I'd expected the Anderson Wakeman Project 360 to be pretty similar to their 2006 tour.
Based on this performance, Anderson's voice has not recovered. I have only the utmost sympathy for what he went through in 2008 and I hope his voice does continue to recover, but right now, it hasn't. I've described before the nasal quality you hear with Anderson's voice on The Living Tree and Survival & Other Stories, and that was present, but more apparent was when Anderson would slip into a throaty rasp. He is still distinctively Jon and his pitch control is fine. His mid-range is reasonable, particularly on the songs he knows well, but he struggles on some of the higher and lower notes. He has no sustain, and erratic volume control, often no volume. In the second of two one-hour sets, they had turned the volume of his microphone way up, which helped but had the effect that you could hear his sibilants hissing. This was the last show of his longest tour since his 2008 health problems, so perhaps he was better earlier in the tour; some reviews suggest so. However, I can't imagine Jon, with this voice, making it through even one Yes show.
Plenty have commented on Anderson's guitar playing. He's pretty poor, and while that sort of works in his one man show, it was often a distraction here. But I expected decent playing from Wakeman and he was dropping notes and demonstrated no fluidity.
This relaxed approach, Wakeman's cheap-sounding synths and Anderson's basic guitar playing, worked some of the time. Songs like "Time and a Word" (an odd mishmash of styles that surprisingly worked, their enthusiasm coming through) or "Wonderous Stories" suited the format, but others, like an abbreviated "Starship Trooper" and a lacklustre "Yours is No Disgrace", did not work at all for me. We got a horrible, dirty mush of electronic keyboard sounds that sucked any potential out of "Turn of the Century" and "Soon", whereas the clear piano setting for Wakeman's synth for "The Meeting" was much better. The performance made me appreciate what a wonderful instrument the grand piano is! On just piano in 2006, Wakeman was able to conjure up the majesty of the great Yes pieces, but on two electronic keyboards here, we got too many cheesy burps and tinkly notes.
The set list seems to reflect Jon's choices with its similarity to his solo sets. Thus, the oddity of so many songs that Wakeman didn't play on originally ("Sweet Dreams", "Time and a Word", "Yours is No Disgrace", "Starship Trooper", "Soon", "Owner of a Lonely Heart"). Anderson "royally screwed up" (his words) "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and they had to re-start it.
The epic feel and dynamics of the classic Yes songs, that the pair surprised me by capturing on their 2006 tour, was largely lost in these karaoke versions. The exception was a great "South Side of the Sky" (barring some poor keyboard sound choices in Wakeman's closing solo) and perhaps parts of "And You and I". Much more than 2006, the absence of the other three Yesmen was very apparent.
The new songs were close to the album versions, and the same praise and criticism applies. "Morning Star" was an up-tempo highlight. Anderson's explanations of his lyrics was interesting, although they sometimes only seemed to emphasise how little work had gone into some of the material, like his description of the random numbers in "23/34/11". (So, if it's 23 days, 24 hours and 11 minutes, isn't that actually 24 days and 11 minutes?) Anderson seems to feel an instant response matters more than working on something.
The humour, the shtick, mostly worked. There was a certain welcoming bonhomie, like a friendly club act. The pair dealt well with an annoying heckler in the first set. Some of the jokes were quite funny, although one was appalling. Jon, on occasion, seemed uncomfortable at the bawdiness, and sometimes just rather lost.
Compare the Steve Howe Trio, another reduced line-up playing plenty of Yes covers. The Trio breathes new life into the music, Howe attacks the music with more vigour than in Yes, new angles emerge. Not like here, not like this night. This was two old men relaxing on a big fluffy cushion of nostalgia. The Anderson Wakeman Project 360 felt like an epilogue, a winding down. The audience cheered and applauded the pair for what they'd done in the past, but there was little in the evening's performance to warrant the reaction they got, or the high ticket price.
There are those who criticise the current Yes, saying that seeing Yes in a reduced state, without Jon, playing to smaller crowds, the slower tempos, is damaging the legacy. I've argued against that view before but find myself more understanding of it as a certain melancholy descended on me in the Anderson Wakeman show. This is a pale imitation of what they once achieved, even compared to 2006: Jon's voice gone, both of them playing poorly, songs stripped of their magnificence. There were highlights, and we had a pleasant evening out, but this was a huge disappointment.
(For those of you awaiting my review of Survival & Other Stories, it will be along soon!)