January 24, 2008
CIRCA circulates music new & old at Canyon Club
Two-part set showcases new album, CIRCA: 2007, plus flurry of Yes favorites
By Rob Swick
Photos by Marco Herrán
The hills were alive with the sound of progressive music on Thursday, Jan. 10, when tuneage both vintage and new-age was produced by a partnership of veteran performers who have pooled their considerable talents into a kind of supergroup called Circa. Consisting of original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye and longtime Yes drummer Alan White, plus latter-day Yes-men Billy Sherwood on bass and vocals and extraordinary leftie guitarist Jimmy Haun, with additional keyboards by Scott Walton, Circa brought their self-titled debut release to life, along with an amazing musical overview of the not inconsiderable Yes catalogue, at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, “where music meets the soul.”
Circa was introduced onstage by venerable FM radio personality Jim Ladd, who had taken the night off from his regular nighttime slot in order to be there for the band. The iconic “lonesome L.A. cowboy” (Lord have mercy!) described how he worked last year with Billy Sherwood on a recording project, entitled “Alone Out Here,” wherein Ladd himself wrote lyrics in conjunction with Sherwood’s musical conceptualizations, taking the listener on a journey similar to Ladd’s weekly excursions in his “Headsets” show each Wednesday at midnight. Ladd didn’t tarry long, however, and the moment he strode away, the members of Circa swiftly stepped onstage to perform a complete live rendition of their recent maiden CD, “Circa: 2007.” White-haired Tony Kaye smiled benignly as he took his place behind his keyboards, looking somewhat grandfatherly, yet ready for action in his western-style vented jacket. Alan White, whose hair was similarly snowy with maturity, appeared heartily robust and primed to perform. Jimmy Haun, looking playfully scruffy in his loose, untucked shirt, stepped on over to the steel guitar near Tony’s keyboards, and commenced with a tuning warmup, while the jovial Billy Sherwood entered to center stage, toting an intriguing-looking Factor bass. Behind Billy, across the stage from Tony, stood supporting keyboardist Scott Walton, known for his work with prog-rock outfit Conspiracy.
The phenomenal first portion of Circa’s set was, as mentioned, an up-close-and-personal recreation of virtually the entire album of the band’s new music, which is naturally heavily influenced by the members’ lengthy and diverse experience within the progressive-rock genre. Circa’s “Cut the Ties” emitted the same kind of cosmically positive energy as the Yes classic, “Yours Is No Disgrace,” bubbling with similar multi-layer vocals and frilly, trilly, ear-tickling guitar adornments. Billy’s wide-ranging voice was at times surprisingly reminiscent of the lofty tones of founding Yes vocalist, Jon Anderson, while his nimble, chunky bass lines rang with the woody tones so well identified with co-founding Yes bassist Chris Squire – which makes sense, since Billy played right alongside the two progressive pioneers while serving for a spell in that band on keys and guitar. In other songs, such as “Information Overload,” Jimmy’s fantastic fingerings, on both the electric and steel guitars, bore the imprint of influential guitarist Steve Howe of Yes, along with echoes of other prog-rock trailblazers such as old Genesis and Gentle Giant. Jimmy’s effects pedals included four stomp-pads in a row, appropriately labeled 1 through 4, and fans close to the edge of the stage soon came to realize that whenever he pressed Number One, they were in for a tasty, sweet-toned solo from the hands of a master.
Tony and Alan were efficient and workmanlike at their respective posts, tying Circa’s songs together with steady expertise. Alan was good for a few flourishes here and there, but no extended drum solo was forthcoming, this time. Likewise, in conjunction with supporting player Scott, Tony kept the keys flowing and flying, but withheld from reveling too long in any star-turn spotlight moments.
Much of Circa’s music and lyrics tended towards uplifting, inspirational, and thought-provoking themes, as seen in songs including “Don’t Let Go,” “Trust In Something,” and “Keeper of the Flame.” When the new-music set finally concluded, it therefore wasn’t a long leap at all into an intense extended medley of some of the best-known tracks from Yes. Fans were pleased to hear snippets and sections of similarly good-feeling songs such as “And You and I,” “Roundabout,” and “Long Distance Runaround,” expertly cobbled together into an extended jam, with no vocals at all, as all five players concentrated intently on the timeless tunes they were reproducing. A close to the medley, a group bow, a single stirring encore, and Circa left the Canyon Club audience replete with satisfaction, but hopeful that Circa will stick around as a band, for much masterful music yet to come. In the meantime, see more about the group at: www.myspace.com/circahq
Photos by Marco Herrán