Nearing the 50-year anniversary of its 1968 formation in London, iconic progressive rock band Yes suffered a fracture in 2008, splitting into two separate acts that continue to feature longtime members. The only reuniting since was a one-off performance in April, at the 2017 Yes induction ceremony into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
One current version, still simply called Yes, tours and records with guitarist/vocalist Steve Howe (who replaced original guitarist Peter Banks in 1970) and drummer Alan White (who replaced original drummer Bill Bruford in 1972).
Yet the other lineup, Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman, features the lone remaining original member in Anderson, whose soaring alto voice, songwriting and all-around musicianship give this unit — with guitarist/vocalist Rabin, keyboardist Wakeman, bassist/vocalist Lee Pomeroy and drummer/vocalist Lou Molino III — extra legitimacy.
The quintet appeared before a near-capacity crowd at the Kravis Center’s Dreyfoos Hall in West Palm Beach on Friday night, and delivered a solid, comprehensive collection of highlights from the Yes catalog. Still working on its debut recording since 2011, this Yes featured crowd-pleasing material exclusively from the band’s critical and commercial apex during the ’70s and ’80s.
Still, the two-hour show was not without surprises. Rabin didn’t join Yes until 1983, when he replaced Howe in a revamped lineup. Yet the quintet opened with “Perpetual Change,” a lengthy, mercurial Howe showcase from his first recording with the band (The Yes Album, 1971). Anderson’s age-defiant voice, at 72, still proved to be in fine form; Pomeroy instantly proved to be a double-threat by reinterpreting the bass lines and backing vocals of original member Chris Squire (1948-2015), and Rabin displayed his recurring ability to incorporate a different guitar sound — more processed, and less classically influenced than Howe’s — into making such time-honored material his own.
The wizardly Wakeman, resplendent in his recognizable cape, had early difficulties with his synthesizer electronics, and the overall sound started out muddy. Things improved by the subsequent “Hold On,” from Rabin’s first release with Yes, the commercially successful 90125 (1983). Rabin and Pomeroy harmonized well with Anderson on its choruses, and the guitarist’s lengthy final solo incited raucous applause from the audience.
From there, it was back to the early ’70s for another unexpected gem, “South Side of the Sky” from the 1972 LP Fragile, Wakeman’s first with Yes. Molino cued its opening thunderclap via an electronic pad, and the keyboardist’s unaccompanied middle piano solo showcased classically influenced nuances that would help to define the Yes sound through the remainder of that decade.
“Aah, it’s time for me to lean back,” said Anderson afterward, his eyes closed. “Maybe have a cup of tea and a biscuit. But not quite yet.” A dramatic reading of “And You and I,” the ballad from Close To the Edge (1972), followed. Wakeman was in his orchestral element throughout on synthesizers, and Rabin recovered from a misplaced note during his opening solo to deliver another thoughtful reinterpretation of Howe’s original blueprint.
The back-and-forth era choices continued with “Changes” (from 90125) and “Rhythm of Love” (from that album’s 1987 follow-up, Big Generator). Rabin sang lead and played another banner solo on “Changes” while Anderson played acoustic guitar, and Molino created four-part vocal harmonies with Anderson, Rabin and Pomeroy on the pop-influenced “Rhythm of Love,” the highlight of which was Wakeman’s solo on Moog synthesizer.
The show’s middle portion dipped in energy, largely due to the inclusion of “Awaken,” the closing number from the 1977 album Going For the One. More than 15 minutes long initially, this lineup’s version stretched to more than 20, with Anderson playing harp, lengthy breaks by Wakeman and Rabin, and the guitarist teaming up with Molino to play the drum kit with mallets.
Perhaps the evening’s best performance came courtesy of “Heart of the Sunrise,” the shape-shifting epic that closes the Fragile album. The first of a couple showcases for the lesser-known members of the rhythm section, it featured creative accents by Molino and a fiery solo by Pomeroy, all during the piece’s high-degree-of-difficulty sections and serpentining changes. Much of the audience delivered a standing ovation afterward.
When Yes received its long-overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, its eight inductees were Anderson, Rabin, Wakeman, Howe, White, Squire (posthumously), Bruford, and original keyboardist Tony Kaye, who didn’t attend. And all other surviving members other than the retired Bruford performed the two songs that Yes would close this show with. Inducted by Rush bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, Yes finally said hello, Cleveland! as Howe played bass on “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and Lee played bass on “Roundabout.”
“Owner of a Lonely Heart” was the 1983 smash hit that introduced much of the world to a more processed, produced and concise Yes sound through the lineup of Anderson, Rabin, Squire, Kaye and White. Initially a side group called Cinema, but renamed because of recording label pressures, the ’80s Yes was less a progressive rock than a heady pop group. But to this lineup’s credit, it found ways to transform the omnipresent piece on this night.
Wakeman played most of the tune in a classic spread-eagle pose, with arms outstretched on different keyboards, and Rabin delivered yet another telling solo as the quintet transformed the poppy hit into a lengthy jam. For much of the evening, the left-handed Pomeroy had interpreted the late Squire’s complex bass lines by playing with a pick on his Rickenbacker instrument. But midway through his extended solo, he dropped the pick to play finger-style, including funk-influenced slap patterns with his thumb.
Molino then took an unaccompanied solo. A grounded, rudimental player more in the mold of White (otherwise the sole Yes drummer since 1972) than the mercurial, jazz-influenced Bruford, he especially displayed impressively even rapid-fire footwork through the use of his double-bass drum pedals. Afterward, Rabin and Wakeman, now playing a portable keyboard on a strap around his neck, exited their respective sides of the stage to walk past the crowd up each aisle, jam along from the back of the room, and return. The element of surprise then increased as the band segued into, and Anderson sang, verses from “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream — the British blues-rock trio of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker that was the rock antithesis of Yes circa the late ’60s.
It was a performance that richly deserved an encore, and the crowd stood and pleaded for the expected “Roundabout.” An eight-and-a-half-minute opening track on Fragile, the modern progressive chestnut proved so infectious in 1972 that it was edited down to half its length to accommodate 45-rpm vinyl and become a hit single. And Rabin again proved his mettle, transposing Howe’s original acoustic guitar intro to accommodate his electric instrument via effects pedals and volume swells.
A heavier version than the original recording, the rollicking rock standard chugged throughout via Wakeman’s signature middle organ solo, four-part vocal harmonies by Anderson, Rabin, Pomeroy and Molino near the coda, and the guitarist’s dramatic decrescendo to the final, extended flourish.
Little is said among the Yes factions about the opposite lineup, but the lines appear to have been drawn by Anderson and Howe, who now performs with White, vocalist/guitarist Jon Davison, keyboardist Geoff Downes and bassist/vocalist Billy Sherwood. With two releases since 2011, the latter lineup gets the advantage in new original material, even though it also qualifies as a nostalgia act because it won’t play any of the material from Rabin’s 1983-1994 stretch, during which he was a principal songwriter.
Downes has been an on-and-off Yes participant since 1980, and Sherwood a recurring touring member for more than two decades. Along with White and the practically inimitable Howe, the other Yes lineup is even more rich in tenure than its counterpart, even with decorated Yes-men Wakeman and Rabin.
Yet it’s Anderson who tips the scale over the gifted singer and capable mimic Davison as the senior member of both lineups (Wakeman is 68, Rabin 63, Howe 70 and White 68). Especially on a night like this, when the lone original member of either side’s choir-worthy voice, and complex multi-instrumental skills, guided what’s likely the greatest progressive rock band of all time.