At a time when the progressive rock band Yes should be basking in its 40ish-year anniversary, there is unwelcome controversy stemming from the touring band’s replacement of singer Jon Anderson with Benoit David, the singer from Yes tribute act Close to the Edge.
The impetus was a case of acute respiratory failure that hit Anderson last year. Instead of awaiting Anderson’s recovery, the band decided to tour with David.
Reportedly — and understandably — Anderson, who has quite literally been the “voice of Yes” for most of the past 40 years, was not pleased with the band’s decision. Anderson has recovered, but Yes continues to tour with David, currently in the United Kingdom.
Anderson embarked on a solo acoustic mini-tour in July and August, and we’re fortunate that, after a short break, he graced the stage at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club Sunday night in Santa Barbara. In a show dubbed “Have Guitar, Will Travel,” Anderson accompanied himself primarily on guitar while singing excerpts of many classic tracks from the Yes catalog, plus some new songs and a few songs from his collaboration with Greek composer/keyboardist Vangelis of Chariots of Fire fame.
Sunday’s concert started on a high note (pun intended, given Anderson’s contra-tenor range) with two undisputed classic Yes tracks, “Yours Is No Disgrace” from 1971’s The Yes Album, and “Long Distance Runaround” from 1972’s Fragile. While it was initially somewhat strange to hear these songs without the instrumental flourishes from Yes’ other musicians, they were quite effective in their stripped-down versions, a testament to Anderson’s skill as a songwriter.
Anderson then went further back in time to Yes’ underrated second album, 1970’s Time and a Word, playing “Sweet Dreams” and a totally rearranged reggae-influenced version of the title track. The latter started with Anderson struggling to find the right note, but quickly hit its stride with its Sting-sings-Yes vibe and lyrical quotes of The Beatles’ “She Loves You” and “All You Need is Love,” and Hal David and Bruce Bacharach’s “What The World Needs Now Is Love.” The word is “love,” indeed.
Anderson mentioned getting sick in his introduction to the new song “Under Heaven’s Door,” which included poignant lyrics such as “never gonna let the small stuff get me down” and “couldn’t be happier than I am today,” both of which drew hearty applause from the adoring audience. It was one of a few songs for which Anderson used a strumstick as accompaniment, a rich-sounding three-stringed instrument based on an Appalachian dulcimer.
Next up was “I’ll Find My Way Home,” a track co-written with Vangelis, which Anderson explained was composed in (successful) response to the record company’s demand for a hit single.
Three more Yes songs followed, including a show highlight when Anderson sang “All we are saying / Is give peace a chance” while the audience sang the “Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda’s” from “I’ve Seen All Good People.” The others were an abbreviated “Nous Sommes Du Soleil” from 1974’s epic Tales from Topographic Oceans, and “Starship Trooper,” with a bridge that Anderson had some trouble with but eventually nailed to roaring approval.
After the uplifting new song “Unbroken Spirit of Mine,” Anderson tackled Yes’ 1983 comeback hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” which replaced precise electronic sounds with a driving acoustic guitar rhythm. Next was a piano medley that touched on different songs from Anderson’s career, then a return to guitar for “And You And I” from 1972’s Close to the Edge.
Three more new songs followed, including the infectious “Music is God,” and the autobiographical “Tony and Me” based on Anderson’s adventures in his pre-Yes band with his brother Tony. The latter included musical quotes from The Beatles’ “She Loves You,” the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Susie” and The Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda.”
In the middle, Anderson told a story of how a young, unknown Joe Cocker joined them onstage for a rousing version of “Hit the Road Jack” in Sheffield, and how they came across a box on the road that they nicked and were disappointed to discover contained 500 pairs of extra-large underpants. The main set ended with the Vangelis-co-written “State of Independence.”
Anderson returned for an encore that began with a cool, somewhat-bluesy version of “Roundabout” from Fragile, and ended with a heavenly version of “Soon” from Yes’ 1974 prog masterpiece Relayer. (OK, I know I’m in the minority here, but I’ll go on record claiming that Relayer is Yes’ best album.)
It was a joy to witness Anderson’s good-natured spirit and heartfelt singing throughout the evening. There was certainly no sign of bitterness toward his bandmates from Yes, or of strain on his vocals from his sickness. Let’s hope Anderson’s voice remains strong for many years to come.
Yours Is No Disgrace
Long Distance Runaround
Time and a Word
Under Heaven’s Door
I’ll Find My Way Home
I’ve Seen All Good People
Nous Sommes Du Soleil
Unbroken Spirit of Mine
Owner of a Lonely Heart
Close to the Edge
Children of the Light
Marry Me Again
The Revealing Science of God
And You And I
Count Your Blessings
Music Is God
Tony and Me
State of Independence