Anderson and Wakeman at Kleinhans Music Hall (2011)

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2011 is a year in which I’ve seen bands such as Volbeat, Alter Bridge, Puddle of Mudd and Clutch, but last Thursday’s “Evening with Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman” could easily be considered the heaviest of the bunch.

Not in the traditional sense, mind you, but in a more heavenly sense that allows for the listener to become hypnotized by the ethereal grooves synonymous with the Yes catalog.

This is heady stuff, and the prog-rock pupils in attendance were licking their chops just pondering the possibilities.

I’ve always found labeling to be a defense mechanism for people who are uncomfortable with diversity, so I hesitate to even confine Yes to the “progressive” moniker. Like all ambitious artists, their work defies traditional classification, and it should be allowed to push the audience as close to the edge of euphoria as they’re willing to go.

As amazing as it would have been to watch all five original members devour the Kleinhans stage, Anderson and Wakeman not only proved that they make a vibrant twosome, but also that it’s possible to reinvent Yes classics without sacrificing any of the towering ambiance.

Whether it was “And You and I,” “Long Distance Runaround,” or “Starship Trooper,” each song hinted at how wondrous music must have been prior to MTV. Don’t get me wrong. Music videos are terrific when done well, but there’s something to be said for leaving people to their own imaginative devices.

Even the tracks from 2010’s “The Living Tree,” which Anderson and Wakeman recorded on their own, dealt with themes of love, war, and “going green,” so the mental images being painted were unlike any I’ve experienced this year.

Anderson’s earnest songwriting combined with Wakeman’s vision on the keyboard/synthesizer made for a night of beautiful music, highlighted by the acoustics inside Kleinhans Music Hall that carried Anderson’s voice straight into the last row of the balcony.

“I’ve Seen All Good People” was transformed into a sing-a-long, and “Roundabout” came off without a hitch in a stripped-down setting, but, for me, the jaw-dropping moment came in the form of “Awaken,” a 10-minute opus that is arguably the finest piece of music Yes ever recorded.

Upon walking out of the theatre, I couldn’t help but think that Kleinhans had somehow reclaimed its standing as a western New York concert Mecca, so, if they decide to continue down that path, Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman will be a tough act to follow.

 

 

 

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