Yes Cruises to the Edge

yesband1Yes organized and headlined the recent concert and ocean voyage aptly named “Cruise the the Edge” this April 2014.

I’ve been a Yes fan and patron going back to teenage years past with my first show being 1977’s Going for the One tour at the fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California. I’ve also seen the band many times since original singer Jon Anderson’s departure some years ago, and I’ve seen them with scores of keyboard players besides Tony Kaye and Rick Wakeman. There’s been something to admire in every performance and always there have been moments of transcendent feeling, as Yes builds their compositions to heavenly crescendos of power and emotion. Here’s what was laudable about the concert:

yesjondavidsonCurrent vocalist Jon Davidson has never sounded better – he reached for some of their highest notes with a power and clarity of tone that I’ve not seen surpassed. There was joy, peace and some Yes gospel in his strong performance.  His stage presence and confidence has improved measurably over the last several years.

 

yeschrisChris Squire (bass) still packs a punch with his bass and projects a deep happiness at plying his art after all these years. His playing is unique and seldom duplicated elsewhere. His voice has magically held up all this time – a key ingredient of the Yes sound.

 

yessteveGuitarist Steve Howe must be responsible for the tendency they have now to reduce the pace of much of their work – while this may drain a bit of the frenetic energy out, he is able to play all of his licks with stunning accuracy. It renders his performance a master class for any budding guitarist or aficionado of fine fretwork.

 

yesjeffKeyboard player Geoff Downes is always a pleasure to hear – while it would be awesome to include more tracks on which he originally played into the set, it was great to at least hear “Tempus Fugit” off 1980’s Drama.

Alan White had a somewhat off night.

I feel badly saying, can’t blame anyone for slowing up a bit – and possibly the laconic pace of some of the tracks inhibit a more energetic performance, but its something for them to work on. Alan’s has delivered some of the finest drum and percussion work of any progressive rock band in concert over the last 40 years.

yesband2Two basic quibbles for the night – one has to be the selection of the set list itself, and the second – there were no guest appearances. On this cruise keyboardist Patrick Moraz who played on the Relayer album was in the lineup of performers, and played several solo shows during the week. Annie Haslam from Renaissance was guest at one of Patrick’s shows to sing the Yes song “Soon” from Relayer – one of the most beautiful songs Yes ever recorded. But no guest spot for Patrick with Yes.  I did not expect them to take the time to learn and play the more challenging pieces from that album, but just inviting Patrick to come and do “Soon” would have made the show and the entire Cruise more special. Along with this, Yes continued to play two of the three same complete albums – a nice idea that’s now been a part of their long 2013-2014 tour – but something that should not have been repeated for a boatload of fans. In particular playing all of The Yes Album should have been off the list – that’s now been done on both of the last two extensive tours. Their catalog is so large, that dusting off and playing a larger swath of it’s path would be preferable. Doing “Roundabout” as the encore of almost every tour I’ve ever seen shows a lack of creativity. It leaves the planning feeling a bit “by the numbers.”

yesband3Having said all of that, Yes is in fact performing their early masterpieces, many of which should be played long after they and we are all gone, in the tradition of classical music.  And, they have always steered away from medley’s – a scourge that long plagued another famous prog rock band from the era – so it’s nice to see and hear them play these spectacular tracks in their entirety.  I am definitely of the camp that hopes Yes keep up their touring, hoping they vary the set list, but keep at it, as this band are one of the few key practitioners of the original form that still produces a powerful progressive rock concert experience.  Waiting with high expectations for HEAVEN & EARTH, their new album, to drop.

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