Yes, John Lodge, Asia, Carl Palmer Live On The Royal Affair Tour

by Kevin Wierzbicki

"You've got to see the show, it's a dynamo!" Those words, heard during the first song presented during The Royal Affair Tour at Comerica Theatre in downtown Phoenix on July 24, certainly rang true. The famous lyric from the Emerson, Lake & Palmer song "Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Part 2" were an apt descriptor of the evening's entertainment, a magnificent celebration of prog rock featuring Yes, John Lodge of the Moody Blues, Asia and Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy. Palmer's group started the fun with the aforementioned song and played three other lengthy ELP tunes, beginning with a country-tinged take on Aaron Copland's "Hoedown;" clips of cowboys in action were projected during the song to add to the old time western feel of the music. "Knife Edge" from the first ELP album was performed and Palmer's set closed with another Copland tune, "Fanfare for the Common Man." But Palmer's show had a very interesting aspect to it in that the singer for the set was Arthur Brown of the long-ago band The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, renowned for their big hit "Fire." Always a striking figure onstage, Brown dressed in funky rock 'n' roll finery complete with a top hat (and at one point a sort of feather headdress) and gave a faithful performance of "Fire." The pairing of Brown with Palmer might seem a little odd unless you know their history; Palmer was the touring drummer for The Crazy World of Arthur Brown back in 1968 as "Fire" became a hit. Palmer was 18-years-old at the time.

Next up on the program was John Lodge, who opened with "Steppin' in a Slide Zone." The Moody Blues legend then played "Saved by the Music," a cut he did with fellow Moody Justin Hayward on their 1975 Blue Jays album. The reflective cut was followed by a well-chosen set of five Moody Blues songs, beginning with one of the most psychedelic songs the Moodies ever did, "Legend of a Mind." Lodge didn't indulge in much stage patter but he did note the importance of the late Ray Thomas to the song, which is about an acid trip and also features the memorable chant "Timothy Leary's dead." Thomas, who died last year, played a lengthy flute solo in the middle of the original Moody Blues recording; for this performance his flute solo was mimicked on synthesizer. "Gemini Dream," the melancholy "Isn't Life Strange," "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)" and another psych-era cut, "Ride My Seesaw," rounded out Lodge's set. Jon Davison of Yes joined in the singing of the latter and appeared to have a ball while doing so. Lodge, who was strong of voice and energetic as he mugged with various band members throughout the show, did not mention it on stage but he has a brand new "best of" album out called B YOND that features versions of every song he played in his set except "Steppin' in a Slide Zone."

Set changes between Palmer's and Lodge's sets and third group Asia were very quick; the houselights did not come up between acts and fans only had to wait a few minutes before the music continued. Asia, the one-time super group that included Carl Palmer and Yes guitarist Steve Howe, is now led by singer John Payne who sounds a lot like Asia's late vocalist, John Wetton. On this evening Asia consisted of Payne, Carl Palmer on drums, Yes keys man Geoff Downes, Yes bassist Billy Sherwood and guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal of Guns N' Roses fame. With that line-up the guys had a lot of songs in their repertoire and they opened with Asia favorites "Go" and "Don't Cry." Since Downes was also a (founding) member of the Buggles, Asia performed that band's big hit "Video Killed the Radio Star." After the tender "The Smile Has Left Your Face," the band played Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Lucky Man," the Greg Lake-penned hit that was not covered during Palmer's ELP tribute. After Downes played a rousing keyboards solo, Steve Howe joined the group to finish strong with the big hits "Wildest Dreams," "Sole Survivor," "Only Time Will Tell" and "Heat of the Moment."

After a brief intermission Yes took the stage to perform their own music after most members had already guested here and there with the other bands. Besides Howe, Downes, Davison and Sherwood, the band line up for the evening also featured drummer Jay Schellen. The prog masters opened their set with "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed," a Richie Havens song that they covered on their Time and a Word album. Singer Davison played congas and additional percussion on the bass-heavy "Tempus Fugit," and Howe played sweet steel guitar riffs on "Going for the One." The rest of the band got to take a break while Howe played a stunning acoustic guitar instrumental, returning to play "Siberian Khatru" and a nice tribute to fallen bass player Chris Squire with a performance of one of his favorite cuts, "Onward." Long time Yes drummer Alan White is taking it easy these days but the veteran skins man joined the band for their cover of the Simon and Garfunkel chestnut "America" and also John Lennon's "Imagine" (White played on the song's original recording.) The show ended with a voyage into the beyond with "Starship Trooper."

The Royal Affair Tour presents a chance to see some of the greatest prog players of all time on one stage and there are still a few chances to catch the phenomenal line-up. Find remaining dates here.

Yes, John Lodge, Asia, Carl Palmer Live On The Royal Affair Tour

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