s what Yes songs offer…a story. Not just a story, but an allegory, one which offers its willing listener a glimpse of truth…a glimmer of meaning…a glistening forth of the essence of life, itself.

The climb that Anderson sings about, evokes the sense of the grand ascent toward reunion with God…or liberation of spirit, if the “G” word doesn’t suit. But, the cosmic dance is a snaky one, fraught with twists and turns and constant set backs. As Anderson puts it, it is a spiral aim. The Buddhists call it samsara…the constant struggle that is part and parcel of human existence. Life and death, itself. Thank God! Infinite chances to try…try again. Life and death…found in every single breath we take, in this demented world of illusion.

Illusion…because “it” was right there within us, all along. Like the scarecrow and his heart. And hence, Anderson sings:

All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you…
And the You and I is…all of us.

But, as long as we are caught in the world of illusion…maya…we don’t see the splendor that was here, all along. Anderson calls this “the eclipse.” The chords then darken…imparting the continuance of our personal struggle. And he sings:

reach out as forward tastes begin to enter you

A moment of Self realization. Enlightenment. God is within, was within, all along. What a futile search!

The music then soars, and we climb… up, up into ecstasy, into the beyond. Anderson again clings the tingshas—two miniature cymbals held by a string—waking us up from the dream. Just as Zen Master hits the bell with the padded stick…and boom…instant enlightenment…satori!

But, we are held in the whirl of the cosmic dance, in the ongoing karmic waves of life and death. This movement is conveyed through the stillness that swells up in the form of an acoustic major chord. It is a new turn in the journey of life. In this way, it is a suite, rather than merely a song. This moment suggests the feeling of finally reaching altitude…steady…like flying on a giant wave in the cosmos. And he sings:

Sad preacher nailed upon the colored door of time
Insane teacher be there reminded of the rhyme
There’ll be no mutant enemy we shall certify
Political ends as sad remains will die
Reach out as forward tastes begin to enter you
Oooh, ooh

reach over the sun for the river
And you and I climb, clearer towards the movement

Wakeman’s ascending triads and triplet rhythms express the jagged spiritual journey, alluded to in this opus…impelling a magnificent triumph over each downfall and over time itself, as the echoing chords skip and soar and swirl around one another, creating energy and motion and mimicking the continual drive toward ecstasy and rapturous joy.

SET LIST—

  1. Cinema
  2. Hold On
  3. I’ve Seen all Good People
  4. Changes
  5. And You and I
  6. Rhythm of Love
  7. Perpetual Change
  8. Lift Me Up
  9. I Am Waiting
  10. Heart of the Sunrise
  11. Awaken
  12. Owner of a Lonely Heart
  13. Roundabout (Encore)
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Steely Dan—L.A. Forum 2018

Steely Dan took the stage at 9:25 PM, with their multimember band, including a four-piece horn section and backup singers, “The Danettes,” clad in matching little black dresses. Fagan followed. From the first verse of the uptempo, swing-infused “Bodhisattva,” it was clear he was going to be a wild card, with The Danettes taking what seemed to be an ever-growing piece of the vocal pie.

Nonetheless, this fast-paced, super caffeinated jump-blues piece mobilized everyone. Bebop scales, but cloaked in a pop overcoat. The slightly fuzzed out rockabilly rhythm guitar is layered over by the persistence of the keys, which together build into a lush frenzied fervor as the trombone and reverberating lead guitar trade solos; Jon Herington doing justice to the original solo, famously laid down by Denny Dias, in the studio cut, while Keith Carlock held the whole thing together on drums with a shuffle-style groove…culminating into an ecstatic crescendo.

As long-time Steely Dan fans, we are reticent to confess our shared glances and raised eyebrows of uncertainty as to whether Fagan’s vocal chops could hold the act together, as a lonestar bandleader—although it is no secret that this has always been the band’s weak spot. But, what may have been the necessary salt in the stew, in earlier times, seemed more like faltering now.

This started to become evident in the lyrically seductive, “Aja,” which found him frequently coasting under the notes. Nonetheless, this lush masterpiece of a song—either an ode to LSD or to the beauty of life with a woman you love—was carried by the band, as a whole. Soaked in Jazz chords and peppered with Chinese accents, but bound together with eastern tinged ligatures…it’s a serpentine meandering from soft and wavy to frisky and playful. It’s an adventure in some far-away land, taking you through multicolored, imaginary landscapes where you’re first lost in reflective, rainy day musings, before finding yourself suddenly whirling through an Asian marketplace.

“FM,” “Time Out of Mind” and “Kid Charlemagne” were standouts, as was the lesser known “Green Earrings,” which walks the edge between prog-tinged rock and jazz funk. Delivered impeccably, and supporting its narrative of stealing, it captures both the deviousness and the thrill of the act, with its driving, supercharged rhythm. Punctuated with Thelonious-like, off-time beats, then caressed by a creamy guitar solo. Together, suggesting the twisted satisfaction of a deed accomplished…as the lyrics say: “Sorry, angel I must take what I see.”

A fair lot of Fagan’s and Becker’s lyrics capture the tales of eccentrics and misfits—this has been duly noted elsewhere. But an equally interesting study is the mood that Steely Dan creates, through their varied and complex, but polished compositions …a conflictive kind of liberation, in spite of their characters’ woes, losses and lack of resolution; a delicious surrender, alongside the weariness. Melodies that are at once wistful and swollen with nostalgia, but warm and sensual, as their wu major chord effortlessly glides into that magical, and oh, so recognizable, Steely Dan dreamland.

Fagan and Co. rolled through a handful of radio favorites, like the playful pop riff of Peg, played mighty nicely, albeit sans Michael McDonald, whose warm backup vocals give the song its characteristic feel and depth of color, in the studio version. The paradoxically bright toned Black Cow—considering the subject matter of a dissolving relationship—was a highlight. Its layers of glossy textures and flirtatious saxophone, intermingling with Fagan’s keys, like glazing tones in a watercolor, seamlessly blending and playing with one another.

Finishing the night was an encore that included “Reeling in the Years” and an instrumental.