The show last night pushed my Yes buttons and I was in full agreement that life was good.
Yes has been my absolute no question favourite band in the World since 1977!
I try to see them when I can, even through all the lineup changes. They keep making music that I love, you see.
Now, often when they've toured the US in Summer, they kept hitting our area *during* Pennsic where I'm making my own living as a musician. But this time it happened just right. Yes, I had to nonetheless neglect some of my own work and obligations to go, but- well... favourite band of all time!
Their lineup last night was both exhilerating and bittersweet. Chris Squire passed away, and his bass playing was one of the things that gave them their sound. He was replaced by Billy Sherwood. Sherwood has been a long time friend, producer, and part time band member since the 90's and sometimes toured with them. He's very unassuming both on stage and off (which is not your usual Yes bandmember) and when I saw him with various versions of the band before, he added keyboard or guitar parts, and made the live arrangements
more like the lush studio versions. But the more I learn of him, the more I respect and admire him and the more I have to admit that he belongs there. It's obvious from his resume with them and the chemistry on stage that he's very good friends with them, but WOW! He didn't "fill in" for Squire on bass, he sounded and played JUST LIKE HIM. It was Yes bass parts all night- seamless. I believe his main instrument is guitar, so to jump from that to bass (as similar as they are at first glance they're different animals) and to flawlessly fill in for one of the MASTERS in the field playing some of the most challenging music in Rock and sounding just like him- Yeah. Wow!
John Davison was the fellow on lead vocals. I think he was the last time I saw them too, I remember thinking that, as a sub for John Anderson, that he did a pretty good job. Well.... He's grown into those shoes since! He obviously LOVES this music and now, when he sings it, again, it's the sound and essence that was part of the band that has always been my favourite.
That voice and those lyrics are a part of my soul. The verisimilitude was flawless, and the ENERGY. Wow! It was Yes, as they "should" sound.
Steve Howe was as he's always been. His guitar playing is impossibly brilliant and mind-blowingly creative as well. He's constantly creating guitar music that thrills me beyond measure. Howe owns the apex of my musical pantheon, and always, ALWAYS after I watch him I am inspired and then aspire to be more musically.
Geoff Downes played keyboards. He's been on a couple of Yes albums, and I've seen him play live with Yes before. He's a curious fellow on stage as he played most of the night with his back to the audience on a HUGE arsenal of keyboards. I wonder if he has attention or anxiety issues or is just an extreme introvert or something. Doesn't matter. He's awesome! Granted, I have to confess that Rick Wakeman is still my favourite of the Yes keyboard players, but I have to admit that Downes held his own. While he may not match the peak of Wakeman's musical skill, he's got the chops to play this music extremely well and he has the technical savvy to sound: natural, classic, organic, retro, out of this world and from the future at any moment. He, in fact, was able to flawlessly switch to any of those modes instantly and even simultaneously. And even when he did not exactly match the album versions and the album sounds, what he did ALWAYS sounded just right for what Yes has always created. This wasn't just a skilled musician playing a part with the technicality and sound of the original that you'd find in a great cover band. This was more. This was someone keeping that part (Yes keyboards) alive and breathing.
Alan White was listed as the drummer for the tour, but for the first part of the evening, drums were played by someone else.
I forget his name, but he was pretty damn good. Like the best of drummers, he can seamlessly fade into whatever background he's up against, until you listen closely. Then you say WOW, which I did. But White was there, and rejoined the band for one of their anthemic New Age Epics for the last song before intermission, and then played drums for the whole second set. The new guy added all kinds of accents and stuff with tambourine and hand percussion. He didn't seem to mind doing that (Who wouldn't? Share a stage with YES?! Sign me up!) I didn't mind either. It was all YES drumming and all great. Why was it this way? Yeah, I think we're getting old, and I don't begrudge Mr White having to take it easier. (Edit: I found out that he's still recovering from a pretty serious back surgery. He has no intention of retiring, but as he recovers he'll be leaning on stunt doubles to step in as needed. Dedicated AND Smart!
There was one more surprise for the evening. For the last few songs, they were joined on stage by Tony Kaye- Yes' original keyboard player. They did a handful of numbers that highlighted his very important contributions to the early Yes albums that he played on. And of course, it was AWESOME!
They played (it being the 50th anniversary tour) a bunch of their classics, which of course included several of the Prog Rock New Age Epics that they're famous for (Like "Close To The Edge" and "Awaken") They had some newer (to me) material that was fun, and still pretty mindblowing too. And, if you're a Yes fan, you would have, as I did, spent the evening grooving to and singing along with impossibly original, subtle, complex, and amazing music the like of which did not exist before them and hasn't since. A lot of my wishlist was on the setlist last night.
I'm glad I went. I needed that!