Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman

Edinburgh Playhouse

7 October 2006

Stop reading now if you're going to see Anderson and Wakeman and you don't want me to spoil the set list (because half the fun is discovering how they manage to perform Yes songs with just a voice and a piano).

And if you're not going to see A&W — why the heck not? The tour's only just started and judging by the half-empty hall last night you'll have no trouble getting tickets. And you absolutely won't regret it.

So, Edinburgh Playhouse. Really nice hall, very big but only half full. On stage is just a grand piano, an acoustic guitar, and two microphones. I was about 13 rows back and on the far left — this being the perfect side to sit, because Rick has his back to me and therefore I can see everything he plays. (Think about it.)

Jon and Rick amble on in shabby overcoats, looking like they've just stepped off the number 11 bus and left their stage clothes in their luggage at the airport. But the show isn't about image or spectacle, it's just about playing two hours of astoundingly good music. Jon plays the guitar for some songs but it's basically incidental and Rick can carry the music entirely by himself. Jon just sings. "Just". Ha.

To be honest, Jon's voice starts out a bit weak, and I think he's struggling on some high notes, but it quickly warms up and gets more certain through the first few songs. By the time they hit Time and a Word it's perfect, and when they reach Turn of the Century it gives me goosebumps.

But Rick is phenomenal throughout. I'm not even going to attempt to describe it. If you've never seen Rick Wakeman play the piano... no, words fail me.

The set mixes old Yes songs and new (brand new) songs in equal measure. Obviously the new songs they've written were intended for the voice and piano format, and they all sound beautiful. But obviously the biggest applause comes for the Yes songs, and I think every single one works in the acoustic arrangement. I can't list them all: Roundabout, Time and a Word, South Side of the Sky, And You and I, Sweet Dreams, Owner of a Lonely Heart, etc.

Jon tells an anecdote about recording in a church Switzerland with Rick on the organ and Jon playing a harp, and even though I know what song he's talking about I still can't believe it until they do it, and it's Awaken, one of the most perfect songs in the universe, and I still can't believe they played it with just a piano. One of those "worth the price of the ticket just for this" moments.

Awaken finishes the first set and they take a short break. Jon comes back on alone to play a solo medley at the piano. It's basically the same as the central part of his solo shows last year. You might wonder why he's bothering playing the piano when he's got Rick Wakeman in the wings, but his simple, sparse style suits his songs and is a nice change of pace.

Jon leaves and Rick comes on for a solo set. For the most mind-boggling solo set I've ever seen. Beginning with The Nursery Rhyme Concerto (this is "Three Blind Mice" in the style of Mozart, "Humpty Dumpty" in the style of Ravel, "Jack and Jill" in the style of Debussy, ...something else, in the style of Rachmaninov, and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" in the style of Les Dawson). Then a stand-up comedy routine about his (many) ex-wives leads, inevitably, into Catherine Howard.

Finally, they are both on stage for the last handful of songs, again mixing new and old songs. There are a couple of encores and that's it. About two hours of music, packed with beautiful moments, unexpected moments, funny moments, and just... perfect moments.

Some general comments. I think it was the first night of the tour, and it showed in the odd moment of uncertainty (after you, maestro" "no you start this one" "no, you do" "no, you do... oh yes, I do"), missed cues, and forgotten words (that's not actually unusual for Jon). None of that detracted from the show at all. Sometimes it added unexpected humour, such as Jon explaining that this was a new song and he couldn't remember the words so he'd written them down... then discovering that he'd forgotten to bring them on stage. During another song, they're playing away and Jon says to Rick "I don't know how we're going to end this song, did we rehearse that?" (Rick says that *he* did but Jon had gone home by then.)

There's a lot of humour between the two of them, and that complements the music nicely. Jon will be going through some long, rambling explanation of the song and Rick will cut him off with a perfect one-liner, completely cracking Jon up. Actually, they reminded me a lot of Morecambe and Wise (yes, that's a good thing). It all seems spontaneous, too, though I don't know how it will feel a few shows into the tour...

Well, I've probably made the experience sound completely flat by dissecting it like this, but believe me it wasn't. Hugely enjoyable, entertaining, uplifting, and just... perfect.