Replicate of Band Says a Remote, Pat Yes to Nostalgia

It's a reliable high. Each fix just the same--and you've had so many. The stuff isn't hard to find.

It goes down easy, and it lets you escape the demands of having to deal with the strange, ever-changing here and now. You crave that familiar rush. It reminds you of the first time, when that high took you somewhere new and fine.

But this habit has gone too far.

Please. Just say no.

Just say no to Classic Rock.

Tuesday night at the Pacific Amphitheatre, they all said Yes. Well, not exactly Yes. That really would have been illegal. Singer Jon Anderson, drummer Bill Bruford, keyboard player Rick Wakeman and guitarist Steve Howe--augmented these days by three other musicians--are not allowed to call themselves Yes anymore, having lost to a lineup of rival former Yes men in a legal dispute over rights to the name.

But by whatever name, it still was Yes. Yes to nostalgia. Yes to repetition of the familiar. Yes to a band content for the most part to coast on what it accomplished before 1973. 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, Anderson, Bruford, et al. replayed a slew of songs from Yes's classic rock file in note-for-note replications of the originals, along with selections from ABWH's new album, a reasonably melodic yet still wan imitation of meatier Yes material.

Those replications were, of course, well wrought. Nobody ever said these guys couldn't play: Virtuosity was always their main attraction. Bruford, Howe and Wakeman, in his long, white formal jacket, resembled nothing so much as a buffet server as he moved from spot to spot behind an aproned, semicircular table full of keyboards.

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 (though it did not seem to bother an audience that bestowed ovation after standing ovation). Reeling off an evening of classic rock was so easy that the group forgot that a concert should have a bit of a human touch, a stroke of immediacy that says a moment is being lived, not relived.

The lyrics on ABWH's new album talk a lot about the reunion of long-lost brothers and such. But there was little comradeship evident on stage. Each member of the foursome had his own sector of the stage and seldom left it.

Only Anderson spoke--perfunctorily. There were no humanizing reminiscences, no banter, no revelation of personality, no updates on where everyone had been since the good old days. There were no introductions of the supporting players, and no acknowledgement of the one thing that had the potential to give the show an interesting subtext: bassist Jeff Berlin, an old cohort of Bruford, was playing only his second show with the band as an emergency substitute for Tony Levin. Levin, a veteran session bassist best known for his work in Peter Gabriel's band, has been hospitalized since being stricken with hepatitis while on tour last week.

What little interaction there was took place between Bruford and Berlin, who monitored each other's playing, as good rhythm teams do. Anderson, decked out in his customary billowy white suit, kept to his own space at center stage where he continuously struck his customary poses, alternately pious-looking or fey. Wakeman, in his long, white formal jacket, resembled nothing so much as a buffet server as he moved from spot to spot behind an aproned, semicircular table full of keyboards.

Only Howe put some charge into the proceedings, showing a sense of enjoyment in playing classy guitar lines that he created more than 15 years ago. The strongest moments of the 2 1/2-hour show came during "Heart of the Sunrise," "Roundabout" and "Starship Trooper" (a full-length, 20-minute rehash of "Close to the Edge" could have been dropped).

Classic rock can be transformed into still-fresh music if the songs have interesting, pertinent lyrics. But Anderson's lyrics, with their hazy philosophizing, seldom pertain to anything very striking in the world as we might know it or imagine it. They function mainly as strands of vaguely profound verbiage on which to hang melodic decor.

ABWH had one chance to make its concert more than an exercise in nostalgia: It might have refashioned familiar songs in surprising new ways. But that happened only during the first number, when Anderson sang a medley of "Time and a Word" and "Owner of a Lonely Heart," backed by acoustic guitar. Howe followed with two lovely solo acoustic guitar melodies; then Wakeman had his own solo moment of keyboard gymnastics.

Unfortunately, this interesting coffeehouse version of Yes was misplaced. It would have been better to start with an ensemble bang, then break down into quieter, individual moments that, ideally, would have afforded a chance for each member to greet the audience and show a bit of extra-musical personality.

British progressive rockers often rely on elaborate lighting and props to make up for their customary lack of a strong stage personality. ABWH's lighting scheme was dull, except for a grand finale in which a peace sign etched on glass shone above the stage. The unimaginative stage set featured a spiny, bony-looking contraption that moved occasionally above the drum riser.

Could it have been a crab, scuttling across the floor of a Topographic Ocean?

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