In the music Spotlight: Yes featuring Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman
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English band Yes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, welcomed as the world’s most successful progressive rock act. The honor arrived just shy of the group’s golden anniversary. Yes’ lineup has shifted throughout five decades, but three principal players from distinct eras will celebrate the milestone this week when the group’s 50th anniversary tour visits Ravinia. Founding singer Jon Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman represent the ‘70s heyday that yielded the classics “Roundabout” and “I’ve Seen All Good People.” South African guitarist and singer Trevor Rabin marks his own 35th anniversary with Yes, while representing the band’s commercial peak with chart-topper “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”
Although Yes was established, Rabin as the newcomer had no expectation of longevity while developing 1983’s “90125” album. “You start something as fickle as a musical journey can be, and who knows how long it’ll last,” says Rabin. “It could be two weeks or two years. Here it is, 50 years. It’s a wonderful surprise.”
Rabin compositions formed the backbone of “90125,” and its songs continue to resonate. “Hold On” urges listeners to embrace joy during trying times. Its portrayal of “jigsaw puzzle traitors, set to spill the beans,” is also a prescient description of legal wrangling currently embroiling the White House. “I wrote that song in 1981,” says Rabin. “It’s amazing how poignant and relevant it seems today.”
Another group featuring guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Alan White also travels under the Yes banner. The camps joined for the Hall of Fame induction in celebration of founding bassist Chris Squire, who died in 2015. Rabin proudly praises Yes’ rich musical history, but he admits personal reservations about continuing use of the name. “I kind of feel no one should be called Yes anymore,” says Rabin. “I’ll get rapped on the knuckles for saying this, but it’s just my opinion. I liked the way Led Zeppelin did it. When John Bonham died, that was it.”
Yes featuring ARW is supporting its new “Live at the Apollo” album. The recording allows fans to muse upon an alternate reality wherein Wakeman played on Yes’ ‘80s hits. “We decided that Rick should do whatever he’d have done on the record. Can you imagine hearing his parts for ‘Hold On’ or ‘Changes’ on the album? It would have enhanced it.”
The spirited combination of Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman on era-skipping favorites like “Long Distance Runaround” and “Rhythm of Love” reveals potential for new music together. Rabin hints at progress and says the band may share something new at Ravinia with a title carrying ample weight among fans. “We’ve done a song, and there’s a lot in the pipeline. I wrote a song called ‘Fragile’ for a TV series starring Sharon Stone. Rick had fantastic ideas for it. Jon got into it and sang beautifully. He can go anywhere and reach any note. We might do that one on this tour, because it sounds really nice live.”
Anderson’s relationship with Wakeman dates to 1971’s “Fragile” album, but Rabin and the keyboardist forged an enduring friendship while supporting 1991’s “Union” album. Rabin cites Wakeman’s humor, demonstrated by his wry fashion sense. At 2016’s Chicago Theatre performance, Wakeman wore his floor-length sequined cape atop a Cubs World Championship jersey that he’d purchased from a street vendor. “That must have been a fantastic sight for Chicago,” says Rabin. “Not only is Rick possibly one of the greatest keyboardists there’s ever been, he’s hilarious. The cape is tongue-in-cheek, and we all love it. When Rick puts it on, you know it’s time for a Yes show.”