The epic anthems of the legendary prog-rock band Yes continue to find steady radio airplay decades after their release, powered by the awe-inspiring musical prowess of guitarist Steve Howe and bassist Chris Squire. But the songs would never have reached the masses if it weren’t for lead singer Jon Anderson’s magical vocals, which reached soft and melodic highs only he could achieve, and elevated the tracks above impressively complex instrumental jams.
Sadly, the group remains at odds today, and therefore has no plans to tour together in the foreseeable future. But you can enjoy Anderson performing two solo acoustic shows Sunday night at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach, featuring the classic Yes hits “Roundabout,” “Starship Trooper,” “Long Distance Runaround,” “I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” plus some of his work with Oscar-winning “Chariots of Fire” composer Vangelis and a few oddities.
Anderson talked to Miami.com about the shows, how he keeps his voice in shape, and the possibility of an eventual Yes reunion.
You’re performing two shows on the same night – how different will they be?
I’m looking forward to it very much – it’s the first time I’ve done my solo show in Florida, and Miami’s a great place to do it. They will probably be a little bit different, because I interact with the audience and tell stories. I sing all the songs that everybody knows, the Yes songs, the Vangelis songs, and a couple of crazy songs I do on the ukulele. And I get them to sing along, so it’s like a little party, really.
How long will each show be?
Probably an hour and a half. Maybe a bit longer – it depends on where the audience goes, because sometimes there will be a question-and-answer situation. And it can get funny sometimes – well, most of the time, I confess.
And these are acoustic shows?
Yeah, it’s just me on guitar, and I sing the songs exactly as I wrote them for the band. From “Starship Trooper,” “Long Distance Runaround,” “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” “Roundabout” – all that kind of work began initially with a guitar. You have to start somewhere. And it’s just me doing those renditions – and they’re a lot of fun to do. And I play the dulcimer and ukulele and do some work on the piano – actually, it’s very entertaining for me. It’s just good energy, and everybody seems to have a good time.
Did you come up with different arrangements for some of the songs?
I actually kept the songs to their original presentations, that I went to the band and said, “Here’s my idea for a song,” and I’d sing “Starship Trooper” and work out the middle section with [original drummer] Bill [Bruford], and that’s how the songs evolved. And when we went to recording, obviously the electronic stuff came along, the guitars and bass and drums, and before you know it, you had it sounding like Yes.
For these shows, about how many songs will be Yes classics, and how many will be other stuff?
I’d say 70 percent are Yes classics, and then about three songs with Vangelis, and a couple of new songs. And I do “A Day in the Life” on ukulele, the Beatles song. Someone said why don’t you do a Beatles song, and I said, “OK, I’ll do “A Day in the Life” on ukulele – it’s never been done.”
Wow – how do you do the middle section – “Woke up, fell out of bed …”?
See, everybody knows that song, so you get kind of a sing-along atmosphere, and it’s kind of cool.
What else might surprise fans about this show?
I think the stories. You know, you delve back into the times when you first started with the band, and who you met. In the early days, I was working in this bar above a nightclub which was called the Marquee Club – very famous – and people would come in like Jimi Hendrix, Keith Emerson, Pete Townshend. And I’d be serving them drinks. And the next minute, I’m on tour with Pete Townshend with Yes, and it’s like, one minute you’re serving them in a bar, and the next, you’re on tour with them. It’s kind of fun.
You possess one of the most prized voices in rock history. How do you preserve and protect it?
Sing. I sing every day – I love singing. And I don’t go crazy – I don’t scream, of course, and I don’t oversing. So every day I go into the studio and sing, and if I’m not in the studio I’m getting ready to do concerts. It’s one of those things – I’m very, very blessed, and I’m very thankful.
How is your relationship these days with the other members of Yes?
It’s funny, you know, you spend years and years with them, and then because of what happened I speak to them maybe every six months. Maybe I’ll speak to [drummer] Alan [White], because we were very close – he was my best man at my wedding. And his mom died earlier this year and I called him up and we talked a little bit. And I’ve talked to [bassist] Chris [Squire]. And basically, I always say the same thing: “One day, we’ve got to get together and make some great music.” And they always say, “Yeah, we should, we should.” But of course, they’re in their world, and I’m in my world.
So the door is open for a Yes reunion?
Always, always. I’ve never, ever said no, I don’t want to do anything. I’m ready when they’re ready.