Why Philadelphia is the home of prog-rock gods Yes

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Members of the prog-rock band Yes: (from left) Trevor Rabin, Jon Anderson, and Rick Wakeman.

When pianist-keyboardist Rick Wakeman talks about his current tour as Yes, he jokes about being as confused as the progressive rockers’ longtime fans. Why? There’s another version of Yes that tours,  featuring Alan White and Geoff Downes (although they’re currently off the road due to the death this month of Steve Howe’s son Virgil). Yet this year’s reunion with cofounding vocalist Jon Anderson and latter-day guitarist Trevor Rabin — Sunday at the Kimmel Center — is done out of love, not competition. Wakeman and Anderson first worked as Yes in 1971, and the pair continued to invent new music, first with 2010’s The Living Tree, as well as a forthcoming trio album with Rabin.

The three of you, once called AWR, are known now as “Yes featuring.” So who phoned whom to do this tour, and what was that call like?

Jon and I were doing a duo tour in the U.K. and did an album, The Living Tree. People liked it and kept asking us if we’d be doing a follow-up. We looked at each other and said, ‘Yeah, but we don’t want to do the same exact thing.’ We wanted to have a band, and who we wanted to have is Trevor. So he came to England, we talked, and it all seemed like a reality. The true catalyst, however, was when Chris [Squire, Yes’ cofounding bassist who famously ousted Anderson in 2008 when the singer was momentarily felled with acute respiratory failure] died. Quite frankly, we realized then that we are not immortal, that you never know what the future holds, and that if we didn’t do what we wanted now, we might never. So it’s AWR again.

If only that were true, as the tour is billed as Yes. Do you not think that might confuse anyone?

[Laughs.] That’s a very good question. See, I was very happy being called AWR.

You’ve been called worse.

Indeed. It’s clear who we are. I know who we are. Now, I don’t know quite how, honestly, but we became “Yes featuring blahblahblah.” There wouldn’t be any confusion if the other guys billed themselves as “Yes featuring Howe, White, Downes.” I don’t know and I don’t have any real interest in what they do. I really don’t mind. It does, though, cause some confusion.

Has anyone thought since Squire’s passing to try one more all-Yes thing, or has that ship sailed?

It wouldn’t happen. Not now. Both sides would tell you it couldn’t work.

Does no one like original Yes drummer Bill Bruford anymore? He never gets asked to be in anyone’s reunion.

To be fair, he does get asked. I spoke to him in New York recently, as he’s determinedly retired since turning 65. He said it and meant it. He does do a few lectures, but when I saw him, I said, “Bill, you look so good,” and he said, “That’s what retirement looks like.” I had to laugh, but he’s stuck to his guns. He’s got a family, got a life — he doesn’t need it anymore. I take my hat off to him.

Not to discount Rabin, but what do you think is the signature of you and Anderson together at this point? You seem interested in going forward.

Understanding, that he and I get each other. We flesh out ideas, and we’re usually on the same page with our musical language. We might not always agree, but 99 percent of the time, we’re heading down the road, usually toward the same destination. I enjoy that, and Jon has wonderfully crazy ideas. I truly marvel at that. Brian May is one of my best friends, and he felt that way about Freddie Mercury.

How did you first connect with Philadelphia?

Quite frankly, you’re the American home of Yes. A wonderful radio DJ named Ed Sciaky [formerly of WMMR] was the first guy to ever get Yes tracks on the radio. From there, it spread throughout the U.S.  For that, Ed will always remain in our hearts.

What was the most exciting thing about owning one of America’s first soccer teams, the Philadelphia Fury, with Mick Jagger, Peter Frampton, and Paul Simon?

That was fantastic. About 11 of us all told had in on the team. I was a huge soccer fan at the time, so it was a wonderful time being an owner. And we had some great American players. To be at the very start — I mean, this was like 1976, 1977 — was something of which I’m quite proud.

Is there a moment during the Kimmel Center show that we should look for, where you just lift and transcend?

“Awaken” is one, as it has all of its original attributes. Jon has taken it to a higher level of consciousness with a vocal I didn’t believe was possible. “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” too, is a lot of fun.

The most important question for last: Will you bring your arsenal of capes?

I absolutely am. I can’t go on stage without them. I even had several new ones made for this tour.

MUSIC

Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin

    • 7:30 p.m. Sunday,  Kimmel Center, 300 S Broad Street.  Information:  kimmelcenter.org

    • Tickets: $119-$159.