Yes is one of my favorite bands of all time and I’m thrilled that I finally got the chance to see them live. And they did not disappoint. Frankly, I was amazed at how good the aging rockers sounded. By way of a little personnel history of Yes, bassist Chris Squire formed the band with vocalist Jon Anderson in 1968. Steve Howe joined in 1971, and helped propel the band to commercial success. In his first year, the band recorded two landmark LPs: The Yes Album and Fragile. Drummer Alan White replaced Bill Bruford in 1972. After a string of keyboardists contributed their expertise to the band, including the theatrical organist, Rick Wakeman, Geoffrey Downes joined Yes in 1980 and has played with the band in several configurations and spinoffs over the years including Asia. Original vocalist Jon Anderson, who in my opinion was the heart and soul of the Yes sound, left, came back, left again, came back, left after an illness, wanted back in, but it never came to pass. To fill his big shoes over the years, Yes experimented with a number of vocalists including Trevor Rabin, Trevor Horn, Benoit David and Jon Davison who sounds eerily like Anderson with a similar stage presence. The current lineup includes Howe, Squire, White and Davison. The band’s history is even more complicated than the lineup changes but I won’t get into that. Suffice it to say that this current configuration of YES sounds great!
When I was in high school, I listened to Yes a lot, even obsessively so if you asked my mom. I owned most of their albums and literally wore out Yessongs (1973), one of the great live progressive rock recordings of the 70’s. In college, I particularly enjoyed Tales From Topographic Oceans (1974) and Going For The One (1977) and was absolutely delighted to hear 3 selections from these, in my opinion, undervalued Yes albums.
I soured on Yes after what I considered the mediocre records of Tormato (1978) and Drama (1980) and lost interest in the newer sound of Yes, but still occasionally listened to the old stuff.
Fast forward 28 years. My youngest daughter home from college for the summer told me that Yes was coming to Boston. She knew I liked the band, and though not a big fan herself, seemed at least curious and receptive to their sound. My wife is not a progressive rocker, so I bought tickets for myself and my two daughters.
To prepare for what I imagined would be the bulk of the show’s musical content, I bought Yes’ latest CD (mp3 files actually) Fly From Here (2011). I didn’t initially like it much, but it grew on me after playing it a dozen or so times. I was struck by how much the vocalist, in this case, Benoit David, sounded like Jon Anderson. When I learned that he was no longer touring with the band, I was a little disappointed and doubtful that Yes could find a suitable replacement. My concerns, however, were put to rest the moment vocalist Jon Davison hit his first notes on the opening song – “Yours Is No Disgrace.” It was as if he were lip synching to Jon Anderson’s vocals. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Davison delivered a superior version of Anderson.
The Boston show was a riot. Procol Harum started off the night. Lead singer Gary Brooker was a hoot, cracking jokes about their age – these guys, well, at least Gary and Geoff Whitehorn, his soulful Fender Strat playing compatriot, must be pushing 70. Brooker was saying stuff like the band had downloads of their latest material available, but that he himself did not know how to download anything, that he had a typewriter and kept his money in a shoebox under his bed. He later invited the audience to dance to a tune written in 4 4 time in a minor key, because the band particularly likes to dance in minor keys. They saved their signature tune for last: “Whiter Shade of Pale”. The largely pale and aging crowd went wild, as if awakened from a collective evening nap.
Speaking of the crowd, I was a little disappointed that the venue was only about two-thirds full. I expected Yes to sellout, but I had to remind myself that this is 2012, not 1973. And there were a fair number of people in the audience who were adults in 1973. At nearly 50 myself, I was one of the younger members of the audience. The youngest were quite likely first time Yes listeners, who, like my daughters, were introduced to the band first by their parents.
The acoustics at the Bank of America Pavilion were surprisingly good. The band sounded absolutely fantastic. They played songs almost exclusively from their earlier period much to the delight of the seniors in attendance with the exception of “Tempus Fugit” from Drama (1980) and the “Fly From Here” suite (2011). They even played part of a tune from Tales From Topographic Oceans (1974) which was both a surprise and delight.
The light show left quite a bit to be desired. My youngest described it as a Windows 2001 screensaver. But the show truly was about the music so no one seemed to care or notice for that matter. Some in the crowd provided their own special effects with the aid of hallucinogenic herbs as evidenced by the faint smell of cannabis that wafted through the briny night air courtesy of a pleasant sea breeze.
I kept saying to my daughters, “what a great band”, and they both seemed impressed and somewhat surprised by the beauty of the music. And it really was a beautiful night. May Yes live to play another decade!
I’ve provided the set list from the concert below. If you have Spotify, you can tap on the links to play all the songs. If you don’t have Spotify yet, what are you waiting for? I think you can still get Spotify with ads for free.
YES set list, Bank of America Pavilion, Boston, MA – 7/21/2012
or individually if you prefer:
The Ancient/Giants Under the Sun (Giants only with vocal part)