Yes at the Colston Hall 16th November 2011

So, when was the last time I saw Yes? Well, it was in 1975 actually, at the Reading Festival when they were one of the biggest acts on the planet.

Since then, they have shed and regained members in a kind of revolving door policy, released a slew of increasingly less proggy and less artistically and commercially successful albums, had acrimonious splits, been Buggled, re-united, split and re-united again and have still managed to retain a hardcore following.

Since 2008, they have a new singer, Benoît David, who has played in a Yes tribute act called Close To The Edge and in a Canadian prog band called Mystery, and are once again playing with Geoff Downes on keyboards. They also have a new album, Fly from Here, which I shall admit to not having heard. Apart from these two, the current Yes line-up includes original bassist Chris Squire and classic period members Steve Howe and Alan White.

Tonight it was really all about the classic songs, plus some stuff from the new album.

I’d bought the tickets for this gig was back in January and it seemed for a while like it would never come around but tonight we were ensconced in our seats before the band appeared to the inevitable classical intro music and went straight into the classic Yours Is No Disgrace.

The band sound good, there are plenty of opportunities for Steve Howe to display his fretboard skills and they are in the groove immediately. They follow this with a track I don’t recognise and work through a set that gets in some things from the new album, which sound fine, seeing as I don’t know them at all, and enough classics to keep the punters happy. Benoît David has the right vocal range for the songs and has enough stage presence to not be overshadowed by Steve Howe and Chris Squire, who are definitely the dominant forces in the band. Geoff Downes has the musical skills but is definitely the hired help and Alan White is marooned behind a kit that seems to have pretty much everything you could imagine hitting with a stick.

For me the highlights are a magisterial And You and I, which leaves me quite moist-eyed and the long-time crowd pleaser Heart Of The Sunrise which is the closest Yes ever got to the menacing off-kilter dynamics of King Crimson. The band close on an absolute high with Starship Trooper, with an almost Spinal Tap jam at the end, with Geoff Downes on a keytar and a really rocking encore of Roundabout. I’d have loved a second encore of America, but the guys are getting on a bit now and probably wanted their cocoa and slippers.

A long time ago Charles Shaar Murray wrote a one word review of Yes. The word was “Maybe”. I think that the answer now is a definite “Yes”.

They have still got what it takes.

Gong: Bristol 19th November 2009

It was at the Academy, an OK venue I think, not too big and with a good view of the stage. Unfortunately they don’t allow photography inside, so no pics I’m afraid.

Gong have basically got a classic line-up back together and they have a new album too – which I posted here a while back.

The touring line-up is (I think)

Daevid Allen – voice, guitar
Steve Hillage – guitar
Gilli Smyth – voice, space whisper
Miquette Giraudy – synthesisers
Mike Howlett – bass
Chris Taylor – drums
Theo Travis – sax and flute

OK, so first up last night we had the Steve Hillage band, basically the above without Daevid, Gilli or Theo.

I enjoyed them a lot, pretty rave orientated stuff with classic Hillage moments thrown in. Very tight, focussed and danceable. You can see that Steve Hillage has immersed himself in trace, rave and other more modern music while still keeping his core appeal. Definitely music to be enjoyed with an E.

The back projections and lights were excellent too, as they stayed for the whole evening.

Then, after about 20 minutes or so, the main event. They started off with the same players as before plus Theo Travis and the feel of the opening number was a continuation of what went before, maybe a bit more jazz-rock, but very tight and dance orientated. So far, so good.

Then on comes Daevid Allen. The last time I saw Gong was in about 1974 but he hasn’t really changed except to get older. Still as weird as ever.

He came out in a wizard’s hat type of thing and a sparkly cape arrangement over what looked like psychedelic pyjamas. He looked like Catweazle on acid.

He was surprisingly sprightly for his age, he is easily 70 if he’s a day. He was later joined by Gilli Smyth, who added in her patented Shakti Yoni “space whispers” on several tracks and generally grooved away to the music.

I have to say it was weird, they are easily the oldest people I’ve ever seen playing lived tripped-out space rock. Still, good luck to them.

The set was pretty long, around two hours and was all at a fairly constant tempo, still with that rave/dance intensity and with the excellent Miquette Giraudy and Steve Hillage providing the musical layering and textures. Mike Howlett was a solid bass presence and the drumming of Chris Taylor pushed it all along at a steady pace. I liked a lot of Theo Travis’ input but overall he gets a bit drowned out in the mix at times. His flute work was good.

At times the intensity of the music was almost like Hawkwind, hard-driven space rock with wobbly noises and whooshes and at other times veered off to a jazz-rock tinged rave sort of thing.It was pretty relentless overall, with some slow spacey passages.

There was a fair bit of the glissando guitar on the slower bits which was hard to pick out from the synths occasionally, because everything was going through a lot of processing and FX channels.

So, what did I think?

Well, a bit of a mixed bag really. Mostly, I enjoyed it a lot but the whimsy and general silliness of Daevid Allen was a bit wearing at times. I could have done with more of the hard playing and less of the space whispers too.

We stayed for one encore but the second one was a bit of an aimless jam, with more of the same acid rave and whimsy as had gone on before, so we left.

Maybe if I’d been on ‘shrooms or acid it would have been a total mind-trip, but I was 100% straight and there were moments where I just wanted them to get on with it and play the music.

I’d definitely see the Steve Hillage Band again, maybe not Gong though.