Wednesday, 12th July 2023
Legendary singer Jon Anderson visits the Netherlands, something you simply can’t ignore as a true Yes fan. It’s been a long time since Anderson visited our country; I had to look it up and it has been sixteen years since he played De Boerderij in Zoetermeer, in December 2007. The man still performs with some regularity, sometimes with a genuine rock combo, The Band Geeks, but also with a large group of young musical talents under the name the Paul Green Rock Academy. He has been performing with the Academy since 2021, and a close bond has developed between the iconic British prog hero and Green’s American music school. The knife cuts both ways: Anderson gets an extremely dedicated and talented backing band and the students get the chance to present themselves on the international rock stages under the wings of the grandfather of prog rock. This time to Zoetermeer the location is the Stadstheater, but the organising party is, as always, Poppodium de Boerderij, who are responsible for all the technology, both sound and light, security and hosting.
The Paul Green Rock Academy is introduced by the man himself, a colourful mixture of The Stones and especially Zappa songs is played by an ever changing group of sometimes as many as seventeen men/women on stage at the same time. There is clearly an abundance of talent present. I am overcome with a mixture of disbelief, amazement and alienation. Green himself introduces and conducts the selected students of his School of Rock. Young is the key word this evening; the musicians are barely 19 years old, both boys and girls, the so called TikTok generation. A few of the talents stand out: a couple of female singers, but especially the young Prince lookalike guitarist in his glittering sweater, playing on a black Gibson Les Paul. As far as I’m concerned, he should receive an open invitation to become the next prog guitar hero. Talent scouts, managers, have you been paying attention? Green asks for understanding in advance for the inevitable mistakes that the complex music of Yes – but certainly also of Zappa – could entail. In an ever-changing line-up, with lightning-fast instrument changes between songs, the army of talent plays their way through a set that lasts forty-five minutes. The future of rock music looks pretty good, at least if it’s up to the Paul Green Rock Academy.
Then it’s time for the entrance of the little big man, Jon Anderson joins the huge rock orchestra. The opener includes a few stanzas from Heart of the Sunrise followed by a smashing version of Yours is No Disgrace. A few items immediately stand out: a great guitarist, playing on a Fender Telecaster, and the enormous ‘wall of sound’ that the 17-piece band manages to create. Phil Spector would have been jealous of it. During I’ve Seen All Good People Anderson even gets vocal support from no fewer than eight ladies.
The heavy tones of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir flow seamlessly into Don’t Kill the Whale, clever by Jon and the kids. The same trick follows the Eminem song Lose Yourself, which morphs into Jon & Vangelis’ well-known State of Independence. Personal favourite South Side of the Sky forms the first real highlight of the evening, especially guitar and keyboards excel. The mistakes do not come from the youngsters, but from composer Anderson himself: he joins in too late – hilarious.
Lenny Kravitz’s big hit Fly Away is played at much too high a volume and transitions seamlessly into Long Distance Runaround / The Fish, with Zappa-like improvisations by guitar and keyboards led by the omnipresent Green. Owner of a Lonely Heart promises a spectacle with seven mainly female vocalists, three saxophonists and a leading role for the lady guitarist in boots who performs Trevor Rabin’s part superbly.
With a more or less classical line-up, only seven musicians, Perpetual Change stays closer to the original; if I’m honest that is my preference. Steve Howe’s acoustic masterpiece Mood For a Day is promoted to a duo-instrumental by Tess and May, receiving a huge round of applause. Leave It from 90125 with its a cappella part is no doubt a great showcase for the extremely talented class of singers, I count eight in total. This time without Jon, the energy oozes off, it’s time for a break after 75 minutes of playing, not so much for the musicians, but mostly for the audience.
The maestro is in good voice this evening and is visibly having a good time. Sometimes his voice drowns in the overkill of female voices and I wonder if the autotune is sometimes used. He looks great, the 78-year-old legend moves relatively smoothly across the stage and his humorous announcements manage to touch the audience.
Especially during solo pieces such as Perpetual Change and State of Independence, his voice and range stand out, in a positive sense. He may be forgiven for having to read his own lyrics from a tablet and for the names of fellow musicians to prove difficult. The mannerisms, the hand gestures, they are still there but much less present than in the past, perhaps the influence of the youth surrounding him?
After the break, as promised, the iconic Close to the Edge will kick off, now 51 years old but still relevant. Anderson is supported by four female singers during the title track, perhaps a bit too much. That does not alter the fact that this was truly an excellent rendition of this twenty-minute highlight from Yes’s oeuvre, especially I Get Up I Get Down is majestic. An enthusiastic crowd rewards the band with a standing ovation.
The band also plays at the top of its capabilities in the subsequent And You and I, and the same applies to Jon’s vocal performance. A somewhat chaotic heavy version of Siberian Khatru closes the integral version of Close To The Edge. Long-haired Luke is a super-enthusiastic singer/bass guitarist, he gets to perform Bowie’s Let’s Dance, which eventually flows smoothly into Starship Trooper. The improvisations led by Green are sometimes over the top.
The iconic sounds of traditional closer Roundabout bring the audience to their feet and a full band to the stage, I estimate that at least twenty-five people participate in this musical closing section. Finally, ‘Prince’ plays the last notes of Heart of the Sunrise and then it’s all over, it’s now around half past eleven.
Anderson & prog kids have already toured the US earlier this year and now have some European shows ahead of them; after Hungary and the Netherlands, performances will follow in Sweden, Germany, Spain, England, Sweden, Ireland and the Czech Republic. The show in Valkenburg, the Netherlands at the beginning of August is already sold out. A sold out city theatre in Zoetermeer, some 800 attending, reacted very enthusiastically, which indicates that the music of the British prog pioneers is still standing tall. Personally, I look forward to a show with the aforementioned Band of Geeks, because I think Anderson’s unique voice needs little or no (vocal) support. That does not detract from the special show that band and vocalist have presented us on this warm summer night.
Set 1: Paul Green Rock Academy (without Jon Anderson)
Honky Tonk Women
You Didn’t Try
Set 2: Paul Green Rock Academy with Jon Anderson
Heart of the Sunrise
Yours is No Disgrace
I’ve Seen All Good People
Don’t Kill the Whale
State of Independence
South Side of the Sky
Long Distance Runaround
The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)
Owner of a Lonely Heart
Mood for a Day
– Interval –
Close to the Edge
And You and I
Jon Anderson – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Percussion
The Paul Green Rock Academy