The history of progressive-rock giant Yes began in the late 1960s. The British group enjoyed its greatest success in the first half of the 1970s, with another peak at the height of the MTV era. In 2016, three of its most celebrated former members have come together again. Vocalist Jon Anderson sang on 18 of Yes’ 21 studio albums. Virtuoso musician Rick Wakeman played keyboards on the group’s most celebrated 1970s albums. And guitarist Trevor Rabin was a key factor in Yes’ resurgence of popularity in the ’80s. Anderson Rabin Wakeman (ARW for short) plays Heinz Hall on Oct. 12.
The idea for the ex-Yes members to collaborate has been simmering for nearly a quarter-century, says Wakeman in a phone interview. The three were part of Yes’ mammoth 1991 Union tour, with an eight-man lineup that featured musicians from throughout the group’s history. Wakeman describes that run of dates as “a completely mental tour, but I loved it; it was great fun.” He recalls that on the last day of the tour, “Trevor and I looked at each other and said, ‘You and I, we really have got to go out and play together, do some more.’”
Rabin left Yes in 1994 for a successful career in film scoring. Wakeman left and rejoined twice more, finally leaving in 2004. Anderson quit in 2008, also ending the prospect of the keyboardist ever returning. “I would not go out [onstage] without Jon singing,” Wakeman says. In the ensuing years, he and Anderson collaborated on several projects.
With the 2015 death of bassist Chris Squire, Yes (which still tours as a separate entity from ARW) lost its last original member. That sad event — Squire was 67 when he succumbed to leukemia — was the catalyst for Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman to make time to play together. “We were all suddenly very, very aware of our mortality,” says Wakeman. “And music mortality, you could say.” So the three made a commitment to do this tour, with more to follow. “We’re all genuinely, really excited about it,” says Wakeman.
The periods of Yes history represented by one, two or even all three of the musicians mean that there’s a wealth of material from which to choose for “an evening of Yes music and more.” Wakeman explains: “We want to do classic stuff, [but] we want to treat the music a bit differently as well. We want to keep all the elements that the songs have got, but maybe take things to a new level.” He says the goal is to employ different ideas while keeping the elements that make the songs what they are.
Wakeman is a bit more circumspect when asked about the group’s long-term plans. Might “more” mean an album? “We’re saying, ‘No, hold on a minute.’ We don’t have to rush into this. Because we want to play together, learn a bit more again about each other,” says Wakeman. And in doing that, ARW will simultaneously be reintroducing a whole new generation of concertgoers to the thrill and spectacle of the music of Yes.