Sunday, July 28, 2019

Jon Anderson

I was looking forward to this one. I actually think I became aware of it while I was up on the Patchogue Theatre's website, although they send me regular email updates, so it could have been through one of those as well. In any event, Jon Anderson, beloved lead singer of Yes, was coming to my own home town of Patchogue. Now I figured if Mr. Anderson was coming all the way out here to Patchogue, the least I could do was go and see him, right? It would have been rude not to.

I was also excited because I'd already bought Anderson's new 1000 Hands: Chapter One album, and it's excellent. I don't think it's going to make my Top Ten list for 2019, but if it misses, it's going to be narrowly. The album was created from a project that Anderson first began back in 1990, and it has a ton of guest musicians on it, including Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Chic Correa, and Anderson's Yes band mates Chris Squire and Alan White (some of the recordings Jon Anderson was working from were thirty years old, from long before Squire passed away.) It's obviously less proggy than an actual Yes album -- the concentration is on Anderson's voice. But there are a lot good tracks on this one, and several of those songs where Anderson tracks his vocals over vocals, for multiple Anderson goodness.

I didn't actually buy the tickets right away -- I couldn't. My job had to do an across-the-board salary reduction this year, which is temporary, but hasn't yet been restored. And even though Denise buys a lot of our tickets, I've still probably bought more than I should have this year. So I had to wait a couple of paychecks before I purchased here, carefully watching the website all the while to make sure it wasn't getting close to selling out. Luckily for me, it took awhile for people to realize this show was coming, so by the time I paid for my admission, the show was still only maybe 50% sold.

Actually, for awhile, I was a little concerned they were going to cancel the show. This theater burned me like that a few years ago, cancelling the Celtic band Runa a few weeks before the show because they hadn't sold enough tickets. And the worst part is, they notified us ticket holders of the cancellation before they told the band. I contacted the band myself immediately after learning of the cancellation, and they were like, "What?! We've been cancelled?" Runa has never played the area since (even though I tried to steer them to the Boulton Center), and I've never fully trusted the Patchogue Theatre again not to cancel a show.

Parking was a zoo last night. I left my house at 7:20 (the theater is only ten or fifteen minutes away), but after cruising the parking lot twice and coming up empty, I actually left the lot and drove around the corner to my old ophthalmologist's lot. Lucky I know the area. (And it would have made my Weight Watcher leader happy -- I definitely got my steps in for the day by walking from there.) I guess Patchogue Village is doing pretty well these days on a Saturday night.

Here's where it starts getting bizarre. I'm (too) used to going to the Paramount in Huntington. It's a little more lax than an airport -- you can keep your belt and your shoes -- but you have to go through metal detectors. So I actually emptied my pockets of change before I left the house, to make my entry easier. I needn't have worried, though. When I got to theater, not only did they not have metal detectors, they didn't even have anyone at the door checking tickets! I just cruised right into the lobby. (If you're a terrorist, I'm only kidding about that last part. They have very tight security -- metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs, the whole lot.) (I had to write that last part because my statistical breakdown shows that a lot of my readers are terrorists in their spare time.)

Once inside, I heard someone call my name, and turned to find Hank Stone. He had actually played at the Huntington Folk Festival yesterday afternoon, then passed on seeing Loudon Wainwright to shoot out to Patchogue to see Jon Anderson.

After the long walk from the car, I really wanted a bottle of water. Unfortunately, after standing on the concession line for a few minutes, I gave up -- it wasn't moving at all. I was totally going to make fun of the concessionaires in this review, but I later learned that they and everyone else working the theater are volunteers, so that would be crass, even for me. In any event, I resolved sadly to go through the show thirsty. (I was particularly bummed, because with venue security being what it was, not only could I have brought my own water in from the car, I could have probably dragged in one of those styrofoam coolers full of cold ones.)

I saved myself a few bucks on this show by buying a ticket in the balcony. This made my Weight Watchers leader even happier, as there's no such thing as an elevator in the Patchogue Theatre.

Now, let's talk a little about the balcony, and the crowd that was up there. First, let me say that by showtime, I think the venue overall was pretty full. Because I was in the balcony, I couldn't see the last part of the floor below, but the part I could see looked sold out. As for the balcony itself, it's wide (it's a wide theater), but it only runs six rows deep. I would say that last night, the balcony was half full.

There was a young usher there to show me to my seat. (He was the first one in the venue to even see that I had a ticket.) And the crowd was ... um ... interesting. To start, as you'd expect, the demographic of the audience was largely male, and pretty old. (And obviously mostly white -- Yes never really got very popular in the hood.) And this was a nickel-and-dime crowd -- we could have bought better seats, but we didn't.

Seated next to me was an oddly dressed couple who could well have been homeless. (I take that back -- I suspect that they actually live in the balcony of the Patchogue Theatre.) They seemed almost asleep at times, but then when something happened during the show that would make the guy excited, he'd let out these weird little bird-like noises, chirping in approval. Another guy, sitting across the aisle from me, thought it would be good to walk down the stairs to the first row of the balcony and lean his body all the way over the rail for a better look. Now I suffer from severe acrophobia. Not just for myself, but for other people. If I see anybody standing anywhere near a height that they could possibly fall from, I experience this electric-like bolt that shoots from the soles of my feet all the way up my body. So I had to avert my eyes until the man on the flying trapeze was satisfied with whatever he'd been looking for and retook his seat.

In all, our little balcony was basically the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest fifty years later. When Anderson was playing, they rocked back and forth, emitted inappropriate and ear-splitting whistles, clapped at off times, and generally acted like it had been years since they'd been out of the asylum. But the one thing they didn't do was stand up in front of me and block my view. (There was ample room for those who wanted to dance in the back, behind the seats.) So for the most part, I was good.

Anyway, as I entered the balcony (at about 7:50), there was music coming from an unannounced opening act. A band of five nicely dressed young people (three guys and two girls) were pulling off a pretty good version of King Crimson's "Three of a Perfect Pair." This won me over immediately, as I've always thought that King Crimson's Adrian Belew days are sadly underrated. Then, at the end of the song, to my surprise, half of the band shuffled off and was replaced by another group of equally well-dressed young musicians for a cover of the Janis Joplin arrangement of "Summertime". This went on for a few more songs, with an ever-changing lineup shifting on and off of the stage, performing a fine version of Heart's "Barricuda," then coming out en-masse (nine of them, at least) to cover Yes's "South Side of the Sky", which naturally went over big-time with this crowd. (Truth be told, this one they were a little off on, but what the hell.) From where I sat, they seemed to be mostly high-school seniors/college students, and for the last number, a large man came out and sort of "conducted" them. This was the Paul Green Rock Academy, of which Anderson is a big supporter (as well as other famous musicians such as Eddie Vedder, Alice Cooper and Peter Frampton), and the large man was Paul Green himself. I enjoyed their performance, and if I would have known they'd be playing, I'd have gotten there earlier.

In between sets, I looked at my theater program, and discovered they're doing a movie night there in a week and a half, showing Monty Python and the Holy Grail, maybe the greatest film of all time. (I'm not even kidding.) So I texted my daughter (who loves Monty Python), and we made plans to go.

A few minutes later, the manager of the Patchogue Theatre came out. He explained that it was a non-profit theater, and that everyone working there were volunteers. He hyped a few upcoming shows (Asia featuring John Payne next week, Don Felder later in the year), then practically shook with disbelief at the notion that Jon Anderson was playing at his venue. He introduced the band, and we were off.

Anderson came out, backed by an eight-piece band. (He was the ninth piece for those few numbers where he played his acoustic guitar). It featured two drummers and two keyboard players, a female violinist from Taiwan, and a bunch of guys who ran back and forth a lot and kept changing up between various brass and woodwind instruments (as well as the requisite bass player and two guitarists). I had printed up the setlist from earlier in the day, so I knew what to expect.

Before I even get into the music, I want to say that I really liked the stage setup. There were five thin, vertical video screens spaced out against a black curtain behind them, on which various visual effects were played, mostly composed of patterns with rich shades of blues and greens. There were also four podiums spaced around the stage that were lit up with small lights. They were always in synch with one another, so whatever color was chosen for a given song, it was the same color on all of them. It wasn't the most expansive set I'd ever seen, but it was tasteful and effective.

The show was broken up into two sets with a tea break (as Anderson explained) in between. It comprised five songs from the new album, a pair of songs from his 1976 Olias of Sunhillow album, a song from the Jon and Vangelis The Friends of Mr Cairo album, and a generous helping of Yes songs, mostly from the band's various Tony Kaye periods. (Because, I assume, even an eight-piece band isn't enough to credibly stand in for Rick Wakeman.)

Now I've got to be honest here. There were ups and downs throughout the show, although I think I might have been the only one hearing them. (I would characterize the crowd as "wildly enthusiastic" throughout the night.)

For starters, Jon wasn't in the best vocal shape I've ever heard him. He wasn't bad by any means, and let's face it, he was about a hundred times better than any 74-year-old man has the right to be. But his voice didn't have the full volume and richness that we've all come to expect from him. I'm not even sure it was age -- singers have on and off nights over the course of touring, and I think this might have just been a slightly off night. The song he had the most trouble with was "Wonderous Stories" in the second set, for some reason, which was sad, as it's a song I like a lot. On the other hand, he sounded quite strong on all of the new material, and passibly good on most of the other Yes and solo material.

The band was another issue. They opened with "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and "Yours Is No Disgrace", which were both pretty good. And they were sharp on Anderson's new stuff. But as I listened, at first, I thought they were a little off on some of the Yes material, like "Your Move" and "I've Seen All Good People". Then, as I listened further, I decided that the problem wasn't so much with the musicians as with the arrangements. But later in the night, during the second set (which was significantly weaker musically than the first), I decided it was a combination -- at times, there were too many musicians doing too many things, which sounded like a muddle. And I really wasn't thrilled with the lead guitarist. I guess it's just not that easy trying to cover Steve Howe.

In any event, Anderson and the band played most of my favorites off of the new album, including "Makes Me Happy" (which is a nice, poppy little ditty), "Ramalama" (which is one of those numbers where Anderson tracks over himself and uses that beautiful voice of his to excellent effect), and "WDMCF" (which stands for "Where does music come from?"). They played ten songs in the first set, ending with an instrumental number that allowed Anderson to leave the stage early for his tea. (Previous setlists on called this song "Chicken", but Anderson introduced it first as "Duck Soup", and then changed it to "Chicken Pot Pie".) It was disrespectful I know, but I took advantage of this number to run downstairs and finally buy my bottle of water before the crowd surged out for intermission. (I also bought those Monty Python tickets.)

Up until this point, I still felt like this was a very good show. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the second set was significantly more uneven than the first. The band opened up gearing more towards the acoustic, with Anderson brandishing his acoustic guitar. They opened with that pair of songs from Olias of Sunhillow ("To the Runner" and "Flight of the Moorglade") sandwiching a cover of Yes' "Sweet Dreams". As often happens during an acoustic interlude, the energy level in the building seemed lower here than it previously had been. They then launched into a fuller band sound for "Long Distance Runaround", which sounded a little off here and there, especially in the guitar parts. I already told you about Anderson's vocal problems on "Wonderous Stories", the following song, which was a shame, as I actually liked the new arrangement they gave this one.

At this point, Anderson amused the crowd by pulling out a cheat sheet for "First Born Leaders" (from the new album) by explaining that although he wrote the song, he could never for the life of him remember the damned lyrics!

After finishing this number, he then launched into the title track from the new album, and here's where it began to get really dicey. For starters, the song itself is one of my least favorites from the LP, although they did a good enough job on it. But instead of ending the song, they tried to launch right into "Starship Troopers". Unfortunately, it sounded like they all went into it at different times, some of them holding onto the old song for a number of beats, the rest galloping straight into the new one. And to me, "Starship Trooper" sounded like a mess throughout. It was at this point that I really started to feel that there were just too many musicians here, trying to do too many things at the same time, resulting in periods of total cacophony. But maybe I'm just insane, because towards the end of the song, three quarters of the room jumped to their feet to give the band a standing ovation! I'll grant you, they were all playing their asses off. But to me, it sounded like they weren't all playing the same song. And the parts I could recognize, the guitarist was flubbing all too frequently.

In any event, they finished up, and everyone came up to the front of the stage to thunderous applause. Then, (and wisely, in my opinion), without ever leaving the stage, they retook their places and went straight into the encore. This consisted of "Roundabout" (which featured an interesting, and vaguely Caribbean arrangement), and a quiet acoustic version of "Soon", (that beautiful last movement from "Gates of Delirium").

I kind of wanted to talk to Hank on the way out to get a musician's perspective on what had happened during "Starship Trooper" (or find out if I was just out of my mind). However, I wanted even more to get out ahead of the crowd, get to my car, and get to Wendy's for a Baconator. (Shhh! Don't tell my Weight Watcher's leader.) So that's what I did.

As I walked to my car, some of the guys walking behind me were talking about how amazing Anderson's voice still is, and how they thought this was so much better than the Steve Howe version of Yes that's touring these days. (They were also trashing the hell out of Jon Davison). Now I don't hate Jon Davison -- I think he does as good a job of subbing for Anderson as anyone reasonably could -- but I'll be the first to say that I'd love it if Anderson and Howe (and Wakeman) were all playing together again. But while I mostly enjoyed this show, it wasn't as good as Steve Howe's Yes had been at Bald Hill a couple of weeks ago. And even with Howe older and slowed down a little, this guitarist was no substitute for him. (Probably just as well I couldn't a listing for Anderson's band anywhere online, considering the drubbing I'm giving this poor bastard.)

Anyway, The 1000 Hands Tour will be in Jersey for the next few days, playing Ocean City on Monday and Asbury Park on August 2nd, so check it out if you have a mind too. And definitely check out the new 1000 Hands: Chapter One album. It's really good. And Rick Wakeman will be in town in a few weeks playing the Paramount in Huntington, so if you're a Yes fan, you'll probably want to attend that show as well. (I do, but I can't.)

Meanwhile, I'll be back at the Patchogue Theatre next weekend to experience the other Asia (Asia featuring John Payne), so I'll tell you all about. (I don't think I'm in the balcony next week, though -- their tickets were cheaper.) And you know I'll tell you all about it.

For a complete setlist from last night's show, see