Yes Concert Reviews: 11/21/08 – Front Row and on the Radio!
I saw the progressive rock band Yes play at the Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey on November 21, 2008 during the first part of their In The Present Tour. You can read more about this show here. Technically speaking this show was initially not considered a Yes show but a “Howe, Squire, White Show featuring Oliver Wakeman and Benoit David,” but at the end of the leg of the tour of which this show was a part the band faced reality and acknowledged that they were the new iteration of Yes. Starting with this show, and concluding with the Yes show I saw in 2013, I attended each one with my friend and former neighbor Mike March. He has incredible luck in getting good seats which will be described below. I also have posted some photographs from the show below. This show took place about six weeks after my first son was born and my wife reminds me that I should thank him for being born on October 12 and not only not interrupting our seeing the Phillies in the World Series but also not interfering with this show (my second son had similarly good timing which I will describe in a later post).
The line-up Yes fielded that show was:
- Benoit David: lead vocals, percussion, guitar
- Steve Howe: guitars, backing vocals
- Chris Squire: bass guitars, backing vocals
- Alan White: drums, percussion
- Oliver Wakeman: keyboards
The set Yes played was (the album from which the song comes in parenthesis):
- Intro: Firebird Suite
- Siberian Khatru (Close To The Edge)
- I’ve Seen All Good People (The Yes Album)
- Tempus Fugit (Drama)
- Onward (Tormato)
- Astral Traveller (Time And A Word)
- Close to the Edge (Close To The Edge)
- And You And I (starting with “Apocalypse”) (Close To The Edge)
- Machine Messiah (Drama)
- Starship Trooper (The Yes Album)
- Encore: Owner Of A Lonely Heart (90125)
- Encore: Roundabout (Fragile)
This show was the first of four shows I saw this line-up perform over the course of its “In the Present Tour” which spanned the better part of three years (2008 – 2010). I saw this line up also perform in 2011 for its final tour called the Rite of Spring Tour.
To date, I have seen this lineup perform more often than any other though, sadly, it was the weakest of the Yes lineups I have seen. When I review the other shows of this lineup I will discuss different details regarding its origins, strengths, and weaknesses. I reviewed the 2010 show of this line up here. In September 2004 I saw the classic Yes line up perform for the last time (you can read about that here) and, after that tour, Yes went on hiatus. In 2008 Yes reformed with Jon Anderson continuing as lead vocalist but without Rick Wakeman due a conflict with his prior commitments. To replace Rick Wakeman, Yes hired on his son Oliver Wakeman to play keyboards, who is a very skilled keyboard player in his own right. This quintet went ahead and scheduled the Close to the Edge and Back Tour. Unfortunately, this tour was cancelled due to Jon Anderson suffering a severe asthma attack. Controversially Yes went forward without Jon Anderson and hired Youtube Yes cover singer sensation Benoit David to replace him.
Due to Yes now touring without the man who is considered to be the band’s face, soul, primary composer and lyricist, and inspiration (Jon Anderson) and without their long time and most popular keyboardist (Rick Wakeman), they decided to tour the crap out of this new lineup. Losing Jon Anderson was a huge blow to their image, identity, and to their fan base, and Yes felt they had to pull out the stops to reassure the fans that Yes is still, well, Yes. So, they toured practically non-stop for over four years to get as much exposure as possible and to convince the fans that Yes is still the band it has always been. In an attempt to up the ante on their trying to reassure the fans of their Yes-cred, they played some real deep cut rarities and toured with a stage set designed by Roger Dean to boot.
I have to say that I thought this show an amazing and truly excellent show. The band played really well. David’s voice was strong, clear, and did Anderson’s parts justice. His stage presence was rather goofy, hokey, and some what amateur, but it did not affect the sound at all so I did not really care all that much. O. Wakeman’s playing was really good. He was able to replicate his father’s playing, Tony Kaye’s playing and Geoff Downes’s playing with aplomb. My only complaint about his playing was that it was totally nondescript and he had absolutely no state presence at all. He played his parts technically really well but offered no personal flair to any of the parts whatsoever. His playing was practically by rote, which disappointed me because other players who join Yes tend to place their personal stamp onto the music even if it was initially played by others; ironically perhaps the best at that was Wakeman’s father. At the time, I sort of assumed that this lack of a personal stamp was due to circumstance. It seemed Yes was very focused and intent on ensuring the fans knew that this was Yes and the next stage of their career and not messing with keyboard sounds and arrangements may have helped fans embrace this new line up due to the familiar sound it could produce. Regardless, for me, at this time, between the excellent playing and the Dean stage set, this iteration of Yes seemed to be the real deal and a worthy continuation of the band, even without Anderson and, to a lesser extent, R. Wakeman.
I also have to say that the set list was excellent and that was an amazing feature of the show for me. The set included rarities from Drama (only ever played in 1980), “Astral Traveller,” a great song that had not been played since 1970, “Onward” which had only ever been played live three times (all at the Keys to Ascension shows), and they brought back their tradition of introducing “And You And I” with “Apocalypse” (ala Yessongs).
Unfortunately this show was performed in a casino, which, for me, is one of the worst venues for a concert. It is the worst because (1) I have to drive at least 75 minutes to the show; (2) it takes place in a craphole city (Atlantic City); (3) a fair amount of the audience got tickets at the casino for something fun to do but were not really fans and, therefore, spent the show being drunk and talking instead of involved in the show; and worst of all, (4) the set list is shorter than usual due to casino rules. Despite the excellent set list, it was shorted and did not include other songs on this leg of the tour, including “Parallels,” Long Distance Runaround,” The Fish,” “Soon,” “Aliens” (a song played live but never recorded by Yes but eventually included on the first Squackett album), and a Steve Howe solo spot.
The most memorable part of this show has got to be the seats! As I said above, Mike has incredible luck with seats. The local classic rock radio stations 102.9 WMGK was promoting the show and one of its disc jockeys, Ray Koob, was there broadcasting live. Koob promoted something like a drawing for a “seat upgrade” and all one had to do was text WMGK to enter. Mike and I entered and he looked at me with confidence and said “I am not going to sit in our seats because it’s a waste of time considering we’re getting a seat upgrade.” I grinned but had no expectation to win. Mike assured me we would win and was getting amped up for front row seats. Miraculously I got a text from WMGK which bumped up our seats to the front row right in front of Squire! It is the only time I have ever had front row seats for Yes. I have to say that it is a really exciting place to be. You truly get a view impossible anywhere else in the theater, though, admittedly, the sound is better in other places in a venue. As I was right in front of Squire, needless to say his bass and voice dominated the sound for me. When we got the ticket upgrades, Koob interviewed Mike and I on live radio and we went home with some promotional material. My wife, who was spending the day with her sister, listened in from home. We also had our pictures taken (posted below) with our winning tickets and the photographs were posted to the WMGK website. It was a really exciting moment for me – and something of a whirlwind – to show up to a show expecting to sit in the fifteenth row and, within about 15 minutes, get bumped up to front row and interviewed on a live radio broadcast! On Christmas 2008 Mike was nice enough to buy me a beer stein with our WMGK photograph on it!
Needless to say, my first Yes show in 4 years, a great show, a great performance, a good stage set, a great set list, front row tickets, a radio interview, and a 6 week old son made for an amazing night!
I reviewed this show a few days after the show and posted it to the Usenet group alt.music.yes. Back in the mid 1990s the old message board system of newsgroups on Usenet was in its heyday and, being a sucker for internet debates, I gravitated right toward it. Nowadays Usenet has been taken over by Google Groups but, needless to say, social networking things like Facebook and Twitter and any number of other options have made Usenet all but obsolete save for some loyal diehard hardcore users. I found my old review preserved at the website Forgotten Yesterdays and can be found here.
My old review has a lot of details about the show I have forgotten. Here is my old review (typos and all): Here are my thoughts about the AC show:
I posted elsewhere that the set was absurdly short due to the venue. I complained about it there and will not repeat it here. Suffice it to say that despite the short set, the evening was magical for me.
On a personal note, 102.9 WMGK was there broadcasting live. They did an “Owner of a Lonely Heart” game where you had to guess how many times various classic rock musicians have gotten divorced. My friend and I gave it a go and won a couple of radio station t-shirts. They also had a text message raffle for a first row seat. On a lark my friend and I both sent text messages. After a while it got close to show time and I wanted to take our seats, but he said “no way, we’re going to win those 1rst row seats”. Wouldn’t you know it, but 2 minutes later we won the tickets! So, we moved up a couple of dozen rows for out front row seats! directly in front of Chris Squire. So, needless to say it was awesome just on this note alone for me.
About the show:
BD: very good. Great stage presence. Moves around and interacts with the band and the audience very well and in a more “normal” sort of way as compared to JA. He also moves and dances a lot to the music (and according to its rhythm too!), so this is different from JA also. Obviously no spacey talk. Over all, a very good performance. Of course, we all missed JA but BD made us feel right at home.
SH: really hot. He’s a strange guy, people say he is slowing the band down in terms of tempo. However, his performance is hot and cold in terms of speed. A few moments he is playing either slower or less notes than the album or previous performances in years past (i.e.: TF). Other times (such as “Wurm”) he is blisteringly fast. So, I cannot tell if he thinks playing slower is more mature or refined or he can only sustain it occasionally. He got really angry at least twice during the show. While introducing AT he told some folks in the audience to “shut up” because he was talking. During the quiet part of “I Get Up, I Get Down” when CS is doing some noodling, he looked toward those same folks with a look that could kill and mouthed “shut up” and made a motion with his hand to tell them to keep it down. Overall, his performance was spot on and he was very animated at times.
AW; same as always: solid.
OW: I think he does not get the credit he deserves. He was mixed somewhat lower than RW. However, I have found with the exception of perhaps PM, every keyboardist is mixed lower than RW. There was at least one time when SH motioned to the sound guy to turn OW down – I cannot for the life of me remember what song that was. What he did play was spot on like the albums. I think his main “problem” if it is one, is that he has absolutely ZERO stage presence. He never looks at the audience and only acknowldged the band (CS specifically) one time that I can remember (during the “Roundabout” solo). When he has no keyboard part to play he often clasped his hands in front of himself looking at the floor. He also does not make his playing look challeging. He uses a smaller rig than RW, taking full advantage of new technology (unlike RW who seems to enjoy using 1,000,000 keyboards all of the time). He rarely played more than one at one time and does not sway/leap/run back and forth between them or, as RW did in 2002 – 2004, criss-cross his hands constantly. I guess it can be summed up by saying OW has no stage presence and no showmanship and I think a lot of people confuse that with inferior keyboard playing which is, I think, a mistake.
CS: what can I say about him? He was 5 feet from me so I saw everything and he took a lot of my attention. Really great playing and singing and he does not look like he is slowing down. I think he clearly looks like he is in charge of this group again. He is playing as good as he ever has played I think. My only suggestion is to stop wearing pants so tight. His package was way too prominent and his old man legs way too evident.
The set was as follows:
I’ve Seen All Good People
Close To The Edge
And You and I (starting with “Apocalypse”)
Owner of a Lonely Heart
The details are largely the same as other shows, but here are some details I noticed that may not have been shared perviously. No major issues or flubs. Overall a very tight performance considering the complaints from recent shows.
SK: during the quiet parts at the begining CS had something caught in his bass and fiddled with it for several seconds.
TF: I was 4 feet from CS. I can tell you that he seemed very confident playing the challenging bass parts. However, he seemed to REALLY struggle singing at the same time. He got most of his lines however he would pull back from the microphone at times and sort of scat the melody. Some of the lyrics got garbled by him. It really could not be noticed unless you actually watched him fromt he distance from which I viewed him. Overall, however, great playing.
Onward: CS plucks the strings with 2 fingers during many moments in the song instead of playing as he typically does. SH sat on a stool the entire song.
CttE; they pulled out the dry ice mist during the quiet parts. They also did some spacey improv circa 1972 during those same moments. I do not think SH’s blue guitar on a stand does justice to the sitar sound. The sound round of pipe organ is supplimented by SH doubling the melody and CS and AW souping it up a bit as they have done on previous tours. The tempo was more or less album tempo with a ripping guitar solo at the beginning.
AYAI: great and tight overall performance but awkward guitar playing when not using a steel. SH did not use his acoustic 12 string but opted for that 6-string blue guitar. As a result, the song was different (i.e.: more electric) and a lot thinner due to the lack of 6 more strings. So, I think that took away from the music if being true to the fullness of the acoustic 12 string is important for the listener. Also, not sure if it was intentional, but the blue guitar was facing to the left side of SH and not directly in front of him. As a result, when he had to sing the “Coins and Crosses” part he had to stretch his arms to the side while his face was forward toward teh audience. Very uncomfortable looking. Was it like this at other shows? The two note keyboard chords during the keyboard solo were prerecorded.
MM: AMAZING!! SH’s slow building guitar growl was just great and CS was blistering. Great job. Not sure what the point is for BD to play the acoustic guitar as SH is not playing his own guitar during those moments but competant strumming nonetheless. They also used the dry ice during the slow ending. CS’ singing on this one was intermittent. He would come in and out of the same verse and I do not think he did the same on the album.
ST: in terms of performance, probably the best and tightest performance of the night. Again the blue guitar used for an the acoustic sound during “Disillusion”. The solos at the end are as good as they have been in recent years. A REALLY well done rendition. During the “Follow…” part of “Disillusion” it sounded like OW played some keyboard effects that sounded like harmonized voices to boost the vocal sound of that section.
OoaLH: pretty standard. AW introduced it. SH looks less angry than bored playing this now, and actually played it pretty well and put some effort into it (unlike previous tours, I thought). The electronic drums were prerecorded and there were no shreeks from JA. OW played the little trippy transition parts. BD came in with the chorus at the end a little too early and looked at CS and the both laugh it off. BD sort of laughingly shrugged and CS did the same.
Roundabout: AW introduced this one too and it was again, pretty standard. The whole song too, none of this shorted nonsense. Again the blue guitar substituted for the acoustic and SH plays the “acoustic” parts with his fingers, which I do not know if he generally does that.
There you have it from AC!
From the WMGK website:
My own photos: