It Happened Last Night: The Happy Happy Joy Joy Cult Of Jon Anderson At The TLA

The former Yes man brought his wife, mountain dulcimer, and sickly sweet spirit to South Street

Last night at just after 8 p.m., Jon Anderson took the stage solo at the TLA. He was surrounded by flickering candles (oddly, of both the real and silly electric-votive varieties), two guitars, a mountain dulcimer, and a digital stage piano that doubled as a table for a bottle of water. The 66-year-old former lead singer of Yes (his bandmates replaced him with a much younger Quebecer, who will lead the band at the Susquehanna Bank Center on July 4th) was dressed whimsically (there was something resembling bedazzling) but more stylishly than his elfin outfits of days gone by, and it looked like his elegant wife, who sat front and center for the entire show, singing and clapping, had something to do with it. His outfit matched one of his guitars.

Anderson’s voice, though weathered, is still remarkable. He sang simplified, shortened versions of Yes’s greatest hits and also mixed in plenty of the tunes he wrote with Vangelis (if the name sounds familiar, it’s likely due to this). There were also some songs of unknown origin, at least to this casual Yes fan (and that demographic seemed to predominate).

But more remarkable than his voice were the joy, humor and realness he exuded. When he sang the line “Love is good for you,” we believed. In one song, he changed the lyrics to advise, “Count your blessings, Philadelphia.” He thanked his wife for saving his life (he’s had some serious medical problems) and sang to her: “I thank the angels every day.” At one point, an audience member made light of his, er, lightness by joking loudly, “C’mon, Jon, try to be more positive.”

And the jokes came from the stage as well. While telling a story about a 1984 show in Rio, Anderson remarked, “It was 1984, and we were really, really big… I think I was seven feet tall.” (He’s about 5-foot-5.) When an audience member belted out the ubiquitous “Freebird!” Anderson feigned consideration, eyeing his guitar as if trying to remember the chords. And before leading into the lyrically odd “I’ve Seen All Good People,” he observed that lots of people sing it, but none of them know what the words mean, and added, “And I’m not so sure I do, either.” (Note to teleprompter-using Bon Jovi: He only—noticeably—flubbed one line that night, made light of it and moved on.)

Anderson’s happiness certainly trickled into the room (“Everybody’s got the light,” he sang). Smiles all around. (And not one whiff of marijuana, strangely). Fellow audience members were kind and considerate, moving chairs around to give others legroom and picking up fallen sweaters and coats that belonged to their neighbors. But most astonishingly, even the bartenders and bouncers were just plain … nice. (If that doesn’t surprise you, it means you’ve never been to the TLA).

In the end, we could all use a little dose of Jon Anderson more often.

BONUS: Jon Anderson tells the Philly Post about Michael Smerconish and dying in this 2010 interview.