Comb through the history of Biff Bam Pop and you’ll discover that I’m a big fan of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame progressive rock group, Yes. I’ve reviewed albums and talked to band members, and my love for the group has only increased over the decades I’ve been listening.
However, in 2017, things became a little problematic in Yesworld, when three former members of the band (founding member, lead vocalist and lyricist Jon Anderson, frequent keyboardist Rick Wakeman, and ‘80s guitarist and now film composer Trevor Rabin) began touring under the name Yes Featuring Anderson Rabin Wakeman. Why the ‘featuring’? Well, that’s because there’s a band out there called Yes, that’s always been Yes, and that features longtime guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Alan White (along with keyboardist Geoff Downes, singer Jon Davison, and Billy Sherwood, who was bequeathed the role of bassist by founding member Chris Squire just prior to his death in 2015). It’s a messy and convoluted scenario that’s led to a lot of ill will between both groups, not to mention Yes fandom, which is one of the most vocal of any group I’ve ever been a part of.
For me, my loyalty has mainly been with what I call heritage Yes, which features a group of musicians that have never actually left the band. The same can’t be said for ARW – Anderson’s left the group roughly four times, Wakeman five, and Rabin a scant once. However, on the flip side, Anderson is a founding member of the group, a mastermind behind its most enduring music, and in possession of the voice that really makes Yesmusic instantly recognizable. He also has a legal right to use the name.
See what I mean by convoluted?
All that stops though once both bands walk on stage. In what has seriously got to be, if not a first, then in the single digits, both Yes and Yes Featuring ARW actually deliver outstanding shows that make the case that each of them embody the sound and spirit of Yes. Last year, heritage Yes released an outstanding live album, Topographic Drama, that could be the best in the band’s catalogue. And then just yesterday, Yes Featuring ARW put out Live At The Apollo, which finds Anderson, Rabin, and Wakeman (alongside drummer Lou Molino and bassist Lee Pomeroy) delivering a spectacular show that feels fresh and reinvigorated.
Rabin, who spent the last two plus decades in the studio recording film scores, unleashes his guitar playing as though he has something to prove (which he doesn’t, by the way). He masterfully delivers material he originated (‘Lift Me Up’, ‘Rhythm of Love’), while putting his own spin on pieces created by Steve Howe. Wakeman, clad in cape on the Blu-ray, is clearly enjoying himself playing his own classic parts, while adding prog rock flourishes to Rabin-era work.
And then there’s Jon Anderson – the ringleader and voice, the one who, more than the others, wanted this group to be called Yes. 72 years old at the time of the recording, Anderon’s voice is amazingly strong and vibrant, as it harkens back to the band’s youth. Anderson has gone through health struggles over the last decade and a bit, but hearing him hit every song out of the park, you wouldn’t know it at all. He is simply one of rock’s quintessential frontmen, who hasn’t missed a beat.
Few would have expect two versions of Yes on the road in the 2010’s. Fewer could have expected both of them having legit claim to the name. But with Yes Featuring ARW’s Live at the Apollo, the case for that “dilemma’ is made clear. For me, and for open-minded fans, it’s actually a pretty wonderous story to have two versions of our favourite band out there. Instead of picking a side, I happily say Yes to both bands.