The Heroic Frontman
The group called Yes, has split into two factions, Yes ARW, with Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, and Rick Wakeman; and Yes, with Steve Howe, Alan White, and Geoff Downes. There are original and senior members in both lineups. Here, my focus is on Yes, with new vocalist, Jon Davison, who serves as the focal point of this article.
Let’s start with the naysayers, who proclaim that if you remove the front man, you’ve killed the band. I used to be part of that group. After all, the history here is not on Yes’ side. All one has to do is point to Van Halen, Queen, or The Doors. The frontman seems to be irreplaceable. It’s just not the same band anymore, as the frontman embodies the band’s persona. But, hang on… exceptions do exist, such as when Genesis sent their drummer up to the mic. The iconic A Trick of the Tail and Wind and Wuthering followed, with Collins’ seemingly tailor-made voice carrying each unforgettable track.
In the case of Yes, some say that Davison is only there because he’s a Jon Anderson sound-alike, and moreover…that it’s demeaning to him, and insulting to the fans. Well, I’m not insulted. My first and purest response was… Why not enjoy both? Why can’t they both exist in this universe as enjoyable entities?
But, for the sake of good sport and hopefully, fun and fruitful banter among music fans, let me go on.
A Common Argument
Many feel that in a band, there is an irreplaceable link, without whom the band loses its identity… sometimes that band member is a vocalist and sometimes it’s not. One blogger applied this point of view to the Yes situation:
I think my romanticization, as you call it (of Jon Anderson), stems from what Anderson does to a Yes song when he sings it and how the magic drains away when Anderson-imitators have a go.
While I appreciate this point of view, and would agree that it sometimes applies in some situations, in some groups. I don’t think it always applies. And I don’t think it applies here.
Firstly, his position carries a presupposition, from the get-go. How about if we don’t come into it thinking of Davison as an “imitator?” Perhaps, like a cherished classical concerto, we may look upon music of this caliber as timeless, to the point of overshadowing its original members altogether, in the sense that, no matter who delivers it, it has the capacity to continue on and shine. Granted, it may be a rare moon when the stars can align in such a way, but I think they have, in this case
An Analogy to Make my Point
Ship of Theseus; What Makes a band…a band?
There is a thought experiment in philosophy, which explores the idea of identity. What makes you, you? Or, in this case, what makes a band, a band?
This question comes by way of the famous ship sailed by the hero, Theseus, which has been kept on display in a harbor. As the years go by, all the planks begin to rot and are replaced, one by one, by new ones. After a century or so, all the parts have been replaced.
Is the “restored” ship still the same object as the original?
As an additional curiosity, suppose that each of the rotted pieces were stored away, and after many years, were restored and reassembled into a new ship. Is this “reconstructed” ship the original ship? And if so, is the restored ship in the harbor still the original ship, as well?
The analogy reflects back on the two versions of the group called Yes, both with claims of genuine identity.
The Ship of Theseus serves as a reminder to think of ourselves as works in progress, rather than as finished projects. Perhaps a band is also a work in progress. But it also asks us to reconsider the importance we place on continuity… where is the continuity? There are original members in each lineup, but even there, they are not the same people anymore, themselves. If identity change is slow and gradual, at what point can we all agree that enough parts have been changed so as to warrant the announcement of a changed identity?
Enough Mind Games; Listen with your Heart
The point is, we can’t and won’t agree. So, after the mental experiments are exhausted, we’re left with the heart… and the only question that matters to the heart, is… Do you like it? Do you feel transported, while listening? The answer to that, for me, is… Yes.
But even with that said, a bit of magic happens in any art form, when something sincere and authentic is being expressed. And this something comes through, even in cases where some form of duplication is at work. Consider Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes… they worked because there is something new to say… and it is beyond what the eye can see. In the case of music… it is heard, or better, felt. And it comes through the delivery, when that delivery is heartfelt by the performers, themselves… and then met by the receivers in similar heartfelt openness. It’s a synergistic union.
All artists borrow. They’re all influenced by what came before. But in a new amalgamation, in space and time, newly embodied, freshly inspired and in complementary interaction with others, something fresh is born. But that offspring itself, is ever-changing and evolving. In this case, it’s the body of work, called the Yes catalogue, which will see many incarnations that may likely outlive its original creators.
It’s constantly being newly created, anyway, even if only played by original members!
What is Real
It Becomes his, upon Delivery. Because Davison feels what he is singing and this was apparent to these viewers, it then becomes his at that moment of delivery. During delivery, he wholly embodies the material and is wholly in that point in time, wholly present, in heart and mind, and therefore, the material is, at that instant, his. And when we join in as viewers, it is ours.
After all, even an original lineup can end up being a parody of itself, if uninspired and burned out. Meaning…
“Real” has to come from someplace else… some other ingredients than sameness of physical bodies.
Inside out… outside in… he sang, in “Perpetual Change,” and as his smooth falsetto soared into the ethers, the layers of musical patterns then ballooned into a multi-textured phenomenon of rhythms and harmony, underscored by Howeâ€™s steel guitar. And together, they ascended, in playful dance, like a regal spacecraft lifting off and gliding up toward the celestial spheres, with fluid and effortless lift toward transcendence.
Bottom Line; Authenticity
So, in answer to the notion that Jon Davison is merely “copying” Jon Anderson, there is so much more at work. He happens to be a right fit. Like when two lovers find each other. The chemistry is right… the conversation is right… the personalities are right… and a host of other things, that we will never even fully understand, are right. He was born and gifted with that angelic voice… or, even deeper than the voice… it’s the spirit that comes through the voice. He seems to channel the very essence of Yes. He’s not just singing the words. His soul and his voice find themselves at home here.
And so, a new rendering is born.
And, like Thesius’ ship… why pick one: each ship, at this time, is a unique “event.” Nothing stays the same, ever…
Everything is in perpetual change.
The bottom line is, authenticity. To the naysayers, I’m here to be the other voice. And it was a sight to behold. He gets it. He really gets it. He understands he is standing with legends. He is authentic in his feelings and that comes through his delivery. And he will die with the distinction of having stood next to them… masters at their craft.
Yes’ Set List
Songs played at the Ford Theater June 19th, 2018 (7:30PM-10:30PM)
Lineup: Steve Howe, Alan White, Geoff Downes, Billy Sherwood, Jon Davison (Guest: Tony Kaye)
1. Close to the Edge
2. Nine Voices
4. Mood for a Day
6. Fly from Here
7. Sweet Dreams
8. Heart of the Sunrise (Intermission)
9. Perpetual Change
10. Does it Really Happen
12. Awaken (Encore)
13. Yours is no Disgrace
15. Starship Trouper