Yes Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, and Rick Wakeman (plus Lee Pomeroy and Louis Molino III), Live at Ravinia, Highland Park, Illinois, September 7, 2018
I’ve Seen All Good People
And You and I
Rhythm of Love
Lift Me Up
I Am Waiting
Heart of the Sunrise
Owner of a Lonely Heart (with a portion of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love)
Summer 2018 has been the summer of Yes. With two versions of the band touring the United States, fans have been treated to a double helping of fantastic music. I saw the official Yes in Grand Rapids a few months ago (see my review here). Seeing Yes featuring Anderson, Rabin, and Wakeman was a great way to compare the two groups while getting to see a few progressive rock legends.
I had never seen Jon Anderson or Rick Wakeman (or Trevor Rabin, for that matter) live before this show. I’ve watched old live footage, but it isn’t the same. Jon Anderson is over 70, yet he sounds absolutely fantastic – maybe better than he did a decade ago. He didn’t miss any notes, and he looked like he was having the time of his life. Rick Wakeman hasn’t slowed down at all, and watching him play his eight or nine keyboards was a blast.
Yes featuring ARW had a much different vibe than the Yes show with Steve Howe and company. With that show, I expected nothing but prog played as it was presented on the albums. With ARW, I expected to hear more of the 80s cra… err music. Generally, they were true to the album recordings, but they in no way felt tied them – especially the more progressive songs. It should surprise no one to hear me say that Steve Howe is a much better and more diverse guitarist than Trevor Rabin is. Rabin is very good, but his style is much more comparable to someone like Neal Schon from Journey than it is to Steve Howe. The prog songs, which were my favorite, still sounded great.
My favorite song of the setlist was “Awaken.” The other Yes played that at the Grand Rapids show, and I really enjoyed it. I remember being amazed at how well Alan White kept up with the repetitive melody of the song that is played during the long keyboard solo. ARW did a really cool spin on that with Jon Anderson playing that part with a small hand-held harp. This brought a completely different atmosphere to the song that was very interesting and enjoyable. Wakeman’s keyboards – primarily organs – during this section were absolutely stunning. The cape only made it better.
I’m not a fan of post-Drama 80s Yes, although it is considerably better than post-Hackett Genesis. “Owner of a Lonely Heart” is definitely not the best song Yes ever composed, but the band found a cool way to make it interesting. Towards the end, Wakeman donned a keytar, and he and Rabin started walking down the aisles of the pavilion. Wakeman ended up walking six or seven feet away from me, and the two met towards the middle and decided to sit in an empty box seating area and start jamming with the fans all around. This was probably twenty feet from me, although the swarm of fans made it difficult to see. Regardless, it made an aggressively mediocre song palatable to this prog snob.
The encore of “Roundabout” obviously pleased the crowd, and Wakeman’s keyboards were especially dominant in this rendition. The band did the whole show without an intermission, and they played for two hours before leaving the stage and returning for the encore. I found that impressive, especially considering Anderson is in his seventies and sang on every song and played instruments on many others.
This show was good, but it wasn’t perfect. The light show was pretty bad, especially compared to the official Yes 50th anniversary show I saw earlier this summer. That show had a very intricate and tasteful light show that matched the music. This show had extremely bright lights shining in my eyes periodically. The sound was also pretty bad – especially the bass. Lee Pomeroy had his tech running out on stage many times throughout the show, which was a shame because Pomeroy is obviously talented. I’d have to say that Billy Sherwood makes a better replacement for Squire, though. Pomeroy’s bass wasn’t nearly dominant enough in the mix. At times, the bass from Wakeman’s organs became overpowering and reverberated in an awkward way, although that only happened twice.
The worst part of the show had to do with the ushers, however. I’ve been to many Ravinia shows, and I’ve always greatly appreciated how the ushers refused to seat people during a song. If you come late, you normally have to wait until a break between songs. However, during this show they had people wandering up and down the aisles the entire time. I couldn’t even see the stage for the entirety of the first song because of people walking down the aisles. It was like watching a concert in the middle of a train station. Obviously this did not spoil the music, but it did keep me from concentrating on the band.
So who was better… Yes or Yes featuring ARW? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for. If you think Yes isn’t Yes without Jon Anderson, then ARW would be the answer. If you like a healthy mix of 80s pop Yes mixed with 70s prog Yes with slightly new interpretations, then ARW would be the answer. If you want progressive rock Yes that sounds just like the albums, then Steve Howe’s Yes is the better bet. If you’re like me (and if you are, I highly recommend visiting a doctor to cure yourself of that) then you appreciate the fact that there are two bands out there playing this amazing music. I enjoyed both concerts, and I would love to see both bands again in the future. ARW recently said they may have new music coming out by the end of this year, so that is certainly something to look forward to.
Yes is arguably the greatest prog band ever, and to hear integral members performing the music at such a high level – regardless of what the bands call themselves – is a real pleasure. If Yes and Yes featuring ARW are playing anywhere near you in the near future, definitely grab a ticket and go. You won’t be disappointed.