Yes’ Summer Tour Brings Something Old And Something New To The Stage
Breaking down record sales by sub-genres isn’t something that’s done. Still, if the RIAA were subpoenaed for sales figures on progressive rock, Yes would have to be at or near the top of that heap. Scour any casual prog-rock fan’s collection and it’s a pretty decent bet that they’d have this year’s featured complete-album performances — ‘Fragile’ and ‘Close to the Edge‘ — in their collection. And, why not? Those records were hugely successful, and still a high-water mark for rock in general, regardless of whatever pigeonhole it’s stuffed into.
Yes’ July 9 stop at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion in Boston, the third of their 2014 summer tour, was a slight permutation from last year’s concerts. ‘Close to the Edge’ was back for a return visit, while ‘Fragile’ replaced ‘Going for the One’ and ‘The Yes Album.’ The concert was rounded out with new music from the forthcoming ‘Heaven and Earth.’
Yes also debuted its new frontman. With any band that’s been at it for more than 40 years not named ZZ Top, there are bound to be personnel changes. Whether it’s caused by turmoil, physical condition or just ennui, people tend to come and go. Yes hasn’t been immune to these forces, but the core of Chris Squire, Steve Howe and Alan White remain, alongside keyboardist Geoff Downes, who’s also well known from his time in Asia with Howe. The newcomer in the picture is Jon Davison, after both original singer Jon Anderson and subsequent fill-in Benoit David both succumbed to respiratory ailments.
Taking a slightly different direction, Yes tore into ‘Close to the Edge’ by playing it in reverse order, with the chugga-chugga slashing opening riffs of ‘Siberian Khatru’ kicking things off in a most righteous manner. Howe hunched over his hollow-body Gibson like a mad wizard, conjuring fluid tones as his spidery fingers ran rampant over the frets and strings. The band didn’t cheat with an abridged version of the title track, either. After a gorgeous reading of the tender ‘And You and I,’ with Howe playing a suspended guitar for the opening lines before retreating to the guitar slung over his shoulder, they made their way into the first major opus of evening. (Funny to say that, when the first two songs were ten minutes long.) Despite the lyrics “I get up / I get down,” however, the vast majority of the suburbanites coaxed from their homes on this warm and gorgeous summer night decided to stay within the safety and comfort of their chairs, not bothering to rise.
The big question for people not current with the band remained, of course, the lead singer situation. Overheard in the bathroom were two separate opinions: “Where the f— is Anderson? Sitting at home?” and “Davison sounds more like Anderson than Anderson does.” The second sentiment was apt, as Davison really nailed the sound, the timber and the affectations that are a critical component of Yes’ sound. After a surprisingly decent song from their new record (‘Believe Again‘), they got down to the business of playing the material from ‘Fragile.’
‘Roundabout‘ proved itself to be a sturdy classic, and not just because it boasts rock’s most well-known instance of open-string harmonics courtesy of Howe. Squire’s thundering bass line is a huge reason for it, too. His hands glided effortlessly over the Rickenbacker, reanimating this complete monster of a song. The downside of playing an entire album came next, however, as the ‘Cans and Brahms’ interlude felt a bit archaic and self-indulgent. The angular, Beefheart-inspired ‘Five Per Cent Of Nothing’ was another of these non sequiturs, played only because of some artificial construct that shaped the set list.
The true highs of the show came with ‘South Side of the Sky’ and ‘Heart of the Sunrise,’ two prodigiously complex songs that demanded precision and passion from the band. Yes delivered on all fronts. There was a fair bit of improvisation at the end of ‘Sky,’ with Howe coming over to Downes’ keyboard cave and jamming out. You know they weren’t getting out of the building without a nod to their MTV days, and so ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ was played before ending with tour de force ‘Starship Trooper’ that included both an image of Howe on the projected screens inside a supernova, and Downes actually rocking a keytar. Yeah, that was pretty awesome.