Chris Squire’s Spirit Dominates Yes’ Cruise to the Edge 2015: Exclusive Review
The most crucial attendee of the third-annual Cruise to the Edge wasn't even physically on the ship. The presence of late Yes bassist and co-founder Chris Squire, who died in June from a rare form of leukemia, radiated throughout the four-night jaunt – in tributes both major (Mike Portnoy's all-star musical dedication) and minor (door-decorating posters, "THANK YOU CHRIS" bracelets).
Yes' headlining shows opened with an emotional moment of calm: a Rickenbacker bass guitar, Squire's trademark instrument, resting center-stage, illuminated by a spotlight. The starlit strains of "Onward," the bassist's ballad from 1978's Tormato, filled the theater, soundtracking a montage of still images from throughout his four-decade Yes run.
The quintet – now with former member Billy Sherwood attempting to fill Squire's massive boots – didn't include any obvious nods to the bass giant during its two-hour shows, but the group did dust off some unexpected rarities, freshening up a set list that's grown stale with recent full-LP tributes. The serene folk of "Nine Voices" (a nod to 1999's The Ladder, one of two LPs featuring Sherwood on various instruments) and synth atmosphere of "White Car" balanced out the requisite bombast of standard prog pieces like "Siberian Khatru."
Portnoy's heartfelt tribute to the Fish was hampered by Yes' odd request that he not rely on the band's classic '70s material (the bread and butter of their current set list), but those restrictions forced the Dream Theater co-founder to probe the random corners of Squire's discography, and his hour-long pool-side set nourished a crowd ever-hungry for obscure gems. Backed by the Neal Morse Band and a crew of rotating guest singers and bassists (including Marillion's Steve Hogarth and Pete Trewavas, respectively), Portnoy divided the performance into three chapters: the '60s (early Yes covers including the Beatles' "Every Little Thing"), '70s (the entire first side of Squire's underrated 1975 solo album, Fish Out of Water) and the neon-tinted '80s (highlighted by 90125 instrumental "Cinema").
During their Q&A session, Yes opened up about the loss of their co-founder – and their resilience to carry forward. "What's the point in not carrying on?" asked Steve Howe, while Sherwood talked about his emotional conversations with Squire, who encouraged him to take over the bass role. Elsewhere in the chat, Howe discussed a forthcoming 5.1 Steven Wilson remix of their divisive 1973 LP, Tales From Topographic Oceans, and praised late Yes co-founder/guitarist Peter Banks as a "great contributor" to the band and prog-rock.
Squire's death permeated Cruise to the Edge, making the whole affair both melancholy and celebratory. And "loss" was a key theme in multiple ways. Three Friends guitarist Gary Green suffered a heart attack days before the fest, leaving the Gentle Giant tribute band without the lone co-founder of the original experimental-prog outfit. The remaining members scraped together an impressively modified set, with keyboardist Neil Angilley replicating many of Green's guitar riffs on his organ and synth. Anthems like "The Advent of Panurge" and "Just the Same" were unavoidably lighter but no less dizzying – the latter highlighted by an air-guitar round robin.
Italian prog legends PFM boarded the Norwegian Pearl without founding guitarist Franco Mussida, who quit the band in March. And during their second, wind-blown pool stage performance, drummer-frontman Franz Di Cioccio was sidelined with a toothache, forcing the remaining sextet into a truncated hodgepodge set of guitar solos, instrumental jams and a couple standouts from LPs like Chocolate Kings.
Caravan, in both their mesmerizing sets, paid homage to their late drummer Richard Coughlan, who died in 2013. The band, led by co-founding frontman Pye Hastings and longstanding violist and guitarist Geoffrey Richardson, leaned heavily on LPs like 1971's In the Land of Grey and Pink, exemplifying the Canterbury sound: jazzy prog full of busy rhythms, brisk melodies and eccentric humor.
Unfortunately, the cruise was also at mercy to mother nature, who apparently doesn't care for 7/8 time. Storms led to widespread delays on the first two days, along with the entire cancellation of planned beach concerts on a private island. This created a frustrating ripple effect throughout the festival, as the promoters scrambled to print out adjusted itineraries on what felt like an hourly basis. While last year's biggest logistical issue was making it from one show to another on time, this year's was the opposite: Several performances began close to an hour late, with fans often staring at watches as often as stages.
But the overall odd, idiosyncratic joy was worth the occasional headache. The cruise's mixture of performances, Q&As and meet and greets continued to offer a communal vibe – the kind of atmosphere where you might wind up knocking back a cocktail next to Geoff Downes or bumping into psychedelic cover art guru Roger Dean on the elevator. (You also might end up witnessing an impromptu urinal-side singalong of Genesis' "Duchess" – but that's a story for another time.)
What was most impressive about this CTTE was its breadth, with nearly 30 bands spanning both generations and a multitude of styles to encompass all definitions of the genre – from Crimson-esque prog-metal (Swedish sextet Änglagård) to Coheed-on-acid prog-punk (Thank You Scientist).
So we floated forward – battling storms, excessive delays and guys wearing "Prog Snob" T-shirts. And all around us, the Fish swam onward.
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