Jon Anderson at Pabst Theater
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Contrary to popular giving-a-shit, the band Yes still actually exists, touring now with its second consecutive Yes tribute-band transplant singer, Jon Davison. (Benoît David, we hardly knew ye.) Bassist Chris Squire retains the rights to the name and is steadfast in his commitment to dispense with vocalists if they come down with a cold—just as long as he can make some dough dragging Steve Howe out of his crypt long enough to scowl his way through “Roundabout” and other assorted hits for a couple hours. Meanwhile, the man most associated with the Yes sound, original singer Jon Anderson, has recovered from the respiratory troubles that got him summarily dismissed in 2008. At the Pabst Theater on Sunday night, he sounded perhaps a bit raspy at times, but overall in fine voice and very much his old self, to the obvious delight of the packed lower level of diehards.
The elfin 67-year-old doesn’t seem to have aged much since his last Yes tour, and his vocal range still exceeds what could be considered normal for any male who has gotten past puberty. He spent the evening spinning yarns from his career, a curious number of which involved drugs (“As soon as I knew Paul McCartney took LSD, I had to take it,” he quipped at one point.) He also played all the expected Yes songs, plus quite a few lesser-known cuts from his personal catalog. Two tracks from Anderson’s 1976 solo debut, Olias Of Sunhillow, made an appearance, with the singer playing an Appalachian dulcimer and stomping on a digital bass drum pedal. Mercifully, the crowd wasn’t treated to anything from the painfully cheesy 1988 dud In The City Of Angels, but there were a few selections from albums Anderson recorded with Greek synthesizer weirdo Vangelis in the ’80s. Fans took it all in graciously, and many sang along politely with even the most obscure nuggets.
Anderson’s guitar and keyboard playing served, on one hand, to demonstrate just how impressive his old bandmates were. He’s no slouch, but he didn’t attempt any of Howe’s actual guitar parts, and he basically plunked out simple but effective jazzy motifs to accompany himself on a brief piano medley, which included portions of “Close To The Edge,” “Heart Of The Sunrise,” and “The Revealing Science Of God.” This was mainly a showcase for Anderson’s voice and personality, and his endearing positivity and lovey-dovey romanticism carried the show as much as the music, with the crowd frequently getting caught up in the act. There was a “Happy Birthday” sing-along for his wife, Jane, who was in the audience. A ramshackle run-through of “Starship Trooper” included Anderson and plenty of intrepid audience members scatting the iconic guitar solo. The crowd also pitched in by singing “Boom boom boom boom” during “The Light Of Love,” and managed some tolerable rhythmic clapping for “I’ve Seen All Good People.”
The best moments were just Anderson and a guitar, with interesting arrangements of Yes oldies like the robust “Yours Is No Disgrace,” the lost classic “Turn Of The Century,” “And You And I,” and show-closer “Soon.” The prospect of a reunion with the old gang might keep some fans hanging onto hope, but it was obvious from this performance that Anderson doesn’t need a band to keep his songs alive.