Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Prog Rock behemoth, Yes, is celebrating a BIG birthday – it’s 50 years since Chris Squire and Jon Anderson were introduced by London club owner, Jack Barrie. Joined by drummer, Bill Bruford, guitarist, Peter Banks and Tony Kaye on keyboards, the new band started performing in 1968. Throughout its history, the line-up has been fluid with regular changes and members leaving and rejoining, sometimes several times. Guitarist Steve Howe joined in 1970 followed by Alan White on drums in 1972. The band’s music became increasingly complex culminating in their sixth studio album (and first to top the UK album charts) Tales from Topographic Oceans in 1973. So this year also represents the 45th anniversary of Tales – maybe the reason why the current incarnation of Yes chose to highlight this album and play two full tracks and an excerpt from a third on this tour before retiring it from live play. No founder members still perform with Yes, the current personnel include long-standing members White (although for most of the concert, drumming duties are undertaken by tour drummer, Jay Schellen) and Howe (who, with Anderson, wrote most of the themes for Tales) together with Geoff Downes on keyboards, Jon Davison on vocals and Billy Sherwood on bass guitars.
Introducing the evening, Steve Howe remarks that they are bringing us music from various times in Yes’ career: looking at the setlist, this claim seems a bit disingenuous – the music played spans the period from 1970 (Sweet Dreams, from Yes’ second album, Time and a Word) to 1978 (Onward, from Tormato) – but one could argue that this is the period when Yes was at the peak of its creative powers.
While the music may be entering middle-age, it still sounds fresh, maybe because Yes has always ploughed its own furrow, largely eschewing musical trends. The complexity of Yes music of this era demands high standards of musicianship to play it, and tonight there is no doubt that the members of this line-up are all consummate musicians in their own right, coming together in perfect harmony. The stage set is relatively muted – a few simple screens showing animations inspired by album covers. This incarnation of Yes wants the music to speak for itself, which it does. Eloquently.
The powerful opening notes to Yours Is No Disgrace get the evening started: crowd-pleasers like this, Roundabout and Starship Trooper show the band can really rock, filling Symphony Hall with sound. However, there has always been a more pastoral, even spiritual, side to the band: Leaves of Green, an excerpt from The Ancient (Giants under the Sun) from Tales shows that less is sometimes more as Davison sings with little more than acoustic backing from Howe (although calling Howe’s remarkable skills on the guitar ‘backing’ is something of an understatement); Onward, written by the great Chris Squire, who died in 2015 from a short illness, is played with tangible emotion, a truly lovely piece of music; Wonderous Stories from Going for the One tugs at the heart-strings. But it is after the interval that the spiritual side is really unleashed as the band plays The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn), Leaves of Green and Ritual (Nous sommes du soleil) from Tales, with drummer White taking over drumming duties from Schellen for Ritual and the obligatory encores.
This evening is about celebrating a giant of rock and does so in spades, earning rapturous applause from the faithful. Recommended for all children of the 1970s – and all eras since!
Reviewed on 20 March 2018 and on tour | Image: Contributed