Friday, October 21, 2011

What's a nice Punk girl like you doing in a proggy place like this?


I'll tell you what I was doing-- remembering my high school years before Devo knocked me upside the head and taught me about deconstructing music, that's what I was doing. And the Rick Wakeman/Jon Anderson show at Potowatomi started out with some deconstuction. The lights dimmed, and we heard this most godawful version of Also Sparch Zarathrustra I'd ever heard, like a grade school band warming up and not quite yet in tune. (The same house music that was played during the intermission and ending convinced me it was willful retardedness, in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the Residents had something to do with it). But members of the audience behind us in the rafters were asking "Are they serious?" and that's when I knew I was in a housefull of purists, of fans, of people who never heard of Devo, much less would get anything less than perfect rendering.

That's why I was somewhat charmed when the pair, great as they are, but on whom we can blame Rush, started off their set with a gentle, acoustic guitar and keyboard version of Starship Trooper. These guys know exactly what they're doing, they know how old they are, heck, they know how old we are. Anderson's voice  is amazingly intact, what with a severe asthma attack a couple of  years back, years of admitted smoking, and, well, heck, he's in his 60s. Aretha can't hit her high notes anymore, but wow--Jon Anderson still can.  And Wakeman? He obviously can do his old keyboard runs in his sleep.

They alternated their set between brilliant re-takes on Yes hits (a major highlight for me was a reggae-protest arrangement of Time and A Word -- worked wonderfully) and sappy new  stuff. I mean, really sappy sweet new age love songs that would make Barney the Dinosaur look like a support act at Ozzfest. The crowd of fans ate it up, and the only thing that kept me from going into a diabetic coma was realizing that Anderson probably is one of the Nicest Guys on Earth. He really is into all that new age stuff, crystal meditation, "we are the keepers of the garden" philosophy. You get the feeling that he could just as easily slip into Fred Rogers' sweater and furthermore, you'd trust your kids with him. Wakeman, on the other hand, also helped balance out things with gentle ribbing frosted with lots of corny jokes that,  as the show went on, streamed into Dirty Old Man territory, reminding me a lot of Les Paul's show at the Pabst a fewyears back. Wakeman's deep british voice, as he told his increasingly corny jokes, brought to mind the kind of banter you hear on Top Gear or something.
The whole thing also reminded me of Les Paul's show in that feeling throughout the gig -- the first on their tour (so everything was as indeed as fresh as it felt) -- that one had been invited to their basement, or barn, or garden, or wherever the hell it is they practice, while they teased each other, told us stories, and played their songs. There was one moment when Anderson completely blanked out on remembering the lyrics to a song, but it came to him, and every musician in the audience panicked along with him (we've all been there.). Particularly touching was Anderson's telling of the story of how he and Wakeman and the other members of Yes had found an old church, spent time in it and the whole (oh, dear, I'm getting new agey about this) karma of the place helped them to write "Awaken" -- the epic suite on my favorite Yes album, Going for  the One. Anderson basically said the music was already there, they were simply the catalysts for it. He tapped away this arpeggio on his acoutic guitar that comes in the middle of the piece, and as he told the story his sincerity won me over, and I was in the right frame of mind for the work. Part of me was sitting next to my old college buddies in  the rafters of the Northern Lights Theatre who had invited me along to this whole thing to begin with, the other part of me was  suddenly in the Chicago Ampetheatre, 1978, slightly stoned from a contact high (I was after all, a teenage goody-two shoes who would have never consciously took a hit), watching Yes In The Round. I remember "Awaken" had hit me then; and it was lovely to see that it wasn't just a WKLH "Deep Cut" to these guys, or obviously, to this adoring audience. I felt all happy afterwards, and duh, it finally hit me that Yes was a very well-named band. As Beavis and Butthead would say, "They're positive." But it was a good positive. I think that's why out of all the prog groups I was into during my proggy phase, they were my favorite.
OK, back to my punk roots. Tonight is the grand opening of Stoney Rivera's new art gallery. I'm on it. Back later.

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