Finally! After a year of uncertainty about the future of Yes, I am pleased to report here that the show last night at the Warfield theater in San Francisco exceeded my expectations making the long wait worthwhile. Asia opened and played a set list that included several songs from their debut, two tracks from the followup, and one from the most recent release. Group members presented something from their past – John Wetton (King Crimson/In the Court of the Crimson King), Geoff Downes (The Buggles/Video Killed the Radio Star), and Carl Palmer (ELP/Fanfare for the Common Man), each representing a bit of the the history of their 1970’s bands. While Asia was always this “progressive supergroup gone pop”, their work was pleasent, powerful and certainly less angular than their predecessors. John Wetton is one of my favorite vocalists and he delivered with accurate, clear vocals throughout the show – awesome and unexpected after all these years.
When Yes took the stage for the opening track, “Siberian Khatru”, any fears that this ensemble would have troubles melted away. This first track would be a litmus test for any band, given the complex interlocking passages and strong harmonies. This band showed right away that they are up to the task, as Chris Squire (bass), Steve Howe (guitars), and Alan White (drums) played as well as I have seen, and seemed to enjoy themselves during the almost two hour set. Though this music calls for precision timing and accuracy, the band kept a the slight looseness to some passages which added to the experience. The only minor complaint for me is that while Oliver covered his father’s material (and Geoff/Tony) faithfully, he never really stood out in the mix, but that has been a common affliction of Yes keyboard players other than Rick Wakeman.
Most important was the question – would the absence of lead singer Jon Anderson, the zen center of Yes, render the show a lesser form? Would the emotional integrity of the experience be intact? Covering for Jon Anderson is even more difficult than what we have seen with other ’70’s acts such as Alan Parsons, Journey, Foreigner, Boston, etc. because Jon is so much part of the fabric of the whole Yes experience. The main reason most of us love this band is simple, and goes beyond exceptional musicianship and compositions – its that when Yes hits it marks, we are taken somewhere on a transcendent journey, getting in touch with an energy outside ourselves. The band construct these intense, chaotic passages, which build, and then shift into the most angelic, harmonic major-chord-based resolves imaginable. Jon seems at the heart of this journey, embodying his spiritual lyrics – often obtuse, but imparting radiant, positive messages. When this is presented properly in a live concert setting, the results are powerful. On this night, of course we missed seeing Jon himself, but even without him in this lineup, all was well in the Yes universe.
The current vocalist Benoit David has an incredible voice, evident throughout, but particularly so during an early track “Astral Traveller” and the encore “Starship Troopers”. His stage manner and movements paid homage to Jon while being a bit more athletic and emphatic, suitable to the tone of the night. Benoit should be proud of his performance as a wonderful stand in for Jon, and deserving member of the band for however long this incarnation lasts. I for one will be there next time to join in the celebration once again.