This past Wednesday, Kathy and I got to see Jon Anderson, normally the vocalist for Yes, perform a solo show.
Jon was scheduled to be on the last two Yes tours, but due to two severe asthma attacks and acute respiratory failure, he was unable to be on either tour. (Instead they brought along a singer who has performed with a popular Yes tribute band.) Doing better now, Jon recently did a tour of the UK with Rick Wakeman, and is now doing a solo tour of the U.S. and Canada.
The show was at the Orpheum Theatre, on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. It is a magnificent old Art Deco building, and often is used for small tours of progressive rock folks. We recently saw a Keith Emerson and Greg Lake (but no drummer) tour there.
Jon has a positive energy, despite his health challenges, that is palpable when he is on stage. I have no doubt that the name Yes was his idea.
Jon got to play his versions of many Yes songs, as well as a few non-Yes songs. He mainly played acoustic guitar, but he also played a bit of dulcimer and piano to accompany his singing.
When he sang the Yes material, the vocals were the same glorious vocals we hear on the albums, but the chords he played were COMPLETELY DIFFERENT! At one point, he explained that he was playing the songs “as I originally wrote them”.
This led me to imagine the Yes recording process starting with Jon recording his acoustic guitar and vocals, and then the band replacing his guitar with completely different music. This was a bit of a revelation to me, as when I have played Yes music, the relationship between the music and the vocal part is not always obvious. It makes sense that they were not necessarily written by the same person.
Jon was relaxed and quite entertaining. His vocals sounded great, and he told some fun stories. One that I remember was about Yes doing a worldwide tour after Owner of a Lonely Heart became a big hit. They played in Brazil for a huge crowd, and their next performance was in Argentina. But just a few months before, Britain had been at war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. It turned out that Yes were the first British band to go to Argentina after the Falklands business, and there were death threats, saying that they were going to shoot someone. At that point, Chris Squire (bass player in Yes) told Jon, “Well, you’re out front, so I guess you’re the one who’ll get shot.” Jon reported that they played the gig and no one got shot, but that he moved around a LOT.
The part I think Kathy enjoyed most was when Jon sang a song he and Vangelis Papathanasou (yes, that Vangelis) wrote together called State of Independence. Chrissy Hynde also did a version of the song that Kathy is partial to.
All in all, it was a fun evening and a good and revelatory show.