On Saturday, June 22, nearly four thousand excited concert-goers filtered into the seats of Baltimore’s MECU Pavilion. They were set to embark upon a fresh voyage to the seas of nostalgia, and boy were they excited. I was excited too, as I hadn’t had the pleasure of witnessing any of these household names in the flesh before that evening. And it wasn’t too long before the show got underway.
“Are the drums loud enough?” Palmer asked the crowd. Purely rhetorical. He knew full well, as did all those in attendance, that he was laying a beating on those drum heads. And he wasn’t the only one getting into this set, the audience being a given. The guitarist, Paul Bielatowicz, was bouncing all around, and yet managed to perfectly place each and every note. Opposite him was David Pastorius on bass guitar, whose thick basslines stitched an aural quilt alongside Palmer’s drumbeats, occasionally jumping to the forefront with slap lines that thrilled the crowd. And not least of all was Arthur Brown, a living art piece: decked out in a post-apocalyptic costume consisting of a red jacket, black feathered wings, golden pants, cowboy boots, stunning face paint, and a helmet armed with flashlights. He made me feel as if I was watching musical theater, to the backdrop of hits from Emerson, Lake, and Palmer; Aaron Copland; and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any photos of this set, but I assure you it was a spectacle and well worth you attending to put your own eyes and ears on it.
When I heard the words of “Legend Of The Mind” dance across my ears, it was like being transported back to my childhood. Much of the music of this evening was played to me by my parents growing up, but hearing it live sounded wonderfully vibrant: a credit to the great players on stage. John Lodge’s voice was full of life and energy, and so was his band. And it wasn’t just the energy, but also the chemistry between them. At one point we saw Lodge, guitarist Duffy King, and guitarist / cellist Jason Charboneau set into a synchronized battle stance, headstocks alternating back and forth in an Iron Maiden-fashion. They were smiling and having fun! And as an audience member, seeing the band have a good time always puts me in high spirits, so by the time “I’m Just A Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band)” came on, I was cheerfully singing along (though I would have anyway). To close his set, we had the honor of seeing Yes’ Jon Davison join Lodge for a rendition of “Ride My See-Saw,” much to the pleasure of all in attendance.
I have to give credit where credit is due: Asia is the reason I was able to provide you with all these photos. They were kind enough to approve my press credentials, and for that I am grateful. But please don’t think this affected my review. I do have great things to say about their set, but it’s based on the merits of the performance, I assure you.
Firstly, this incarnation of Asia is different in that it features the introduction of Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal as lead vocalist and guitar, replacing Sam Coulson on guitar and relieving Billy Sherwood of vocalist duties. I’ve been a fan of Thal and his expansive career for around fifteen years, first enjoying his solo career, then his lengthy stint with Guns N’ Roses, and recently his endeavors as a member of the prog super group, Sons Of Apollo. The only thing which surprised me was his role here as vocalist, not due to being ill-equipped for such a job, but rather because it wasn’t his usual role in bands like this. But within the first few notes of “Go,” I was convinced that he was going to do justice to John Wetton’s version of the songs. His voice, matched up with the dulcet backup vocals of Sherwood, truly worked well together.
In fact, all of the band members seemed to work well together. Palmer was solid as ever throughout the night, but the chemistry really shined through with the duet of Geoff Downes and Thal performing “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” with the keys commanding the atmosphere of the pavilion. Downes continued to show his prowess during his solo performance, juggling two different melodies on separate keyboards, which still boggles my mind. During the second half of the set, we were greeted with the arrival of original member and current Yes guitarist, Steve Howe, to huge applause. The five-some then, with Thal ditching his guitar, finished up the set with a four-song streak from their debut album, and ended with “Heat Of The Moment” to a thrilled, on-its-feet audience.
At this point in the evening, the lights had gone out in the city and stars filled our eyes. Not stars from the night’s sky, but ones dancing across the LED backdrop of the stage. As members arrived on stage, many of which had just been on stage with Asia, they did so to a standing ovation from every member of the audience. As they launched into the first song, it was clear that they were all excited to be here and were just as in-sync as you’d expect from the legendary Yes, a fact that was evident from the woman to my right exclaiming to her friend, “I can’t believe how good they sound live!”
Unlike Asia, who focused on the first few albums from their storied career, Yes’ setlist covered songs from every one of their 70s albums starting at “The Yes Album” and a few 80s tracks for good measure. Included in these was the absolutely monumental, 22-minute “The Gates Of Delirium” from the 1974 album Relayer, a tune that hasn’t seen much play since 2001. What a treat!
The guys closed out the show with a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” featuring drummer Alan White who had originally recorded the song with Lennon, and finally “Roundabout” which converted the seated audience into a migrating dance party. As the song came to an end and the band took their bow, I had little doubt in my mind that everyone was about to leave satisfied. In fact, all I heard on my way home were people remarking how great all the bands had been, and one stating it was the best concert they’d ever attended. Needless to say, you should do yourself a favor and check the show out when it comes your way. It’s a rare opportunity to see all of these great bands in one place.