I had a feeling seeing Yes live would crystalize the band for me. For all these years, I have been a fan of certain bands of progressive rock (though not necessarily of the genre as a whole), I had never given Yes a full album's chance. Here they were stopping in South Florida while on tour playing three select albums from their catalog: The Yes Album
(1971), Close to the Edge
(1972), and Going For the One
(1977). Though, for some unexplained reason, Going For the One
was dropped from last night's show at the Hard Rock Live. In fairness, Hard Rock never advertised that as one of the albums that would be played that night, though drummer Alan White told me during my interview with him
that it would appear.
My co-pilot on this interstellar aural journey, as in my last classic prog rock live review
, for the night was Ed Matus, a local musician who despite being known as an electronica artist has never hidden his affection for bands of the progressive rock genre.
Ed's knowledge of Yes proved handy as soon as the lights dimmed at 7:05 p.m., as he pointed out that the band's walk-on music was Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite," a longtime signature of this classically-influenced band's live shtick for many years. Over the drum kit, a giant screen played a montage of the album covers the band were to play that night (including Going For the One, for the record), and then various images of the members that have played in Yes over the years.
After a bombastic coda, guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire, drummer Alan White, keyboardist Geoff Downes, and vocalist Jon Davison, casually strolled out from under the screen. After some waves, smiles and bows to the cheering crowd at the end of the montage, they settled behind their instruments, as an audio track of a babbling brook and birds chirped.
The angular attack of the title track of Close to the Edge broke up the peaceful sounds and sometimes threatened to fall apart as keyboards and guitar and bass drove along quickly with little regard for each other. The ironic thing about this opening, which made both Ed and I cringe, is that anyone familiar with the song's theme, understands that this song is supposed to sound like that, teetering on an edge of chaos. However, in this live setting it fell off over that edge. It would happen on several occasions during the performance of this album. "I don't want to be a dick," Ed commented, "but the new guy is the only one who impressed me. The others guys are playing like they're drunk."
Indeed, probably the most impressive member of Yes that night -- not to mention the one with the most to prove -- was Jon Anderson's current replacement. Davison, the youngest member of the group took to his role with more ease than anyone else on stage and made for one charismatic figure. With his shoulder-length hair, his long flowered shirt and white flares, he was like a skinny elf from the netherworld of peace and bliss. He sung with arms outstretched to the heavens often (in imitation of Anderson, noted Ed).
But then there was his voice, which sounded clean and angelic in a way probably the much older Anderson could no longer achieve. When Davison sang the first lines of "The Solid Time of Change:" "A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace," Ed turned to me wide-eyed mouthing "wow."
Ed had come to this show with the attitude it would not be Yes without Anderson, but left feeling glad to see this sprite of a man take over the role. "He's remarkable," he said. "I don't miss Jon Anderson."
In fact, Davison was downright stirring in his role. Singing lyrics of astral plains and union between all men and women, uttering words of "you and I" with arms outstretched to the audience with music that melded classical, jazz, and rock in seamless unobtrusive manners. Yes finally began to make sense. It did not take the silhouette of a figure in lotus pose flying through space rotating overhead on a big screen to represent the band, it was all there in the music. When the members of Yes melded, it was a sound to behold.
Despite one of the nine keyboards surrounding Downes seeming to be unplugged -- adding to the technical problems of the night that the band barreled through -- there were enough moments of brilliance to make up for it. The complexity of these songs were always impressive to hear when the five musicians gelled. White never broke his ever-shifting groove, keeping the music at least somewhat grounded when keys, guitar, and bass fell out of step on those rare, albeit glaring moments, when it occurred.
The finale of "Siberian Khatru" from Close To the Edge
offered Yes' first transcendent moment where everyone locked in and grooved along in an almost hypnotic manner, despite the song's many brilliant left turns. Downes played a luscious refrain on his organ. Howe ran circles with his repetitive, chirping guitar lines to stop for a stuttering breakdown before regaining and locking together from whence they came.
When they ended, to a standing ovation, Squire admitted that this tour marks the first time they have played that album in its entirety live.
Howe then introduced The Yes Album, and the band soared off into a nice, neat version of "Yours Is No Disgrace." It was an album they seemed much more comfortable with. Despite "Starship Trooper" seeming to miss a keyboard part, the song offered one of the night's many great moments. During the rambling acoustic guitar section of the 10-minute song, the audience spontaneously brought the beat by clapping along. Squire had an amazing, spaced out and restrained bass solo at the end, as Downes offered kinetic, beautifully echoing sections of organ and Howe tapped out his elastic guitar lines. It was the night's second moment of transcendence.
"I've Seen All Good People" got many in the audience out of their seats, as the album continued with one of the night's few bona fide hits. The acapella intro was slightly off, but as soon as Howe began his signature licks on his bouzouki, the song was off, and the rest of the album would come off impeccably. The singing melded beautifully with left turns into right turns, as songs shifted and hit their invisible gears without hitches. It culminated in a brilliant version of "Perpetual Change," which climaxed in a billowing aural cloud of bliss and fell into a hypnotic groove of splashing drums and cymbals, rollicking bass, luscious organ, and rambling guitar, as Davison reached out with a cooing voice. Indeed, when Yes as a band melded, there were some great moments to behold.
The crowd: Everyone older than me and Ed (and we've hit 40).
Personal bias: I never gave this band a chance due to its ever-shifting line-up and dull '80s pop hits like "Owner of a Lonely Heart," but I get them at album-length.
Close to the Edge
The Yes Album
Yes continues its tour of The Yes Album
, Close to the Edge
and Going For the One
through the end of May. Visit the band's website for tour details
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @indieethos.