BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Bearing the voice that propelled some of the most recognizable hits of the classic rock era as lead singer for the progressive British band Yes, Jon Anderson arrived at the Uptown Theatre in Napa Saturday night for a rare solo appearance.
Touring in support of his new album 1000 Hands, the 74 year old Anderson has embarked on a number of musical forays since the dissolution of the original band in 2008, most notably with Jean-Luc Ponty and then former Yes bandmates Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin as part of ARW which toured the Bay Area in 2016.
Anderson’s voice, much like the flute of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson or an Eric Clapton guitar solo, continues to be one of the most distinctive and recognizable sounds of the rock era, and he had the crowd eating out of the palms of his hands enjoying every moment of his near two hour set.
A long overdue inductee into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame with Yes in 2017, Anderson co-founded the band along with the late Chris Squire in 1968. He spent the better part of the next four decades as their frontman before starting to emphasize his solo career and other projects as the Yes name was highjacked by other members. It continues to carry on with the likes of cover band lead singers and others that couldn’t hold a candle to the group in their heyday.
His latest effort, 1000 Hands, is another joyous showcase for Anderson’s work with a dream team of collaborators that first began taking shape during a retreat to Big Bear in the L.A. mountains close to 30 years ago. It finally revisits a project that included contributions from Yes members Squire, Steve Howe and Alan White along with Ponty, Ian Anderson, Chick Corea, Pat Travers, Steve Morse and Rick Derringer among others.
The collaboration with the other Anderson was a coming full circle moment as the first Yes tour of America was with Jethro Tull. Unfortunately the CD version seems be next to impossible to obtain thru normal channels, even perplexingly at the venues he’s appearing at, but it was well represented in Saturday’s setlist with the five performed tracks holding up quite well compared to his best material.
Appearing with an eclectic eight member band at the Uptown, the angelically voiced Anderson opened with “Owner of a Lonely Heart” from 1983’s 90125 which saw the rebirth of a second generation of Yes at the dawn of the MTV era with the additions of Rabin and keyboardist Tony Kaye to the group. “Yours Is No Disgrace,” the first of many classics from the original line-up via 1971’s breakthrough The Yes Album would quickly follow.
“Ramalala” and “Makes Me Happy,” a catchy song written for his wife in typically uplifting Anderson fashion (“Just to be who you are makes me happy”) would be the first pair of songs from the new album presented for the audience.
Yes staples “Your Move” and “I’ve Seen All Good People” would quickly veer back into more familiar territory, and the back end of the show would become a non-stop parade of elongated seventies classics.
An incredible sounding “Long Distance Runaround,” also released in 1971 on Fragile during the the bands creative peak would precede the mystical “Wonderous Stories” from 1977’s highly underrated Going for the One. Along with Tormato, released a year later, the two albums brought the first true chapter of Yes to a close as the vintage lineup of Anderson, Squire, Howe, Wakeman and White would splinter and not reunite again until 17 years later in 1996.
After “First Born Leaders” and “1000 Hands (Come Up),” the title track from the new album, Anderson took a great performance to yet another level. Closing with ten minute plus renditions of “Starship Trooper” and “Roundabout,” by which time the crowd appeared to be shaking their heads in unison as the intensity of the music continued to increase, the songs impact were even further enhanced by the unique sounds of Jocelyn Hsu’s violin and ukulele and Billy Meether’s sax and flute.
While Anderson has recently expressed his openness to recording new material as part of a reunion with Yes, his place in rock history is intact regardless of what the future might bring. Whether fronting his original band or performing solo when he’s not teaming up with the likes of Ponty or ARW, his catalog is timeless and only gets better with age, while the quality of his new material only continues to add to his legacy.
Anderson’s “1000 Hands” tour continues with a show at The Harris Center in Folsom on Monday night before wrapping up its current leg in Southern California later in the week.