POP MUSIC REVIEW : Still Saying Yes to the Old Sounds

This habit has gone too far.

Please. Just say no. Just say no to "classic rock."

On Tuesday at the Pacific Amphitheatre, they all said Yes. Well, not exactly Yes . That really would have been illegal. Singer Jon Anderson, drummer Bill Bruford, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and guitarist Steve Howe--augmented by three other players--are not allowed to call themselves Yes, having lost to a lineup of rival Yes-men in a legal dispute over rights to the name of that English band that thrived in the '70s.

Instead, they said "Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe." But by whatever name, it still was Yes. Yes to nostalgia. Yes to repetition of the familiar. Yes to classic rock, the radio format that keeps listeners hooked on what music was, and deaf to what today's more vital musicians are struggling to become.

At the Pacific, ABWH replayed a slew of songs from Yes' classic-rock file in note-for-note renditions of originals that dated back more than 15 years. Those well-wrought replications dominated the 2 1/2-hour show, which also included most of ABWH's new album, a reasonably melodic yet still wan imitation of meatier Yes material.

Nobody ever said these guys couldn't play: Virtuosity was always their main attraction. Bruford, Howe and Wakeman showed that their limbs and fingers are still nimble and fleet, and Anderson still sings in his distinctive, melodious, choirboy fashion.

But ABWH's show was far too pat and familiar, which didn't seem to bother an audience that bestowed ovation after standing ovation. While reeling off those classic crowd-pleasers, the band forgot that a concert should have a bit of a human touch, a stroke of freshness and immediacy that says a moment is being lived, not relived.

The group concludes its two-show Greek Theatre engagement tonight, and plays the Santa Barbara County Bowl on Saturday.

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