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.