Jon Anderson Blows Away Viper Alley!
I had seen Yes during their 35th Anniversary Tour in 2004 and was so impressed by Jon Anderson’s voice which was as outstanding as ever after all these years. However, he had suffered from some life-threatening health issues since that time and had recovered, so I was eager to see if his voice had held up. In addition, I was also interested to see how his solo acoustic concert would compare to the Yes show I had seen and if it could keep my interest.
I attended the concert with my wife, who absolutely loves Jon Anderson’s voice. As we were waiting for the concert to begin she noticed an empty table at the front center of the stage which had a bouquet of roses laying there. Our question of who they were for was quickly answered as a woman walked out from the side of the stage just before the concert began and took her place at the table…it was Jon Anderson’s wife! All of a sudden there was the sound of birds over the speakers and then Jon Anderson came on stage to a standing ovation.
Before I delve into the music let me talk about Jon Anderson himself. There is an aura or a glow about this man which is so compelling. Warmth, sincerity, and spirituality emanated from him which engulfed the audience throughout the entire concert. There was absolutely no doubt that he was beloved by the concertgoers and he repaid the adoration with a wonderful concert experience.
As I inferred earlier, I was concerned that a solo acoustic concert would be less than compelling. When he began singing and I heard that distinctive voice, all my trepidation disappeared. He opened with a Yes song, “Yours is No Disgrace” playing the acoustic guitar and gave a very spirited rendition. He followed with another Yes song, “Sweet Dreams” and his enthusiasm swept over the audience who joined in by clapping along.
The most surprising aspect of the evening for me (and my favorite part) was his interaction with the audience. He would reminisce about his life/career and would then segue into a song. He was very entertaining, was quite the storyteller, and quite humorous.
He introduced the next song “America” by announcing he had become an American citizen a couple years ago. He then said he “can sing what I want now without worrying about being chucked out.”
In one of the humorous exchanges of the evening he talked about how he composed the Yes song “A Time and A Word” in 1969 as a reggae song. He said it was the only thing he remembered from that time and that he must have had a good time. He said he showed the song to his Yes band mates who said “We don’t do reggae, Jon.” He then performed it in a very spirited reggae style which the audience got into and clapped along enthusiastically. He then moved seamlessly into a cover of Bob Marley’s “One Love” which became an audience participation sing-along.
He then brought out a Chinese stringed instrument he called “George” and explained during his illness when he could not sing he would play this instrument to pass the time. He played two songs with this instrument “Under Heaven’s Door,” which the audience once again clapped along to and a selection from his solo album from the mid-1970s “Olias of Sunhillow” which was greeted with resounding applause “Flight of the Moorglade.” As I was watching him perform I was struck by the fact that he was having so much fun up there and was feeding off the enthusiasm of the audience.
Jon then shared a story about Vangelis, one of his frequent collaborators. He had mentioned that after Rick Wakeman left Yes he recruited Vangelis to replace him on keyboards. During rehearsals when Vangelis saw Steve Howe and his guitar he said “the electric guitar is not a real instrument.” Jon said Steve and Vangelis never spoke again and Vangelis left the band two weeks later. Back on guitar he played “I’ll Find My Way Home,” a Jon and Vangelis song which made the top ten inEngland.
Jon then went into a rousing rendition of the Yes classic, “Starship Trooper” and when he was hitting the high notes the audience roared its approval. When he went into “Wurm,” the closing instrumental section, his guitar playing intensified and he began scatting along! A definite highlight in my book. The audience agreed and rewarded him with a standing ovation.
He had a bit of a senior moment as he began the Yes song “To Live Again” when he said “I can’t remember the first line.” Well he eventually did and it was a very touching song, knowing all his past health trials and tribulations. He reflected that in 2006 his wife saved his life over and over again as he went through “seven or eight operations.” He then introduced the song “Unbroken Spirit” which he had received the lyrics to from a Polish musician and talked about its importance to him. As he sang the audience understood the song’s significance to him and I could see they were really into the lyrics as he performed. That is the effect of his charisma.
He followed that poignant moment with “Owner of a Lonely Heart” remarking that in 1984, Yes was the number one band in the world. He closed out the song with some scat vocals once again.
For the next segment of the concert he sat behind the keyboards. The audience was treated to a semi-Yes medley, “Close to the Edge,” “Heart of theSunrise,” and “Revealing Science of God.” My only complaint with these songs done on the keyboard was that they sounded a bit “piano lounge-like” which detracted a bit. That said a highlight of the piano set was when he did “Marry Me Again” which was absolutely lovely and he would occasionally gaze at his wife as he was singing…a special moment. To close out the piano segment he played “The Light of Love” which he turned into audience participation. He had them clap and join in on the chorus.
He took up the guitar once again and began to perform the Yes song “And You and I.” The crowd began to join in with clapping and he abruptly stopped. He said “I need to gargle.” He took a swig of water, gargled and started again! The audience got a big kick out of this as he wore a sheepish grin. As the song went on many in the audience began singing along. That led into another Yes standard, “Long Distance Runaround.”
In what was definitely one of the most interesting segments of the show he began to talk about writing his memoirs. He talked about his brother Tony, how they grew up on a farm and how they started in a band together. He then shared stories about the 60s music scene and how he met the curly haired lead singer of the band, Listen, Robert Plant, who gave him his first exposure to marijuana. He then performed the song “Tony and Me” which was basically reminisces of growing up with his brother.
He picked up “George” again and played another lively “Olias” song, “To the Runner.” Once again the “Olias” selection was well-received by the crowd.
The ensuing Yes song, “Turn of the Century” has always been one of my favorites and I was not disappointed by his version.
He closed out the set with two Yes classics. He began “Your Move” and the audience was instantly into it, clapping and singing along. Jon had the biggest smile on his face and continued to encourage the audience along. He continued into “All Good People” and the crowd was swept along. He closed with “Roundabout” and the entire audience was standing, clapping, and singing along. He received a well-deserved standing ovation.
When he came back for the encore he performed a Jon and Vangelis song “State of Independence” and the Yes song “Wondrous Stories.” Another highlight of the night was his closing song, the beautiful Yes song, “Soon.” It is such a meaningful song, wonderfully sung and the audience listened with rapt attention, almost hanging on every word, totally spellbound. When he finished the audience responded with another standing ovation. What a great show.
After the show my wife and I were speaking about the concert with both of us in agreement that it was an outstanding show. She remarked how great his voice still sounded. I know all in attendance felt the same way. As stated earlier he has such a charismatic presence and he really touches you. As he sings, he has such sincerity and he draws you right in with him. He is an amazing talent and I completely enjoyed all aspects of the show. Because of his stories he shared, I left the show knowing more about him, endearing him to me even more.
I would like to comment on the venue, Viper Alley. It is truly a great place to attend a concert. There is an intimate feel, a “club-like” setting, and the sound was superlative. An added bonus is the food. My wife and I arrived early and had dinner before the show. I was not to sure what to expect, but the food was delicious, ample portions, and the service excellent. All around it made for a wonderful evening and I know for a fact my wife and I will be back for more dinners and shows!
Reviewed by Peter S. Sakas on 6/8/12