“Seasons Will Pass You By, I Get up, I Get Down”
It’s all kind of weird when you cast your mind to it. Consider this turn of events. Jon Anderson is dropped from Yes as their vocalist; They replace him twice, not asking him back; Jon Anderson hits the road doing one-man shows; Jon Anderson plays in Sydney at a converted factory warehouse to a crowd of about 300. This is Jon Anderson, front-man for Yes for something like 39years.
So there we were – that’s KRK and Walk-off HBP and I – at the Factory Theatre. 1 week shy of 1 year since Yes came and played at the State Theatre. No spouses – they disdain our teenage attachments and frankly don’t get it. Oh well. Same as last year.
The support act was… I don’t want to be rude but much like a busker, who started bashing his originals out on an steel string guitar and made us walk out in the second song. It just wasn’t in us to sit through 45minutes of his set. Other people were more polite and stayed, but I can assure you the blunt, artlessness of the support guy was so awful, it set the bar very low for the rest of the night. Maybe this was a kind of blessing in disguise. We even considered maybe that was the point.
What’s Good About It
Jon Anderson’s stage persona is lighthearted and good natured. I won’t venture to hazard a guess at what he is like in private because, well we all know about the casualties of his iron fist in ruling Yes. Stories about how Peter Banks and Tony Kaye were got rid of, how Bill Bruford couldn’t take the process any more, and how Rick Wakeman was in and then out and in again and then out swapping Patrick Moraz in, then out (and Patrick still wants to play for Yes), all revolve around the difficulty of working with the man. Yet, here is the man, ousted from his domain, exiled with just an acoustic guitar or electric piano to accompany himself, singing his song catalogue, and all of it is a revelation. All of it!
Jon Anderson scats his way through the famous lines of songs such as ‘Starship Troopers’ and ‘Yours Is No Disgrace’, and it’s all quite fascinating because it reveals how he hears his own music. And it’s weirder than you think. He does what he calls a reggae rendition of ‘Sweet Dreams’ and a harmonically extended ‘Long Distance Runaround’ that doesn’t resemble the original recording at all – and it’s fresh and good.
The anecdotes about Chris Squire, Vangelis and jokes about Rick Wakemen are quite funny too. He also has a couple of cute stories about how he ran into Joe Cocker and Robert Plant way before any of them got to be famous.
He’s quite the seasoned show man unlike the awful support guy who just went on about his wife. This is a man who knows how to sell his songs to an audience. If you’re familiar with the Yes catalogue, it’s a night of great entertainment.
What’s Bad About It
This show was marred by a faulty DI Box. The sound guy kept winding in the wrong amount of reverb into Jon Anderson’s in-ear monitors so the show was the opposite of seamless. It was all unraveling seam, like an old baseball.
Also, Jon Anderson is not a master musician like his Yes colleagues. Still, he sure hit a lot of bum notes on the guitar. his technique was a strummy drone mixed with a dose of high school barre chord parade. It was good enough to accompany the songs, but only barely. The whole night had a precarious stop-start feel to it as a result.
As shows go, the anecdotes and jokes seem spontaneous but also underdone and haphazard. I’d sack the audio dude.
What’s Interesting About It
For a start, Jon Anderson’s notion of how Yes songs go are quite different to how they are on record when Yes play these songs. He plays them with a kind of folk-y strum and without the massively built up arrangements, the song expose themselves as rather innocuous, pretty, disarming melodies. If watching Yes play is like master class in how to play, then watching Jon Anderson work is like seeing an X-ray into the skeleton of Yes music. And as Yogi Berra said, you can observe a lot through watching.
When he sits at the Piano and sings the opening cantata from ‘Revealing Science of God’, you get the feeling that the harmonic relationship his voice has to the chords is only arbitrary and could be sung over any environment – which I’m sure is not true, musically speaking – and so he goes on to play the most bizarre inversions on piano while singing the bits he sang on the record, pretty much like the record.
The chords on half the song are not the chords played by the band so even when he sings the melody, just like on the album, the harmonic structure drifts into uncharted-weirdo terrain. If you didn’t have his voice and recognise the melody, you’d think it was a mad person babbling Yes phrases.
Which brings me to the strangeness of hearing the vocalist singing the melody without the band. Not to boast, but I’ve been listening to yes since I was a teen and I am an old fart now, I can tell you that their music is burned into my brain. So he would strum the guitar and sing over it, and I could hear the rest of the band in my head. It’s such a weird experience. In some ways, it’s very sad that it has come to this. He can still do it; but the band’s moved on without him, so he’s wandering the world like a minstrel, spreading peace, love and mung beans.
I’m pretty sure many of the early Yes songs originated from Jon Anderson strumming his acoustic guitar. These renditions sound very lived-in quite apart from the established versions we know so well. You can just imagine Jon Anderson marching in with these songs and the band being taken aback by the sheer primal rawness. Jon Anderson might think all that happened between his writing and Yes recording was dash of arranging, but in fact the distance between the versions is mind-warpingly immense.
The chords are so simple while Anderson sings these intricate melodies and you come to realise that he’s somehow plugged into the musical world in a primal way. That’s why the music just comes to him in this raw state. The apparent absence of finesse is off-set by the stripped back beauty of the songs. These humungous Yes songs actually have at heart these strummy little songs – if you want it to.
All night long, I kept thinking that the man was like somebody channelling music, more than building a performance. In that sense he is like a shaman of music; that is what he has made himself into.
Scales Of Economy
Maybe, I thought, this is one way for musicians to be in the future. Jon Anderson could have put together a ‘Jon Anderson band’ to replace Yes and tour with it, but he hasn’t. Of course, the financial risks are greater in doing so and perhaps not as rewarding. Traveling with a couple of guitars and a ukulele, while hiring the backline electric piano as he goes is probably lower risk and higher reward. It’s not that he’s regressed to an acoustic set up so much as progressed into a new method of traveling further with his music.
And as it was last year, the Yes audience is grey, old, fat and saggy. Newer fans are scant and far between. He can go further around the world to meet more and more fans who haven’t been able to see him live in the heyday. It makes some kind of sense.