I am not the biggest Yes fan in the world. This may seem a strange statement to open a Yes gig review, but as they said on the X Files ‘the truth is out there’. That is not to say I don’t enjoy the odd Yes song from time to time on the radio and I do tap my toe (in 7/8 time of course) and have been known to sing along. Of the big prog names though I have always felt Yes were more jazz influenced than say Genesis and that always put me off slightly as I most definitely don’t have the ‘spirit of jazz’ in me.
This current Yes tour intrigued me though and I thought it was about time I immersed myself in an evening of Yessong. The set tonight, and on this current jaunt, is made up of three of the band’s best loved albums played in their entirety, namely ‘Close To The Edge’, ‘Going For The One’ and ‘The Yes Album’, a prog fans dream set. The fact that most of the dates sold out completely, well in advance, is testament to the band’s status as one of the giants of prog rock.
As the lights dimmed a video screen at the rear of the stage burst into life showing a montage of pictures from throughout the band’s career accompanied majestically by Stravinsky’s ‘The Firebird Suite’. As individual shots of the band appeared on the screen the band strolled onstage to a huge cheer and started the set with ‘Close To The Edge’. Well, I think they did but the sound was so quiet it was hard to tell, I thought at first the PA hadn’t been switched on but the levels were soon sorted out and the sound was almost crystal clear although some of Steve Howe’s more subtle guitar parts did get a bit lost in the mix.
The crowd for the first few numbers were rather staid and polite, I half expected to be offered drinks and nibbles at one point, but after a bit of encouragement from Howe they did loosen up a bit and by the end of ‘Siberian Khatru’, which closed the ‘Close To The Edge’ section of the evening, things were warming up nicely.
What was never in doubt was the quality of the playing on stage. This current incarnation of the band features Howe as well as Chris Squire on bass, Alan White on drums, Geoff Downes on keys and new boy Jon Davison on vocal duties.
Davison proved himself more than worthy of filling Jon Anderson’s shoes as vocally he was spot on, hitting the high notes bang on every time. You did sense though that he was still regarded as the hired hand as any onstage chat was conducted by Howe and Squire, although the chat was kept to a minimum as they let the music do the talking.
The consummate ease with which the band played through the complex song structures and time changes was incredible to watch with Howe switching between three instruments during some of the songs.
The ‘Going For The One’ album was up next with the two hits, the title track and the gentle ‘Wonderous Stories’ getting the crowd on their feet. The most prog moment of the night though occurred at the beginning of ‘Awaken’ when Chris Squire emerged from the wings sporting a triple necked bass guitar which raised a cheer and a smile. ‘Awaken’ proved to be one of the night’s highlights with Squire putting all three necks to good use.
After a short interval, the guys aren’t getting any younger you know, the band returned for what I am sure for many was the most keenly anticipated section of the evening, ‘The Yes Album’. ‘Yours Is No Disgrace’ went down a storm as did Howe’s solo acoustic rendition of ‘Clap’ with the audience clapping along funnily enough.
‘Starship Trooper’ provided another highlight and allowed Geoff Downes to show off his skills. He may not be the flashy showman that Wakeman was but his playing prowess is never in doubt. ‘Seen All Good People’ provided an opportunity for a bit of crowd participation whilst ‘A Venture’ and ‘Perpetual Change’ brought the main set to a conclusion. The band returned to the stage for one final number, ‘Roundabout’, to finish off the album and draw the night to a close.
The final bars were met with a well-deserved standing ovation from an appreciative crowd who had loved every minute of the night. For me I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the night had gone and how much I had enjoyed the set. Even as a casual listener you couldn’t help but admire the high level of musicianship on show and they made it all look so effortless!
I may never be a fully signed up Yes fan but here tonight I could appreciate why so many are.
Review by David Wilson
Photos and Gallery by Iain Scott
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 20 September 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 22 September 2020.
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