Review: In downtown Clearwater, Jon Anderson lets rock academy shine during nearly three-hour set

Thank God. *ahem* Thank Jon.

click to enlarge Jon Anderson plays Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on April 10, 2022. - PHOTO BY JOSH BRADLEY
Photo by Josh Bradley
Jon Anderson plays Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on April 10, 2022.
Sunday night, Jon Anderson didn’t flutter out onstage like he normally does.

Following a 30-minute performance from his current touring band—the Philadelphia-based Paul Green Rock Academy—the 77-year-old ex-Yes frontman camouflaged himself into a group of young musicians walking onstage from stage right. Nobody noticed his stage presence for a few seconds, as he was clad in a hoodie covered with green lightning. In Yesworld, it doesn’t get much more youthful than that. “Wow, wonderful!” He said shortly after the mini-set’s closer of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee’s current run of shows is far different from any he has done in his lengthy career. Yes feat. ARW is behind him, and the 1000 Hands: Chapter One era has seemingly come to an end. While we wait for Chapter Two to emerge—which he told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay is “in progress”—Anderson has decided to mix his love of touring and young musicians.
Last summer, he did a comeback-from-COVID tour with his friend Paul Green, founder of School Of Rock, and his rock academy. The tour was actually set to stop in downtown Clearwater in July 2020, but you can probably figure out why it ended up not stopping.

Opening his set with “Sun is Calling,” the first movement of his 2011 long-form song, "Open," Anderson strummed his guitar that sounded more out of tune than most of the other instruments surrounding him. But who the hell is anyone to judge? As cringeworthy as it sounds, his voice has aged like fine wine. He’s technically an old fart, but both physically and vocally speaking, time appears to be more than on his side.

The kids were totally into it, too. Impeccable harmonies from backup singers were present on “Yours Is No Disgrace,” and “I’ve Seen All Good People” saw the kids swaying from side to side, as they played or sang whatever they had during the “Your Move” movement. Then, something nary a Yes fan ever imagined would happen went down: Jon and friends broke into “Fly Away” by Lenny Kravitz, featuring Jon only singing the “yeah, yeah, yeah’s.” After the second or third verse, it would flawlessly segue into “Long Distance Runaround” and “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus),” the latter penned by Jon’s late Yes bestie, Chris Squire, who died of cancer in 2015.

click to enlarge Jon Anderson plays Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on April 10, 2022. - PHOTO BY JOSH BRADLEY
Photo by Josh Bradley
Jon Anderson plays Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on April 10, 2022.
“Chris was very well-known for living in the bath, so we called him ‘the fish!’” Jon explained. Surely, had Chris lived to see this show, he’d appreciate youthful talent as much as his musical partner-in-crime does.

On “Makes Me Happy,” off of 1000 Hands: Chapter One, a student attempted to pull off a ukulele segment in the very beginning, but unfortunately for her, it was way out of tune. “It’s not in tune, guys!” She yelled into the mic, laughing. Jon began laughing himself, the song carried, on, and that student had her moment of redemption at the end of the song, as she strummed its final chord, whilst fully in tune. This wasn’t the first time that the instruments let the performers down, either. At one point, Jon announced that two of the kids playing guitar were going to pull off Steve Howe’s “Mood For A Day,” off of Fragile, but before anything happened, one of the guitarists had to spend a few minutes reconnecting and turning up the volume on their acoustic.

What followed the little mishap were two mini-epics that are still capable of giving Anderson infinite pride. “And You and I” and “Heart of the Sunrise” both received the standing ovations they deserved, and the rock academy did a bang-up job staying true to the pieces’ respective original sounds. A 15-minute intermission came up—as well as a “support Jon on Patreon” message from Paul Green—and Jon and the kids would return to the stage to launch into “Starship Trooper,” which normally closes a main set. Not that anybody had a problem with it, but it was a change of pace to say the least.

Truth be told, the entire second half of the show was a change of pace on its own. Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” opened the wonderful surprise that was “Don’t Kill The Whale,” off of Yes’ final classic era record, Tormato. “State Of Independence” was opened with a few bars from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” roared out by a young woman who did some screamo sections in the rock academy’s opening set. And in celebration of becoming an American citizen 20 years ago, Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” was performed, but not the Yes version. Jon called Paul Simon one of the greatest songwriters to walk the planet (and he’s not wrong), so the way that Paul and Artie sang it in 1968 was the way Jon felt like saluting the two. “We’re gonna sing a song of [Paul’s], but he never does songs of mine!” he lamented.

click to enlarge Jon Anderson plays Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on April 10, 2022. - PHOTO BY JOSH BRADLEY
Photo by Josh Bradley
Jon Anderson plays Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on April 10, 2022.
But perhaps the biggest surprise was “Close to the Edge.” Not selections from the three-track album. It was all 20 minutes of the epic that gave the 1972, three-track record its name. The kids absolutely nailed every aspect of it, from harmonies to instrumentation. It more than overshadowed the follow-up “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” and the “Roundabout” finale.

Even if some of the kids didn’t get that they were onstage with a living legend, Paul Green himself more than gets it. He was actually making the rounds both backstage, and front and center in the crowd, and even got up to introduce his students when the show first started. “These kids could be on TikTok this Sunday night,” he theorized. “Instead, they’re out here playing the greatest music ever made.”

Thank God. *ahem* Thank Jon.