I’ve been a Yes fan and patron going back to my teenage years, and I’ve seen them more than any other band since. My first chance to see the group was during 1977’s Going for the Onetour at the fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California. It began a lifelong patronage.
The Revolving Door: Before and since that first experience, the lineup of musicians who play as part of Yes has been ever changing. Jon Anderson (original vocalist), Steve Howe (guitars), Rick Wakeman and Tony Kaye (keyboards) have come and gone more than once. Guitarist Steve Howe joined after original member Pete Banks left, and Trevor Rabin replaced him in the 80s. Drummer Alan White joined after original maestro Bill Bruford left just before the Close to the Edgetour. In 1980 Jon left for what turned out to be one record, and Trevor Horn sang vocals while Geoff Downes, his partner in the Buggles played keys. Personnel changes only accelerated after that, from 1980 up through today.
I’ve continued to see the band many times since original singer Jon Anderson’s second departure in 2008, due to health issues. When Anderson left for that second time, the band first recruited singer Benoit David, then current singer Jon Davison, who is skilled at covering Anderson’s vocal parts. In 2015 we mourned the passing of Chris Squire, the exceptional bass player and vocalist for Yes and it’s most consistent member. When Squire first announced that his illness would preclude his involvement in the remainder of 2015’s Yes tour, he also indicated his support for collaborator Billy Sherwood, who stepped into the role with grace and reverence, bringing his own skills and style to the stage. Alan White’s recent surgery sidelined him, and ex-Hurricane/Conspiracy/Asia drummer Jay Schellen replaces White for most of the show. Last year, and two years prior, we were able to catch three other core members of Yes billed as ARW – Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman for several solid performances that found Jon’s voice completely recovered from prior illness. Whew, so many Yes’s so little time!
Which Yes is Yes?Unfortunately, rabid fans carp about “which Yes is Yes” constantly on social media, acting as if they hold the title of band manager, planner, and critic. A common post is “no Yes without Jon” as fans then argue about whether the “official” Yes led by Steve Howe (and Chris Squire before his passing) have any right to play the songs without Jon Anderson. Some of the critics attended the limited ARW tours over the last few years and when they decry the official act, call it a “tribute” or “cover” band. Taste is subjective, but the criticism of particular members gets harsh.
The Important Point:In reality, there’s been something to admire in every Yes tour since the band’s inception and always there have been transcendent moments, no matter what combination of musicians are on stage. Fundamentally, the compositions are amazing and the performances are inspiring as Yes builds their long songs to astral crescendos of power and emotion. They are truly an amazing band, packed with virtuoso musicians whatever the collective, and they are the musicians I’ve seen play live more than any other. This fan catches as many Yes (official), ARW, and Wakeman or Anderson solo tours as possible. Soon, with the passing of time, there will be no more original members of Yes, unfortunately and the baton will be “officially” handed over to tribute bands. If I’m still on this mortal coil I will be there still as this music is meant to be heard in a live setting, and it’s magical when done right.
Case in Point:This year the band booked a summer tour of America, the Royal Affair tour with openers Asia, John Lodge (of the Moody Blues) and Carl Palmer (of ELP) opening.
The show at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga was fantastic. Carl Palmer led his small band through several highlights from the ELP catalog with Arthur Brown covering lead vocals and delivering us his 1960’s hit “Fire” as well. I have to admit we skipped the set from The Moody Blues’ John Lodge’s to go talk to Roger Dean who was showing his work, but he was very well received. We were back inside for Asia, who nailed a rousing set of their best tracks, along with “Lucky Man” from ELP. Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal expertly covered the lead vocal duties formerly helmed by the late John Wetton, and played guitar through the first part of the set, after which Steve Howe did a walk on for the older songs.
Once Yes took the stage, they performed rousing renditions of songs like “Tempus Fugit” and “Siberian Khatru” at the proper pace and with accuracy. The centerpiece moment this time was a piece of music they hadn’t played for decades, side one of Relayer (1975) — “The Gates of Delirium” and “Soon.” This is over 20 minutes of the most challenging progressive rock the band ever wrote, with one-time keyboard player Patrick Moraz. While it cleared a few rows of attendees out of the venue, we were transfixed. Howe sliced thru the staccato guitar riffs that lead into and reach crescendo during “the battle” section of “Gates…” as the long song tells the tale of the development, pursuit, and aftermath of war. Downes hit his leads, Davison nailed the highest notes, and Sherwood gently colored “Soon’s” soft tones with care that would have made Squire proud. If the group as rumored will be back to do the whole album with Moraz guesting, it will be spectacular.
Every band that night had experienced the loss of former colleagues who have passed on. We lost Asia’s John Wetton, and Keith Emerson and Greg Lake from ELP just over the last few years. Songs were highlighted during those sets as being played for these fallen musical heroes, to somber effect, and some celebration of lives well lived and music shared.
All in all a great show – one that left an exclamation mark on the statement that anyone interested in seeing members of Yes ply their most amazing trade live, should be going out to support them. In addition, Rick Wakeman just played Journey to the Center of the Earthon two nights in London for what he says is the last time. He is doing a solo tour of the states this fall, as is Jon Anderson. So hey, we get to see almost every key member who’ve been in Yes over these many years, just on different nights – go for the one!
(A shout out to Kim – Most fabulous photos above © kimreedphotos.com)