Jon Anderson & Rick Wakeman

October 27, 2011
Palace Theater
Albany, NY

Review by Dave Gardiner
Photos by Stanley Johnson

An autumn snowfall covered Albany, NY, and contributed to the warm atmosphere created by Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman inside the Palace Theater. A small crowd was invited to move down into empty seats in front of the stage and, except for the distorted, 2001 Horn Odyssey, semi-classical introduction, the theme of the show remained intimate and pure — just Anderson and Wakeman on the spare arrangements of songs from their new album, The Learning Tree, as well as distilled versions of Yes classics.

Anderson’s voice was constant and controlled throughout, keeping to a comfortable range that highlighted his lyrics. On a simple stage in front of a black curtain and flickering artificial candles (the opposite of some of the elaborate stage sets from the heyday of Yes), Anderson had two guitars at his disposal and Wakeman was behind two keyboards, including a Roland XB Fantom for piano and a Korg M3 for organ and synthesizer parts.

The two began with “Starship Trooper,” from the 1971 Yes album, which was my introduction to the band (I saw them a year later for the first time in Syracuse, NY, with their then-new keyboard player Rick Wakeman). From there, they went back to the 1970 album Time And A Word for “Sweet Dreams,” where I was pulled in by Anderson’s clear and rich voice that so defined the Yes sound.

Wakeman played brilliant keyboards all evening and did not visit his substantial solo catalog, instead focusing on The Learning Tree, a collaboration of earthy, wooden music with a real, natural theme.

This has always been a part of Yes music, although it was often obscured by progressive virtuosity of the members. The stripped-down, simplified arrangements helped the old and new blend into a new, yet familiar sound. The only people who may have been disappointed were those who came expecting to hear a new version of Yes (and you could tell who they were by their “Free Bird”-style shouts for the radio standards).

Less expected was the funny stage banter and back and forth with the audience. Wakeman was hilarious at times, completely the opposite of the quiet, serious keyboardist he was most of the show. At one point, after a humorous comment from an audience member and Wakeman’s rejoinder, Anderson couldn’t stop laughing and had to restart a song. Yes shows were never this funny.

They finished up the night with a three-song encore of “Roundabout,” “Soon” and “The Meeting,” from the Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe album. Even as a new version of Yes carries on, it’s doubtful they’re playing a lot of the songs I heard tonight. And if they are, they are sorely missing the key elements of Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman.

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