I was hesitant to buy a ticket for Yes when they came rolling through my area. In a review of their 2011 album “Fly From Here,” I drew heat for insinuating that the band should have hung it up long ago. Now they are touring with another former tribute band singer and two-album keyboardist Geoff Downes. Some friends pointed out that it might be one of the last opportunities to see Steve Howe play live and the performance would be three classic albums in entirety. That’s a pretty good sales pitch.
It was worth it. The band put on a great show. The material contained in “The Yes Album” and “Close to the Edge” performed by any group of talented musicians would probably be enough to guarantee a positive experience. But this is not just a random assembly. Howe and Squire are still two of the best musicians on the planet and White is the second most consistent member of Yes. I was even taken by the performance of “Going for the One” which has never been one of my favorite studio albums. The encore was as expected “Roundabout.”
Jon Davison has a great voice and is a worthy Jon Anderson substitute. He doesn’t bring anything new to the stage but he covers all the bases for nostalgia’s sake. I guess what band truly wants is that classic Jon Anderson sound. Which begs the question, why isn’t Anderson there? Everything that has been written about Yes’ personnel politics suggests it’s a can of worms best left unopened. Davison is a superb performer who handles the task with passion and great front-man style. It may not really be his band (see Glass Hammer) but he never shows otherwise.
Squire is still master of the bass. He flows around in his signature bubbly style as if it was still 1972. It is Howe that especially amazes. Over the years he has increasingly morphed into the appearance of skeletal ghoul from a B horror movie. One look and you might think those arthritic fingers might barely be able to pick up a guitar, let alone bend into chord positions. It is only a façade. Steve Howe is absolutely incredible and one of the last classic guitar gods that is still a must see. Rightly so the concert was mostly a spotlight on him. Instead of “An Evening With Yes” the show could have been called, “Guitar Genius With All The Chops In Tact, Playing His Most Beloved Pieces With The Band.”
What surprised me was how Alan White was mostly pushed to the side. Even Geoff Banks got a few moments in the spotlight. White is a very good drummer and has been a member of the band since Bill Bruford left in 1972. Only Chris Squire has a better membership record. He did play his ass off but I wanted him to be given a chance to go a little nuts. Perhaps he doesn’t have it in him anymore. At least he hasn’t hung up the sticks yet.
As much as I enjoyed the concert, the question still remains… was that actually Yes? The answer is no. Geoff Downes did record with the band but they were the only two studio albums without Jon Anderson. Most of his time for the last three decades has been spent with Asia. Benoit David was a tribute vocalist but became an actual Yes singer when he recorded “Fly From Here.” Jon Davison’s role is nothing more than Yes tribute singer. This lineup is more akin to Gary Green’s Three Friends. He understands that it is not Gentle Giant, thus the different name. Howe, Squire and White are paying homage to past glories. It is not a viable band in the same way Van Der Graaf Generator or Magma still are. The current Yes is about seeing some classic musicians playing classic music. There is nothing wrong with that and it is worth buying a ticket for. Just know what you are getting into before you go.
Chris Squire – bass guitar, vocals
Steve Howe – guitars, vocals
Alan White – drums
Geoff Downes – keyboards
Jon Davison – lead vocals