ALBANY — Jon Anderson came to the Egg’s Hart Theater Wednesday night with Jean-Luc Ponty and a crackerjack band.
Tightly orchestrated, they gave us some great moments. They also took some good songs at the beginning and delivered lifeless moments with arrangements too tight and too busy. But they delivered more than enough through most of the show to make the night, as a whole, fantastic.
The AndersonPonty Band was a lot of Anderson out front, singing, explaining his thoughts behind the songs, reciting poetry, and projecting his signature voice that we all equate with the band Yes.
The sound of his voice has not changed, but the clarity and the attack of his lines have decreased. He is more gentle with his singing, and more thoughtful, seemingly concerned with us understanding the meaning of his songs.
They played early in the show “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” where Ponty played his first big solo. His playing hasn’t turned down: still aggressive, electric and with a lot of notes in a small amount of time.
In “Listening to Me,” the first song that the two wrote together, the song seemed less about melody, more about texture, and creating a setting for the lyrics.
“If you don’t like the movie in your head, change the reel,” Anderson said between songs, along with other similar far-out lines, before apologizing to everyone for getting too deep. He then sang “Limitless Beings,” the second song they wrote as a duo. Then Anderson left the stage for “Jig,” a Ponty song where all band members took an extended solo, including Ponty. Every member was impressive.
They closed the first set with a new song called “New New World.” This was uplifting, catchy, and had the feel of an old Yes tune.
The show was long, and while the musicians were great, we didn’t need a long classical piano. And I love drum solos like the next guy, and Rayford Griffin was great, but a long drum solo seemed unrelated to an AndersonPonty show.
And then came songs like “Wondrous Stories,” a classic they played with a wonderfully sparse treatment. Anderson sounded great on this, and it was fine that he didn’t try to reach those high notes of his youth. Ponty played an impeccable solo here, against a relaxed groove set by the band. Probably the nicest song of the night.
They followed with “Long Distance Run Around.” But not without a nice, jazzy little jam led by bassist Browne. The acoustic version of the song was very cool, and smart. You don’t want to compete with the old band on this one.
“Renaissance of the Sun,” the third song they wrote together, was fine. Ponty’s long solo threw in some ear-bending trickery. But his large solo also made sense, where he led us through a sensible beginning, middle and end, allowing us to follow him with ease.
While the first set had a few deadspots, the second set was great, the band came together song after song.
“State of Independence” was a huge surprise. It started as just another tune, but soon built into a moving number that turned out to be the strongest of the night. Anderson sang his hardest of the night on this and people jumped from their seats when the song ended.
He talked a little about Chris Squire, “a musical brother,” and dedicated to him “And You and I.” Anderson was great on this. While he has been singing the song for decades upon decades, he still gets inside the song like an actor in a role. The band did a great job lifting the instrumental portion to its proper heights. During this part, you can see Anderson in the back, unlit, swaying his body to the lilting sounds.
Browne took another great bass solo as a build-up to “Roundabout.” As excited as we were to hear the song, as good as the band played it, as cool as Anderson sang it, it managed to fall short of expectations. But the show had already had so many bright spots. As a whole, the concert was art. Anderson and Ponty have experience writing, performing, and designing concerts as much as anyone on earth. And they put it to use Wednesday night.