It was 50 years ago this month that YES played their first ever gig in Essex, England. After all of this time, spanning twenty one studio albums, nearly as many lineup changes and interpersonal as well as professional strife, YES featuring ARW – Jon Anderson (vocals), Trevor Rabin (guitar/vocals) and Rick Wakeman (keys) – is heading back on the road on their third U.S. summer tour.
This version of the recently inducted Rock and Roll hall of Fame band, not to be confused with the Steve Howe “Yes Official” version, are supplemented by an all star rhythm section of Lee Pomeroy (bass) who just got off tour playing with Jeff Lynne’s ELO and Louis Molino III (drums), a long time Rabin collaborator, who has toured with everyone from Kenny Loggins to Julian Lennon and The Tubes.
YES featuring ARW started off their U.S. tour this past Saturday (8/25) at the infamous Whisky a Go-Go, where, in 1971 YES played one of their very first ever North American shows. These musical luminaries will then be hitting multiple stops through the western half of the United States, with 20 plus more dates planned for the rest of the US in 2019.
The evolution of the Anderson Rabin Wakeman era had its roots way back in 1983. Even casual fans remember when YES reformed with Trevor Rabin on guitar and vocals instead of Steve Howe (guitars) and original keyboardist Tony Kaye reappeared behind the keys, hereby creating an alternate universe where YES went in a more commercial musical direction with hits “Owner of A Lonely Heart” and “Changes.”
Anderson and Rabin continued to work together until the late 80’s, when Anderson, feeling a bit jaded by the direction the band was going, started working with Wakeman, Howe and original YES drummer Bill Bruford. They recorded an album under the moniker Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe and for a short time, there were actually TWO versions of YES.
In 1989/1990 after a few lawsuits filed from both sides in regards to the name, both bands settled their differences with a new album and tour. The album , appropriately titled Union and subsequent 80+ date world tour, not only gave the fans something very special, it also allowed Rabin and Wakeman to work together and bond musically. Rabin officially left Yes in 1995 following the lackluster reception for the 1994 album Talk. He then, became one of the most sought after composers in Hollywood, scoring movies for producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
YES continued to release albums and tour with various lineups including the ‘classic” lineup through 2004. After some time off, the band reconvened in 2008 for the planned Close to the Edge and Back 40th anniversary tour. On the eve of rehearsals featuring Oliver Wakeman stepping into his father’s shoes, Anderson was diagnosed with acute respiratory failure and the tour was scrapped.
The rest of YES went out on the road with a replacement singer, Benoit David from Canadian rock band Mystery and YES tribute band Close to the Edge. Anderson was left to wonder what his future had in store and while YES kept touring recording albums and continuing the tradition of ever changing lineups with Jon Davison on vocals, something happened in 2015 that sent shockwaves through the entire Yes community. Chris Squire, the Lynchpin that held together all incarnations of the band passed away from acute erythroid leukemia. Wakeman stated that “ following the very sad passing of Chris…it was the right time to get together and produce new music and perform some of the classic material as we feel it should be performed”.
Anderson Rabin and Wakeman formally launched in late 2015. Rabin took a much deserved break from scoring films and this new project was off and running. After being inducted into the Rock Hall in 2017, they announced their new name – YES featuring ARW. Considering this group has been around for over 50 years, and Jon Anderson sounds every bit as angelic as he did in the 70s….
Apart from the aforementioned Union, Wakeman and Rabin have never recorded together. Hopefully, that will change soon than later with rumors of new material on its way. Until then, let’s look at some songs from the Rabin era that could make an appearance on this tour and get the ‘Wakeman” treatment.
“Hearts” (90125, 1983)
Not played since the Ladder tour in 2000, YES fans flock to this album closer on 90125 that clocks in at a whopping 7:34. That’s hardly the first movement of some of the band’s older epics, but if there was a first bridge from the newfound pop sensibilities version of YES back to the Topographic gates of the 70’s -this was that bridge.
“Saving My Heart” (Union, 1991)
Originally written as a collaboration with former Supertramp vocalist Roger Hodgson, Rabin rearranged it slightly and was released as the follow up to Union’s lead single, “Lift Me Up.” While “Saving My Heart” didn’t chart as well as the pre-mentioned, “SMH” has a cool reggae undertone and deserves a second life.
“Endless Dream” (Talk, 1994)
“Endless Dream” is simply put the single most ambitious, complex and cinematic piece of music that the Anderson/Rabin era ever produced. Many fans would easily put this 15 minute, 3 part journey in the same league as “Awaken” (Going for The One) and “Ritual,” (Tales From Topographic Oceans) while others would call that statement “blasphemy.” Regardless, If they bust this one out, the flames of that debate can be fanned once again.
“Shoot High Aim Low” (Big Generator, 1987)
Fans will be shocked by dusting off this slow burning gem about the future of mankind beyond war. “Shoot High Aim Low” features more than of a few of those signature Rabin guitar solos that we came to love and secretly missed all those years while he was secretly becoming one of the most sought after and prolific film composers in Tinseltown.
“It Can Happen” (90125, 1983)
This early 80’s nugget has not played since the 902125 tour, as this gem has been begging from the beyond to come out again. Aside from its boisterous chorus, it features a nice vocal tug of war between Anderson and Squire. While Squire may be gone now, it would be a nice tribute to his memory to bring this fan favorite out of retirement.
And one Trevor Rabin solo song for good measure….
“Something to Hold On To” (Can’t Look Away, 1989)
YES featuring ARW still has tickets left for many cities including this Friday (8/31) in Phoenix, AZ. Check here for more tour info.
Live photos by Leslie Michele Derrough