Jon Anderson | 11.15 | Santa Barbara

Words & Images by: L. Paul Mann

Jon Anderson :: 11.15.09 :: SOhO :: Santa Barbara, CA

Jon Anderson :: 11.15 :: Santa Barbara, CA
A special last minute show was added to the calendar at Santa Barbara's premiere live music restaurant and bar venue, SOhO. Jon Anderson played an acoustic set of new and old material, at the intimate spot last Sunday night. As the quintessential lead singer of the classic rock band Yes, Anderson sang on every album in the band's catalog, save one. Yes' chameleon lineup has boasted some of the biggest names in rock music throughout its long history, and in many ways epitomized the genre of true Classical Rock music. Over four decades members have included guitarists, Peter Banks, Steve Howe, Trevor Rabin, and Billy Sherwood, keyboard players Tony Kaye, Rick Wakeman, Patrick Moraz, Geoff Downes, and Igor Khoroshev, and drummers Bill Bruford and Alan White. The two unifying forces in the band over the decades have been bassist Chris Squire and the unique high-pitched vocal talents of Anderson.

Before Thom Yorke of Radiohead pierced the airwaves with his angelic voice, it was the front man of Yes that was most associated with the rock voice of an angel. Although many critics have falsely labeled him a traditional falsetto singer, Anderson himself has described his singing range as an alto tenor, with the ability to hit only certain high notes. Regardless of the category, his voice is instantly recognizable when he begins to sing.

As he took to the stage in the California town that he has called home for nearly a decade, his voice sounded a little hoarse and strained. But with each subsequent song, his voice and range grew stronger. It is sometimes hard to imagine how this tiny Englishman from Liverpool, whose bandmates used to affectionately refer to as Napoleon, can release such a huge voice from his frail, little frame. Anderson was warmly greeted in the tightly packed venue. An audience of mostly older adoring fans sang and clapped along to every recognizable song. As Anderson frequently stopped to celebrate the moment, fans would shout out their support and appreciation with ongoing love fest banter.

Jon Anderson :: 11.15 :: Santa Barbara, CA
Jon Anderson music has always been about the triumph and healing of the human spirit. In the early days of Yes his lyrics were fanciful, naively optimistic yearnings for freedom, fairness, and love. His solo material, however, has taken on a more personal, realistic view of the healing power of music and love.

His appearance in Santa Barbara, and debut of some intimate new material, took on an even greater sense of urgency and renewal since a near death experience he had last year. The vulnerable and venerable Yes frontman was actually preparing for his first tour with the band since 2004 just before falling ill. The band went on to tour without him, enlisting replacement singer Benoit David from Yes tribute act Close to the Edge.

In his solo show, dubbed "Have Guitar Will Travel," Anderson played 23 songs, covering nearly the entire Yes oeuvre, as well as new solo material and songs that he had collaborated on with Greek composer/keyboardist Vangelis of Chariots of Fire fame.

The concert began and ended with Yes numbers that had the crowd singing and clapping like a group of teenagers around the fire at summer camp. The first two songs he sang, "Yours Is No Disgrace" from 1971's The Yes Album and "Long Distance Runaround" from 1972's Fragile, were Yes classics. Hearing the frail singer croon, sans the massive musical framework of thunderous sounds that would envelope him in a typical Yes concert, was disconcerting at first. But quickly it became apparent that Anderson's voice was up to the challenge and allowed the audience to decipher every word, many of which would normally be drowned out in a cacophony of rock music.

Anderson then went further back in time to 1970's Time And A Word, playing "Sweet Dreams" and a totally rearranged, reggae-influenced version of the title track. The latter started with Anderson jokingly bantering with the audience, while struggling to find the right octave, but then quickly hitting the right stride. He sang the song with a Sting-like vibe and lyrical quotes from The Beatles' "She Loves You" and "All You Need is Love" and Hal David and Bruce Bacharach's "What The World Needs Now Is Love." The word is "love," indeed, all thrown in for good measure. The crowd was ecstatic and began singing and dancing in the aisles.

Jon Anderson :: 11.15 :: Santa Barbara, CA
On a more personal note, Anderson chatted about his illness in his introduction to new song "Under Heaven's Door." In the first of many anecdotes, he explained how he had almost died from respiratory failure last year, and thanked the local paramedics for bringing him back from the brink of death not once but twice. This was one of a few songs for which Anderson used a strum stick, a rich-sounding three-stringed instrument based on an Appalachian dulcimer, as accompaniment.

This prolific songwriter followed up with "I'll Find My Way Home," a track co-written with Vangelis, which Anderson explained was (successfully) composed in response to the record company's demand for a hit single.

Three more Yes songs followed, including a show highlight for many in attendance, when Anderson sang, "All we are saying/ Is give peace a chance," while the audience sang the "diddit didda's" from "I've Seen All Good People." The others were an abbreviated "Nous Sommes Du Soleil" from 1974's epic Tales from Topographic Oceans and "Starship Trooper," which gave Anderson some trouble with the bridge at the beginning of the song, but he eventually nailed it down to roaring approval. It seemed the harder this masterful musician struggled to get things just right, the more excited the mood in the crowd became.

After the uplifting new song "Unbroken Spirit Of Mine," Anderson tackled Yes' 1983 comeback hit "Owner of a Lonely Heart," which replaced precise electronic sounds with a driving acoustic guitar rhythm. This was followed by a piano medley that touched on different eras from Anderson's long career. He quickly returned to guitar for "And You And I" from 1972's Close to the Edge.

Three more new songs followed, including the spiritually inspired "Music is God" and the autobiographical "Tony and Me" based on Anderson's adventures in his pre-Yes band with his brother Tony in 1963. The latter included musical quotes from The Beatles' "She Loves You," The Everly Brothers' "Wake Up Little Susie," and The Beach Boys' "Help Me Rhonda." In the middle Anderson told yet another tale of how a young rotund 16-year-old with a bottle of whiskey joined them onstage for a rousing version of "Hit The Road Jack" in a Sheffield pub. The unlikely singer turned out to be a young Joe Cocker.

Later he recounted a story of the band's ride home on a deserted road through the Moors. They came across a box on the road, which they pilfered and were disappointed to find contained five hundred pairs of extra-large underpants. The main set ended with the Vangelis-co-write "State of Independence."

Anderson returned for an encore that began with a bluesy version of "Roundabout" and ended with an inspiring version of "Soon" from Yes' 1974 prog masterpiece Relayer. The adoring crowd gave him a five-minute standing ovation at the end of his set. Jon Anderson left the stage with a big smile and a promise that he would be back soon.

Jon Anderson :: 11.15.09 :: SOhO :: Santa Barbara, CA
Yours Is No Disgrace, Long Distance Runaround, Sweet Dreams, Time and a Word, Under Heaven's Door, I'll Find My Way Home, I've Seen All Good People, Nous Sommes Du Soleil, Starship Trooper, Unbroken Spirit of Mine, Owner of a Lonely Heart, Piano medley: Set Sail / Close To The Edge / Children of the Light / Marry Me Again /, The Revealing Science of God, And You And I, Count Your Blessings, Music Is God, Tony and Me, State of Independence
Encore: Roundabout, Soon

For more on the inner workings of this amazing musician check out JamBase's lengthy 2004 chat with Jon.

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[Published on: 11/20/09]

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