ARW are deep into their set when Jon Anderson addresses their 4,000-strong audience. We’re all ears, all in the palm of his small, time-proof hand. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Chris Squire,” he says, and recalls their first conversation in the late 60s, miming looking up to his tall old friend, as if to a giant. “He was my brother,” he adds, with love uncloying.
Half a century on, Yes© are still a going concern, but under this acronym, these pivotal Yes men are back playing that music. Squire’s passing may have both galvanised and cast a shadow over this most tantalising of re-Unions, but this first European date of their ‘Evening Of Yes Music And More’ tour is a source of true joy.
To a roaring reception, Rick Wakeman ambles on, resplendent in de rigueur cape, Trevor Rabin’s all smiles as he Strats up, and they couldn’t have asked for a finer rhythm section. From the intro of opener Cinema, drummer Lou Molino III and bass supremo Lee Pomeroy (knowingly brandishing a white Rickenbacker) will be subtly devastating tonight, matching their patrons at every turn.
Anderson enters, beaming with cosmic bonhomie, and steps up to the mic on his foot‑high riser for Perpetual Change. He looks great – 72 years young, with enviable hair, skinny jeans and boots, black suit jacket and T-shirt. Eyes closed, he offers inaudible exhortations to the muses, swaying in time with the song’s rhythmic chicanes, getting into the Yes zone as the decades fall off him.
It’s only the band’s second show of 2017 and there’s some forgivable rust at first. The house sound is thin, and Rabin takes a while to find his stage legs, his fleet-fingered guitar lines lost in the mix, his backing vocals a tad scattershot. But with a robust read of Hold On, the gremlins are banished, and the evening takes full, monumental shape.
Union’s Lift Me Up works really well. Pomeroy shines on The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus) and Heart Of The Sunrise, the stage burning auroral orange behind him. The layered harmonies of I’ve Seen All Good People lift the room, with Rabin screwing his nose up at his out-of-tune acoustic guitar as if at a bad fart, hastily swapping it for his trusty Strat. His real triumph is on And You And I and Long Distance Runaround, as he synthesises a pleasing chimera of his processed, FX-heavy guitar style and Steve Howe’s organic, hollow-body aesthetic.
Encaged by four stacked banks of Korgs, Yamahas and Moogs, Wakeman seems as stoic as a publican checking the pressure of his kegs, but then he bursts into an extraordinarily potent solo that sounds like the organ of St Paul’s itself.
Dad jokes and divorces, capes and curries aside, he remains a redoubtable musician, and lays down another bucket-list cadenza on Rhythm Of Love, a rocker that Anderson gives his all on. “I need to lie down with a cup of tea and a biscuit!” he says afterwards, regretting the lack of an intermission this Sunday evening, and only half joking.
When there are two incarnations of a band and one of them has the original singer in it, and he’s on this kind of form, there really is no contest.
Tonight’s centrepiece is Awaken, from Going For The One. Armed with a mini-harp and a shamanic tambourine, Anderson’s off again, singing like a dream, tuning into the vibrations of the universe and blowing it kisses as he goes. Wakeman’s hands flash across his piano in grand, baroque flourishes, Rabin’s guitar ebbs and swells, and Molino takes mallets to his kit, the full orchestral shebang. There’s meandering brilliance, innate musicianship and spiritual delivery – for 15 enrapturing minutes we’re closer to golden-era Yes than anyone could have ever hoped. The band and crowd are at one in the moment. It borders on the sublime, and its standing ovation is beyond deserved.
On the inevitable Owner Of A Lonely Heart, Wakeman dons a keytar, and he and Rabin do a crowd-pleasing circuit of the audience. They duel as they go, stopping to pose for the forest of phone cameras that grows around them, and channelling Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love as they head back for a happy-clappy encore of Roundabout.
They bow their goodbye to deafening applause, now ready for Europe, Japan and, well, the future. And they leave such a positive charge in the room, it’s emotional.
The past is gone, and you can’t wait to hear what these recharged legends are going to do next. You want to believe there’s a giant looking right back down at them, with uncloying love of his own.