Review: Jon Anderson at Spanos Theater

December 9, 2010


Some perfomers are great entertainers, musicians or storytellers but rarely all three combined. Jon Anderson, former lead vocalist from the prog-rock supergroup Yes and proud Arroyo Grande resident is an exception. And the close-to-capacity crowd for his Wednesday night concert at the cozy Spanos Theater, on the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death, responded with affection and admiration.

After a near –death experience a few years ago, Anderson understandably focused on themes of love and rebirth but not in a maudlin, sappy Michael Bolton kind of way. After all, this is a rock n’ roll icon who’s played sold-out stadium concerts around the world for years. With a falsetto that rivals Steve Perry and some serious guitar-playing chops and songwriting skills to boot, he demands some serious respect.

And boy, did he live up to that reputation.

Appearing on the spartan stage looking like a new-age Yogi with a long-sleeve, patterned white shirt and necklace but also the requisite rock star jeans and tennies, Anderson quickly rolled through new songs, struggling to find his stride. As an artist with nearly 50 years of material, it’s gotta be tough finding a balance between the Yes classics and his newer solo efforts. But Anderson soon picked his best non-Yes creations and favorites ‘Sweet Dreams/Starship Trooper/Long Distance Run Around’ and the performance soon gained momentum.

Humbly telling stories about his debt to ambulance drivers, Argentina concert threats and his collaboration with Vangelis, Anderson deftly connected these tales with the songs he played. Switching between two acoustic guitars and a ‘mountain dulcimer’, which he referred to as his strummer, Anderson showed his prowess not just as a singer but a songwriter and musician as well. He even sat down at the Yamaha keyboard to play the megahit ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart.’

Mixing in a reggae number on the ukulele with the upbeat ‘Light of Love’, Anderson, billed as the Voice of Yes, ran the gamut of a long and storied musical career. He was all over the map but in a good way – threading his choices and connecting well with the appreciative audience.

For me, acoustic shows sometimes fall flat, failing to sustain energy and keep an audience engaged. But somehow Anderson managed to recreate the vibrant musical complexity of Yes songs with just his voice and guitar, a truly remarkable feat. And his more unknown solo material was strong as well — by the end of many, you were singing and humming along. This is one talented dude.

On the classic “I’ve seen All Good People’, Anderson gave a shout out to John Lennon with the familiar “sending an instant karma to me” line. Afterward, he mused that the political/musical world would be a lot more interesting today if Lennon were still around. Touche.

The 95-minute show ended with a thankfully shortened ‘Roundabout’ encore along with an a cappella Irish folk song that he wrote when starting out in Yes. By then it was clear the adoring crowd of mostly middle-age 70’s rock fans had got what they came for — and much more.

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Always loved Yes and Jon Anderson… Spent many a night listening to them with headphones…