The Yes Concert Review
Anytime I go to a concert these days for a 35/40/45 year anniversary “something” I am conditioned to be a skeptic as to the level of performance I will see. Let’s face it, to be a 60-something and still be able to travel to city after city and perform at your best for 90 to 150 minutes is tough and shows what remarkable shape these “old rockers” are in. However, some performances are simply OK, while at the other end of the spectrum, they are as good as ever.
Prior to last night’s Yes concert at Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie, TX my last two experiences with Yes had been disappointing in that both concerts had to be cancelled due to the failing health of Jon Anderson and then to the health problems of Chris Squire. Jon Anderson is no longer touring with Yes and that was a problem for me. I have been a huge Yes fan for decades and was just fine with the rotating door of various musicians that came and went with Yes. I even embraced the Trevor Rabin days when Steve Howe was absent. However, two members were always there: Chris Squire and Jon Anderson. Last night Chris Squire was there. Jon was there, but not as in Anderson, but rather as in Davison. And that is where I became the skeptic as I walked to my seat.
This tour was unique in that Yes was going to perform 3 albums in their entirety beginning to end: The Yes Album, Close to the Edge, and Going For The One. The first two albums I know every note by every musician by heart. The last I was familiar with only 2 songs and maybe heard the album once or twice in my life. (Notice how I hang my head in shame admitting this and in the same breath calling myself a Yes fan for decades!)
The skeptic in me chose not to buy tickets and sit this one out. However, the Yes lover in me decided I may never get to see them again and I had to go. Looking for tickets, I saw two great seats available. I decided it must be divine intervention and bought them instantly less the rock gods smite me down.As the skeptic took his seat and waited for the show to begin, I was filled with excitement because I have never been to a concert with this exact format before, except to see Ian Anderson just last year perform Thick as a Brick I and II. I recall thinking to myself that if this show is half of what Ian Anderson’s was, I was going to be very happy!
After the Intro/Firebird Suite piece, the band took the stage to a standing ovation. We knew the order would be The Yes Album, Close To The Edge, and Going For The One. When the very first notes of Yours Is No Disgrace were played my adrenaline went sky high and I couldn’t help but feel the pure majesty of this band.
However, that feeling quickly faded as I sat down and started listening. Jon Davison’s voice was a bit gravely and somewhat pitchy. There was not that powerful high falsetto of the Anderson voice. I could barely, if at all, hear Chris Squire’s bass. Steve Howe’s guitar sound was there, then gone, then back real loud, then gone again. The skeptic started worrying that this was going to be a long night of remembering how great the band used to be and criticizing the band for what they are now.
The next song, as everyone knows, is a solo piece from Steve Howe called “The Clap”. Make no mistake about it, Steve Howe is incredible! And his rendition of The Clap was stellar. The skeptic was taken aback and thought that maybe, just maybe, there is hope.
Starting with the 3rd song, Starship Trooper, you could feel the band start to gain their balance. Even though I have heard better renditions of this classic song, it was still done nicely. After that, the band never looked back. They were in the groove and we settled in for one of the most memorable concerts in a while. Now it is time to address the skeptic. This skeptic was of the firm opinion that the Anderson version of Jon could never be replaced. He was as integral a piece of Yes as we will ever know. Yet last night, the skeptic became a skeptic no more. The Davison version of Jon has an amazing voice. Even more the fact that Davison-Jon sounded almost exactly like Anderson-Jon. If you closed your eyes you would never know the difference.Once the skeptic was satisfied, I was able to sit and take in the show. Most of the songs off the first two albums are well known and played extensively in concert. To me, Perpetual Change off The Yes Album and the title track to Close To The Edge were particularly well done. When they did not play Roundabout, from past experience, I knew it would be left for the encore. I view Roundabout in much the same manner as I view Stairway to Heaven or Free Bird. I don’t particularly like it, the basic fans do, and I accept that it is just my own personal opinion.
Steve Howe is simply enthralling and mesmerizing to watch and listen to. He never disappoints. Chris Squire cuts such an imposing figure on stage. The quintessential bass guitar player with the huge sound. Squire plays bass like most lead guitarists play lead breaks. I have always loved his talent and he is an integral part of Yes as any. Downes keyboard setup was reminiscent of Wakeman, Pinder, or Emerson except he chose to play facing away from or to the side of the audience so that we all could gaze upon the impressive set of ivories assembled there. White’s drums were exactly what was needed for each song. He does not play in the style of a Portnoy, Peart, or Harrison but nonetheless is as good.
I overheard many say “Why did they do Going For The One and not Fragile?” In fact, at first, I asked myself the same question. The answer became abundantly clear to me soon into the second set. This album was a pure musician’s album. One that would challenge and allow each member of the band to express himself as he may never have before. I found myself totally engrossed in each member’s playing and the complex interactions between instruments and vocals. I was not on my feet applauding, but in my seat totally absorbed and losing myself to the music. The title song hooked me and by Parallels they were reeling me in. I was shaking my head and commenting how amazing the second set was by the time they began playing Wonderous Stories and then the earth moved and I was shaken to my core.
The final piece, Awaken, might quite possibly be one of the finest performances I have ever seen out of any variation of Yes since 1978. Forget the confetti explosion that filled half the theater. What I saw was a masterpiece of Howe’s guitar work on (was it) four different guitars, Squire’s huge 3-necked Bass where he played every fret of every neck many times over, Davison belting out vocals that I though only Anderson could ever do, Alan White showing that percussion could take the lead when needed, and Geoff Downes somehow playing the entire assembly of multiple keyboards throughout the song.
As I stood there applauding wildly trying to soak in what I had just experienced with Awaken, the skeptic in me was no more.