For longtime YES fans, the live pairing of original lead vocalist Jon Anderson, guitarist/singer Trevor Rabin and keyboardist Rick Wakeman as ARW has been a cause for celebration.
Before the American tour (which just concluded over the weekend), the veteran musicians hadn’t performed in concert together since the “Union” jaunt a quarter century ago. Wakeman and Anderson previously did a few tours as a duo in the U.S. and U.K. beginning in the late 2000s.
The idea to include Rabin (who became a sought-after film and TV music composer after leaving YES, with credits including “Armageddon,” “Gone in 60 Seconds,” “Remember the Titans,” “Snakes on a Plane,” “I Am Number Four”) was first floated in 2010, but the schedules never meshed.
Until this year. Anderson finished promoting his recent collaboration with Roine Stolt and Wakeman was done with another “King Arthur” project and everything was suddenly a "go."
ARW’s mesmerizing two hour, 10-minute show at City National Grove of Anaheim on Friday spanned 1971’s The Yes Album to 1991’s Union. Considering Anderson was dismissed from YES in ’08 and hadn’t sung some of these tunes in the interim, this was a real treat.
The core trio was backed by bassist/backing vocalist Lee Pomeroy (Jeff Lynne’s ELO) and drummer Lou Molino III (Rabin, Cock Robin). Wakeman emerged onstage in one of his trademark regal capes and immediately embraced Rabin. Then the band kicked off the 14-song set with spacey Grammy-winning instrumental “Cinema” off 90125. Eventually Anderson appeared, arms outstretched in a welcoming manner.
“Hold On,” the first of three selections from 90125, was an early highlight with Rabin’s massive guitar solo and his tandem vocals with Anderson (the same held true on “Lift Me Up”). Even at age 72, the frontman’s harmonies still sounded strong. ARW tweaked various arrangements, but didn’t veer too far off the original path.
Fans vigorously clapped along during a joyous “I’ve Seen All Good People.” It was driven by more deft guitarwork from Rabin, who was all smiles and obviously happy to back onstage again after a long absence.
Wakeman shined on “And You & I,” dazzling with his piercing synths and keyboard crescendos. The band rocked hard during “Rhythm of Love”; the frenetic peaks of valleys of the 11-minute “Heart of the Sunrise” drew a standing ovation from the crowd.
“The Fish” was dedicated to late YES bassist Chris Squire (the only member of every band incarnation until his 2015 passing) and was prefaced by an anecdote about its creation by Anderson. The singer even plucked a mini harp at one point, all engrossed in the music.
Main set closer “Owner of a Lonely Heart” (a chart topper in 1983) was another standout. There were some new flourishes and an extended ending where Wakeman strapped on a keytar and followed Rabin to the back of the venue. Come encore time, ARW returned with the jubilant “Roundabout” and Wakeman showed why he’s among rock music's legendary keyboardists.
The ARW world tour resumes in March with dates in Israel, England, Belgium and The Netherlands. For details, go to www.arw-tour.com