6 Songs of My Life

My friend Pampi over at Third Eye Fell shared an NPR article entitled Tell Us The 6 Songs of Your Life. I thought it would be a great topic for a blog post but I realize now that it’s not such an easy assignment.  The thing is, I like and have liked all kinds of music depending on my moods at various stages in my life jazz, classical, electronica, blues, trip hop, lounge, alternative, ambient, dark industrial, punk, indie, new wave, rock, Latin, southern rock, soul, folk, show tunes (actually, not so much anymore – but I heard a lot of Broadway musicals on LPs growing up).  I’m pretty moody, I guess.  I could make a list of literally thousands of songs that mean something to me.  I once posted a list of the 21 records of my life, but I’ll not do a top 6 favorites, rather I’ll identify 6 songs that sort of defined me or described a state of mind at a particular stage in my life from childhood to midlife; I almost said from childhood to the Middle Ages.  I’m old, but still alive.  Yes, it’s all very self-indulgent, I know, but I can’t help myself. Enough with the introduction.  Here’s the list:

As a Kid:  Day by Day – from Godspell.  It came out when I was about 10 or so.  My neighbor whose father was a minister played the album for me one day when we were shooting pool.  I think at the time, their church youth group was performing the musical.  The version I link to above is not the original Broadway cast, but a modern one that I think is far superior.  Although a religious song that appealed to youth in ways that hymns could not, I connected to it more as a pop tune with a catchy melody and easy sing along lyrics.  As a kid, I pretty much lived day by day, not thinking too much about the past or future, especially during the summer.

Preteen:  That’s the Way of the World – Earth Wind and Fire.  The song came out when I was in 7th grade before I had developed much of a world view.  Things were the way they were because that’s the way of the world.  I didn’t have the tools to think critically about the world and my place in it.  I wouldn’t develop those tools until after I finished my formal schooling many years later.  As a 12 year old, I had very little agency but did have a vague notion of freedom that had to do with driving a tractor trailer for a living one day.

The Teen Years:  River Man – Nick Drake.  My dad turned me on to this obscure artist, obscure then, much better known posthumously. Drake’s music was dark, and full of raw emotion poetically crafted and delivered with total vulnerability.  The tune really speaks more to my dad’s life than mine and in some ways feels like a portal to his soul, may god rest it.  I’m linking also to a brilliant Brad Mehldau cover of the song.

College:  Phase Dance – The Pat Metheny Group.  I discovered Pat Metheny’s music looking through my sister’s boyfriend’s record collection.   He’s been my favorite artist ever since, Pat Metheny, not my sister’s x boyfriend.  I’ve had the good fortune of seeing Pat play live with his band and in other configurations many times.  The first time I saw the group play was in 1984 at the Student Union at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. I was one of about 100 people sitting near the stage in a metal folding chair.  I had a Minolta SLR and took flashless photos with a high speed Ilford black and white film.  See shot below from the concert.  The song was sort of a signature warm up tune they liked to play very early in a concert.   Phase Dance doesn’t have any lyrics, but the song is full of idea exploration.  Like the song, as a college student, I had  begun exploring various ideas and perspectives and quite a few mysterious isms as I pondered the meaning of life.

Pat Metheny_Fayetteville AR 1984

Post CollegeNovo Amor (New Love) – Gal Costa.  In 1990, I began dating a Chilean woman I would later marry.  She spoke very little English, and I, very little Spanish.  We somehow managed to communicate together through hand gestures, Spanglish and by exchanging notes on napkins.  One of the things we had in common was a love for Brazilian music.  We both had cassette tapes and albums by Gal Costa, Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and others.  At our wedding reception, we featured a Brazilian mix tape.

Mid Life.  The Way Up – Pat Metheny Group.  Pat Metheny is the only artist that I have seen live with each member of my immediate family separately.   My wife and I saw The Way Up tour in 2004 as an anniversary present.  It is a jazz record, but organized into four parts like a symphony.  The work is a masterpiece drawing from many musical influences including the composer Steve Reich.  As  composers, the writing duo of Pat Metheny (guitar) and Lyle Mays (keyboards) are in the same league as Rogers and Hammerstein and Lennon and McCartney.   And Metheny is a national treasure.  The music from The Way Up suite awakens my creative impulses and helps keep my midlife out of crisis.

2003_0104aniversary-school-05

Can You Learn To Like Music You Don’t?

GH CT_Concert

Can you learn to like music you hate?  Research suggests you can.  But I’m a skeptic.  Country music?  NEVER.  And I’m a country boy (of sorts), having grown up in Arkansas and having spent summers and my college days in rural NW Arkansas.  The truth is, I probably could learn to like music I hate if I tried.   According to a research study, people react negatively to certain kinds of unfamiliar music.  They may not recognize a particular chord structure in the music and simply can’t hear and process it.  Researchers argue that it’s like encountering a foreign language for the first time. In the study, subjects with no musical background took a crash course on music theory and then listened again to music they had previously rejected.  On the balance, the “trained” subjects were better able to process dissonant chords.  Now this doesn’t mean they loved the music, but they apparently understood it better which is the first step toward acceptance.

This brings me to an interesting question:  how does one acquire musical taste?  Need one be a musician to enjoy a diverse palate of music? I submit that it helps, but is not a requirement.  Think of the language acquisition analogy.  Children consistently exposed to rich inputs of multiple languages in the home or school stand a much better chance of acquiring the languages (and without an accent) than children from monolingual backgrounds.

I can trace my own musical tastes to early exposure.  Jazz.  My dad used to come home from work and play jazz records – Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck were two artists I remember.  I didn’t really like the music much as a 6 year old, but I liked my dad.  I wouldn’t begin to listen to jazz in earnest until my late teens, but my dad paved the way.  Same is true of classical music.  I didn’t like it much growing up, but it was around me all the time.  My mother was a musician and music educator – still is.  She sang in church choirs and chamber orchestras. And she played the piano, as did my sister.  They played a lot of classical music.  As a kid, I took piano lessons from a  world class bell choir instructor and arranger and church organist.  This lasted about a year because my older sister, who also took lessons, was a much better keyboardist than I – plus I didn’t like being compared to her, or to practice.  The only thing I can play on the piano today is “Strangers in the Night” (with my right hand) and I learned that by myself before I began taking piano lessons.  I daydreamed and doodled a lot during church services as a kid, but when the church organist played, often Bach, the music dramatically soared out of hundreds of pipes and caught my attention.  I didn’t begin to seriously listen to and buy classical music until my 30’s, which was right around the time the CD was starting to compete with and overtake vinyl.

Commercial radio, the Midnight Special and American Bandstand probably influenced my tastes the most as a kid.  I worked throwing a paper route and mowing lawns to feed my thirst for records – 45’s, and LP’s.  One of my first 45’s was Stevie Wonder’s “You are the Sunshine of My Life” and one of my first albums was his landmark Innervisions, which ranks up there as one of my favorite LPs.   My dad turned me onto Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake in my mid-teens.  I felt some liberation from commercial radio when my sister brought home a Jeff Beck album, Blow by Blow.  And that led to my interest in jazz rock fusion, back to Miles and on to Weather Report and Herbie Hancock.  I discovered a lot of music on my own, often quite randomly; sometimes I bought an album of an unknown (to me) artist for the cover art or photography.  This is how I stumbled across the music of the Pat Metheny Group below:

Pat Metheny_Fayetteville AR 1984

I often joke that I have musical genes but no gift.  I may have an ear for music, but apart from some piano lessons at age 7, no formal training.  I owe my ability to appreciate and understand jazz and classical music to early and constant exposure.  I am proof that an average person can learn to like music that he previously rejected. But this process takes time, in my case, it took years.  Will I ever learn to love country and folk, rap and heavy metal?  Probably not due to the lack of early and consistent exposure; respect yes, love…love is such a strong word.

Here’s another self-indulgent look at the influences on my musical tastes:

  • Rock, Pop and R&B – Commercial radio, the Midnight Special, American Bandstand, Soul Train, friends, record stores and album covers
  • Jazz – my dad, my sister, Guitar Player magazine (the John McGlaughlin edition), KUAF, and a Miles record
  • Alternative and Punk – MTV, KUAF and KRFA DJ M.A.
  • Classical – my mom, ML Thompson, church organists, music appreciation class in college (an easy A),  Menotti’s Amhal and the Night Visitors and Star Trek
  • Blues – Muddy Waters with Eric Clapton one night in Pine Bluff, Arkansas
  • Industrial, Ambient, Minimalist and Odd Sounds – the drone of the industrial strength fan on a hot day in elementary school, church organists, WZBC and the laundry room at home where I used to chill and listen to the washer and dryer.

2012 – The Year of Records

Festive Orbs

Congressional Approval Rating: 18%

President Obama’s Job Approval Rating: 54%

Unemployment Rate: 7.9%

Gas Prices (Source Gas-Buddy):  Tuscon – $2.858; Lubbock – $2.865; Little Rock – $3.068; Chicago – $3.40; Boston – $3.475; LA – $3.609;  NYC – $3.773; Honolulu – $3.918

Most expensive college:  Sara Lawrence College (not to be confused with Sara Lee) – $60,116/yr

Motor Trend 2013 Car of the YearTesla Model S – $58,000 (an all electric car) 0-60 4.4 seconds with no emissions.

Weather 2012:  (source – Dr. Jeff Masters’ wunderblog)

  • Great Drought of 2012 – driest since Dust Bowl era.  In July, 61% of U.S. contiguous land mass in drought like conditions. Mississippi River at lowest levels ever.
  • Hottest year on record.  On August 1, half the state of Oklahoma recorded temperatures of 110 or higher.  Death Valley tied record for highest low at 107 and highest average 24 hour temperature of 117.5.
  • Hurricane Sandy – largest tropical storm-force winds spanning 943 miles of coastline.
  • 28 tornadoes hit on Christmas Day breaking the previous record of 12 set in 1969.

Average movie ticket price: 2012 – $8.12; 1995 – $4.35.

Best LPs of 2012:  my picks sourced from Rolling StonesNPR and Stereophile.  26 albums, multiple genres, one playlist.  See below:  Don’t have Spotify, get it free (with ads, sorry), but it’s worth it.

12/12/12

The end of the world came and went without incident.

Best of 2012

IMG_1542

Here’s a random list that came to mind over morning coffee.  I know I’ve left some stuff out, but it also occurred to me that I need to do several lists.  This one is mostly devoted to entertainment.  I plan to post a couple of political ones too, maybe a best and worst.  I might even do a top news items one too, though it’s sometimes difficult to separate news from politics.

Best Film:  Argo (reviewed here) and then probably Lincoln, but I didn’t see it.

Best Actor:  Alan Arkin in Argo

Best Indie Film:  Beasts of the Southern Wild.  See my review here.

Best Jazz Album:  Unity BandPat Metheny

Best Rock Album:  Clockwork Angels – Rush This one got them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is their best work in their 35+ year career.

Best Musical DVD: Orchestrion – Pat Metheny.  Fascinating.  I saw him perform this in concert in 2010, reviewed here.  My words did not do it justice, but do yourself a favor and buy the DVD.

Best Classical Album:  HarmonielehreShort Ride in a Fast Machine – John Adams

Best Book:  Drift – Rachel Maddow

Best Weekend Talk Show:  Up With Chris Hayes

Best TV Show: Top Gear UK

Best Concert: Yes – Boston (the only one I saw all year)

Best Wine: Santa Cristina Toscana IGT 2010.  Sublime wime and nicely priced.

Best Commercial:  Wax Vac with best actor going to the guy who stabs his ear with a Q-Tip and yells OUch.

Best electronic gadget: Kindle Paperwhite e-reader.  I plan to review it later, but will say that it meets my expectations, which are admittedly low and I’ve managed to nearly read one free book on the thing: Nostromo by Joseph Conrad.  The Paperwhite lovingly keeps track of my reading speed and tells me how long it will take me to finish a book and how much of it I’ve read.  I’m 91% through Nostromo and have 38 minutes to go.  But the book is a slow slog and I’ll be happy when I’m done.  I like Conrad, but don’t recommend Nostromo.  I’ve downloaded lots of other free classics including Moby Dick, which may take me 8 years to read and thankfully the battery charge is said to last 8 years…or maybe its 8 weeks, I forget.  I accidentally purchased The Complete Sherlock Holmes for $2.99 after downloading a free version earlierI had this coupon from Amazon for a free download from a selection of books including the aforementioned Sir Authur Conan Doyle masterpiece illustrated, but I somehow botched the instructions and wound up buying it instead.  Now I have two Complete Works.  I have tons of other books on my wish list but I can’t bring myself to knowingly buy a book when there are so many classics for free that I want to reread, or have never read.  One thing is sure, with my Paperwhite, I’ll be reading more in the coming year and that’s a good thing.

Cheers!

Heart and Rush in the Hall

RRHOF

Rush and Heart along with a handful of other artists will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RRHOF) next year, two bands I grew up listening to back in high school.  They may not have been the most significant bands of the era, or the most interesting or flashy.  Their records were not all masterpieces, but they had tons of fans in their hey days and sold out big arenas across the U.S. and Canada.  Interestingly, they are both Canadian bands.  Heart actually formed in Canada where they recorded Dreamboat Annie (1976), their first and perhaps best LP.  2112 , also released in 1976, propelled Rush onto the international stage.  As a teen, it was one of the records in constant play on my turntable, as was Heart’s Dog & Butterfly (1978), an underrated classic and in my view, the band’s magnum opus.

Are the two bands deserving of the RRHOF?  Perhaps.  Given the amount of time I spent listening to Hemispheres (1978) and Dog & Butterfly as a teenager, I think yes.  And from the standpoint of durability, the bands are still standing and playing after nearly 40 years – and that’s a lot of years rock and rolling.  Heart may not have had quite the impact that Rush has had.  They still tour, but play theaters, not arenas.  Rush on the other hand just completed the North American leg of their Clockwork Angels  (2012) world tour where they have played large arenas and will continue to do so in Europe in 2013.  And by the way, Clockwork Angels may be their best LP to date.  No many bands who have been playing since the 70’s would be capable of producing a masterpiece together nearly 40 years later let alone pulling it off as Rush has.

To Rush, Heart and all the 2013 inductees to the RRHOF, Congratulations and rock on!

After Harvest

After Harvest.  What comes to mind?  Ponder for a moment how one might artistically explore the theme. How might it sound, move, or come to life through poetry or on canvas.  As Thomas Mann wrote, “art is the funnel through which spirit is poured into life”.  The event, After Harvest, organized by Pampi  & Lore of alpoarrentao Productions, brought together a diverse range of talented artists and musicians to celebrate the autumnal spirit with a crowd of arts patrons.  And all for a suggested donation of $25, U.S., perhaps the most satisfying and least expensive night of quality entertainment to be found anywhere!

After Harvest took place at a studio on Fort Point 18 feet and seven floors above sea level between Chinatown and South Boston.  The studio had a cozy feel and warm vibe due in part to its design with wrap around windows and After Harvest adornments including atmospheric stringed lighting, dyed textiles hanging from the ceiling like open parachutes and a welcoming Persian rug.  A  violin/flute duet of after harvest faeries escorted guests into the studio as the artists warmed up.  Volunteers served hearty and delicately spiced food.  The gracious folks at Likelii supplied wines perfectly suited to the food and the occasion.  My personal favorite, and one that my wife particularly enjoyed, was a fragrant Pinot Noir with a flavor profile of crushed, lightly spiced cherries, with a long finish; highly quaffable.  And when I finished my glass, I immediately went back for seconds.  I sampled the other wines and found them all appealing.  The Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva was one to buy by the case and reserve for festive occasions like After Harvest. 

The opening act was a cellist by the name of Paulo Cesar Pereira.  If you don’t know his name, you should.  He’s a captivating performer and someone you don’t want to miss live. He played with passion and great technical skill and was a popular guest player with some of the other bands on the main bill.  He encored with requests, including a Jobim tune – Garota de Impanema during which a vocalist joined in along with the house bass player, Jo.  Paulo even played some Led Zeppelin, the opening of Kashmir to be exact, for the patron who yelled, “Metallica”.

The bands performed brilliantly.  So Sol defies description, like a complex wine that surprises and delights after every sip; a real crowd pleaser!  In their music, I heard a little rockabilly, Brazilian, and folk with hints of calypso, zydeco and a dash of polka.  Pure fun, nearly turning After Harvest into a Hootenanny.  After Harvest Hootenanny…I like that.

Lee Loo and Jason, two members of Incus, gave a stunningly gorgeous performance during the open mic program.  This amazingly talented duo reminded me a bit of Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan, who covered a Billie Holiday tune on Herbie Hancock’s Possibilities.  Absolute magic together.  I’ll be looking to attend a local Incus gig soon.

Detour . Wow.  This duet floored me.  Their music had an ambient quality to it, calming and meditative, and yet beautifully melodic and precise.  I could listen to them all night.  One of my favorites acts from the open mic segment.

Four Elements.  Certainly a fitting name for an After Harvest performance.  They played last and they too floored me.  I was impressed with the players’ technical mastery of their instruments. Chris Baum on violin and Paul Erlich on guitar played with focused intensity.  I was watching their hands and wondering how they could play so fast with such precision.  The percussionist was so absorbed in the music that he appeared to be in a trance like state.  And I should add that Jo the bassist was spot on and performed yeoman like work the whole night.  What a great band! I heard many influences in their sound including that of guitarist Fareed Haque and the great John McLaughlin’s legendary band, the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

The Leaves Broken In Poem Dance.  Brilliant!  The improvised movement to cello, flute and spoken word mesmerized the audience.  Pampi and Natalie moved with grace and fluidity to Aura’s spontaneous narration based on Pampi’s original “Leaves Broken In Poem” creating an evocative, dramatic work of beauty; a masterpiece that captured the essence of After Harvest.

Song Not Car Star in VW Ad

Volkswagen has a new ad out, you know the one with the dude who makes a good drumstick toss and catch air drumming to an old Rush tune in his new black VW Passat? Well, once again, the song is the star, not the dude, and not the car.  This time, the song is Fly By Night, a slightly undervalued song from the album by the same name.  Rush released Fly By Night in 1975 and it helped launch their career that is still going strong today.  Have you heard their latest album Clockwork Angels?  You should, because it is good, it really is and might be as good as their classic album 2112 and that’s saying a lot.  Why these guys are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is beyond me.

I said Volkswagen has an ad out and once again the song is the star.  Do you remember the other song that stared several years back?  You should if you don’t.  Pink Moon by Nick Drake.  The title track from his third album released in 1973, Pink Moon is dark and pensive as are the rest of the bleak but gorgeous songs on the LP.  It would be his last recording before he died of an overdose.  If you don’t know his music, check him out.  You’ll be glad you did.

Paul Ryan’s Music References Fall Short

The “young gun” and Wisconsin cheesehead who deserted the state to attend college in neighboring Ohio, walked onto the stage at the RNC  to accept the VP nomination accompanied by music that I swear sounded like the tune, “The Boys Are Back In Town” by the Irish band, Thin Lizzy.  Have you ever heard the lyrics to that song? The boys in the song are not exactly respectful of women and the band romanticizes drunken bar fights.  And speaking of bars, wasn’t it Boehner who threatened to throw Obama out of “the bar” in his speech? Anyway, I suppose the song is fitting for a man anointed as the leader of the “young guns”, who has a hawkish voting record and supports policies that are anti-women.  I am not saying that he doesn’t like women – he has a family and children.  What I am saying is that his record speaks for itself.  He voted to defund planned parenthood and has consistently voted to make it more difficult for women to exercise the right to control their own bodies.  And it’s not just those votes.  Ryan also voted against a bill that would require women to be paid the same as men for equal work.  As to his hawkishness, he’s voted for all the wars, big defense and get this – he voted yes on a bill to allow loaded guns in National Parks.  This makes me think of Yosemite Sam.

And for all this talk about how great America is, Ryan’s record shows a real distaste for two of the things Americans do best – science and the arts – he voted to end NPR, not to be confused with the NRA. And for a man who would be the first to hold the “Country First” sign, his taste in music is curious.  American music is one of our national treasures, yet when his big moment came where he had the chance to tip his cap to Americana, he instead walked onto the stage to the music of the Irish band Thin Lizzy, and later bragged of his A to Z ipod tunes beginning with the Aussie band AC/DC and ending with the British band Led Zeppelin, which would probably have been in the L, not the Z position.  Not that these aren’t good bands, or that I’m xenophobic or anything, it’s just that that Ryan completely disrespected one of America’s greatest exports.  He could have at least mentioned the band America in the A position (maybe that was on Mitt’s ipod) and ended with some ZZ Top, a nod to the Texas contingency.  To impress the more cultured Independents out there, he could have thrown in a Coltrane, Duke Ellington or say an Aaron Copland reference.  And what about some of the greats in his own backyard of Wisconsin like Woody Herman, Les Paul and the hip Bon Iver? What a missed opportunity!

London Olympics Opening Ceremony Ok but…

I saw some of the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics and later all of the highlights and have to say that I felt like I was at the cinema watching movie trailers with lots of stunts, pyrotechnics and clever moments. I chuckled when David Beckham arrived via boat with the torch and wondered if Posh Spice was on board.  Mr. “bend it like” Beckham handed the torch to a legendary British rower, who ran for a bit before passing the torch on to a group of future Olympic hopefuls.  If I had choreographed the ceremony, I’d have had the rower row in from the Thames with oars shaped as torches adorned with LED lighting.  He would have then passed it off to Beckham for a scissors kick to set off the fireworks and lighting of the rings, which in turn would have  lit the tower.

I’m a concert goer, not a theatre goer, so all the theatrics did not move me as much as the music.  Personally, I would have preferred a live Rolling Stones set, but really who could complain with a Beatle gone solo. Paul McCartney, who, frankly, even with cosmetic adjustments, is beginning to look and sound his age, performed only as he could with a rousing “Hey Jude”.  I wonder if Julian Lennon was in the crowd? I kept waiting for Ringo and George to emerge on stage or parachute down from a “heli”, as Bear Gryls might do, but I guess the Beatles are not getting back together after all.

The soundtrack to the Danny Boyle extravaganza included songs by Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Radiohead and David Bowie among other British bands and musicians, but did not include anything from two of my favorite bands of all time, Genesis and Yes.   The set list should have included the Yes tunes “Roundabout” (because there are so many in London) and “Long Distance Runaround”, for obvious reasons and some perhaps not so.  See my Music For Olympics playlist on Spotify.

I’m just glad the Olympics have finally opened.  Let the games begin!

YES, Boston 2012

Yes, Boston 2012

Yes is one of my favorite bands of all time and I’m thrilled that I finally got the chance to see them live.  And they did not disappoint.  Frankly, I was amazed at how good the aging rockers sounded.  By way of a little personnel history of Yes, bassist Chris Squire formed the band with vocalist Jon Anderson in 1968. Steve Howe joined in 1971, and helped propel the band to commercial success.  In his first year, the band recorded two landmark LPs:  The Yes Album and Fragile. Drummer Alan White replaced Bill Bruford in 1972.  After a string of keyboardists contributed their expertise to the band, including the theatrical organist, Rick Wakeman, Geoffrey Downes joined Yes in 1980 and has played with the band in several configurations and spinoffs over the years including Asia.  Original vocalist Jon Anderson, who in my opinion was the heart and soul of the Yes sound, left, came back, left again, came back, left after an illness, wanted back in, but it never came to pass. To fill his big shoes over the years, Yes experimented with a number of vocalists including Trevor Rabin, Trevor Horn, Benoit David and Jon Davison who sounds eerily like Anderson with a similar stage presence.  The current lineup includes Howe, Squire, White and Davison.  The band’s history is even more complicated than the lineup changes but I won’t get into that.  Suffice it to say that this current configuration of YES sounds great!

When I was in high school, I listened to Yes a lot, even obsessively so if you asked my mom. I owned most of their albums and literally wore out Yessongs (1973), one of the great live progressive rock recordings of the 70’s.  In college, I particularly enjoyed Tales From Topographic Oceans (1974) and Going For The One (1977) and was absolutely delighted to hear 3 selections from these, in my opinion, undervalued Yes albums.

I soured on Yes after what I considered the mediocre records of Tormato (1978) and Drama (1980) and lost interest in the newer sound of Yes, but still occasionally listened to the old stuff.

Fast forward 28 years.  My youngest daughter home from college for the summer told me that Yes was coming to Boston.  She knew I liked the band, and though not a big fan herself, seemed at least curious and receptive to their sound.  My wife is not a progressive rocker, so I bought tickets for myself and my two daughters.

To prepare for what I imagined would be the bulk of the show’s musical content, I bought Yes’ latest CD (mp3 files actually) Fly From Here (2011).  I didn’t initially like it much, but it grew on me after playing it a dozen or so times.  I was struck by how much the vocalist, in this case, Benoit David, sounded like Jon Anderson. When I learned that he was no longer touring with the band, I was a little disappointed and doubtful that Yes could find a suitable replacement.  My concerns, however, were put to rest the moment vocalist Jon Davison hit his first notes on the opening song – “Yours Is No Disgrace.”  It was as if he were lip synching to Jon Anderson’s vocals. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Davison delivered a superior version of Anderson.

The Boston show was a riot.  Procol Harum started off the night.  Lead singer Gary Brooker was a hoot, cracking jokes about their age – these guys, well, at least Gary and Geoff Whitehorn, his soulful Fender Strat playing compatriot, must be pushing 70.  Brooker was saying stuff like the band had downloads of their latest material available, but that he himself did not know how to download anything, that he had a typewriter and kept his money in a shoebox under his bed.  He later invited the audience to dance to a tune written in 4 4 time in a minor key, because the band particularly likes to dance in minor keys.   They saved their signature tune for last: “Whiter Shade of Pale”.  The largely pale and aging crowd went wild, as if awakened from a collective evening nap.

Speaking of the crowd, I was a little disappointed that the venue was only about two-thirds full. I expected Yes to sellout, but I had to remind myself that this is 2012, not 1973.  And there were a fair number of people in the audience who were adults in 1973.  At nearly 50 myself, I was one of the younger members of the audience.  The youngest were quite likely first time Yes listeners, who, like my daughters, were introduced to the band first by their parents.

The acoustics at the Bank of America Pavilion were surprisingly good.  The band sounded absolutely fantastic.  They played songs almost exclusively from their earlier period much to the delight of the seniors in attendance with the exception of “Tempus Fugit” from Drama (1980) and the “Fly From Here” suite (2011).  They even played part of a tune from Tales From Topographic Oceans (1974) which was both a surprise and delight.

The light show left quite a bit to be desired.  My youngest described it as a Windows 2001 screensaver.  But the show truly was about the music so no one seemed to care or notice for that matter.  Some in the crowd provided their own special effects with the aid of hallucinogenic herbs as evidenced by the faint smell of cannabis that wafted through the briny night air courtesy of a pleasant sea breeze.

I kept saying to my daughters, “what a great band”, and they both seemed impressed and somewhat surprised by the beauty of the music.  And it really was a beautiful night.  May Yes live to play another decade!

I’ve provided the set list from the concert below.  If you have Spotify, you can tap on the links to play all the songs.  If you don’t have Spotify yet, what are you waiting for? I think you can still get Spotify with ads for free.

YES set list, Bank of America Pavilion, Boston, MA  – 7/21/2012

Yes Set List in playlist format

or individually if you prefer:

Yours Is No Disgrace

Tempus Fugit

I’ve Seen All Good People

America

The Clap

Second Initial

The Ancient/Giants Under the Sun (Giants only with vocal part)

Fly From Here

Wonderous Stories

Heart of the Sunrise

Awaken

Roundabout (encore)