It’s important to sprinkle in a little classic rock to any LA concert junkie’s calendar of shows. Frequenting only underground music, no matter the genre, will still give you a limited understanding of the human soul, no matter how much you bounce around the spectrum of different sounds. Sometimes you need the radio hits, KLOS or otherwise. Such was the case when I had to decide between Knot Fest, The Drums, and Yes‘ Royal Affair Tour with Asia, John Lodge, and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy.
The choice was obvious. Janky Smooth originated as a psych rock operation after all and the psych kids of yesterday were the progressive rockers. Bands like Yes and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer made music and sang lyrics that took listeners on journeys far beyond this plane of existence, much like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard do in 2019. The way King Gizz sings about magic, mysticism, and adventure differs from that of the old kings though. Where the new breed sings about these topics with irony, pastiche, or jest, the old bands sang about them with authenticity and the hope to inspire. It’s no wonder progressive music might be considered a nerdy genre by some. It’s not just the arithmetic and the left-brain bent behind the instrumentation but also, it’s an audience relating to music about fantasy. In this case, being a nerd is nothing shameful. People’s real lives should be inspired by fantasy, life is an adventure after all, or better yet a stage and we are merely players, performers and portrayers.
“Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends come inside, come inside” —
— were the first lyrics sung on this evening of inter-dimensional musical travel. My favorite Emerson, Lake, and Palmer song, “Karn Evil 9: First Impression, Part 2”, felt so right and sweet coming out the mouth of psychedelic icon Arthur Brown, a man who brought so much color and mystery to Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy on this tour. Carl Palmer’s drumming was the highlight of the set, with an assassin’s precision, a jazzman’s wild instinct, and a mastodon’s power, Carl wow’d the audience and set the tone for the rest of the evening. Arthur Brown was able to get one of his own classics in the set with “Fire” and the band closed with ELP’s chart topper, “Fanfare for the Common Man”.
I’ve always been intrigued by the Moody Blues. Like the Grateful Dead, they’re one of those bands I feel have an underlying spirituality to their music that’s hard to put your finger on. It’s as if the songs were threaded with a piece of the divine. John Lodge, the band’s original bassist, vocalist, and songwriter, performed songs that took the form of time machines to the psychedelic 60’s and or the smooth, low-riding 80’s. Songs like “Gemini Dream” and “Timothy Leary’s Dead” gave this set the credentials to feel current enough to play for today’s Los Angeles psych rock scene.
80’s prog super group, ASIA, took the stage next featuring a few artists that played earlier and some that would perform later as part of Yes. Asia’s set cemented this tour as more than just a royal affair but also a collaborative effort between a few master musicians and legends of rock and roll. This set was straight 80’s in sound and vision, like a relic from a time far gone. As a fan of today’s pastiche-driven cinema, the eighties is a time I’m eerily nostalgic for, though I was only three. Some of the hits Asia performed were “Video Killed The Radio Star”, seeing as their keyboardist, Geoff Downes, was one of the original Buggles; “Heat of the Moment”, a song that felt unreal to hear live by the original band; and “Lucky man” by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer which Carl Palmer held off from playing during his legacy set. At one point, original guitarist from Yes and Asia, Steve Howe, took the stage to perform a few songs to wrap things up.
You can know Yes from their radio hits, “Roundabout”, “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, or “I’ve Seen All Good People”, or you can know Yes from their longer, more ambitious sonic ventures like “Starship Trooper” or “The Gates of Delirium”… or, you can know Yes as the creator’s of “Heart of the Sunrise”, a song featured in Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo ’66. Yes’ set on this night touched upon concepts such as time travel, psychedelia, and spearing peace and love for all the world to share. Steve Howe is an absolute legend that lives up to every bit of hype, still and forever. At one point, he jammed out some bluesy acoustic guitar and you could feel everyone in the audience experiencing collective awe. He later busted out a mandolin and then had a 2nd mounted guitar that he would alternate between playing with the one strapped to him. This show was a display of Steve Howe’s virtuosity, first and foremost.
The band played two covers, one being a progressive, psychedelic version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” which stirred every soul at FivePoint Amphitheater. Then original drummer, Alan White, took the stage to play a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” which he played drums on. As moving as I’m sure this was for plenty of the people who were alive during that song’s moment, in 2019 hearing “Imagine” live makes me feel like I’m in the audience for an episode of American Idol. Finally, after leaving the stage, the band returned to play a two song encore with “Roundabout” which had everyone on their feet, dancing and singing. Then to close out the show, the band chose to play “Starship Trooper” and we all tripped the night away, feeling a little out of this world on our drives home.
Words by: Rob Shepyer
Photos by: Audrey Kemp