Yes Concert Review: 7/4/11
I saw the progressive rock band Yes play at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, New Jersey on July 4, 2011 during the first part of their Fly From Here Tour. You can read more about this show here. Styx was the opening band at this show (which featured a guest appearance by Chuck Panozzo).
I posted photographs of the concert program book for this show here.
The line-up Yes fielded at this show was:
- Benoit David: lead vocals, percussion, guitar
- Steve Howe: guitars, backing vocals
- Chris Squire: bass guitars, backing vocals
- Alan White: drums, percussion
- Geoff Downes: keyboards
The set Yes played was (the album from which the song comes in parenthesis):
- Intro: a recording of Overture (Fly From Here)
- Tempus Fugit (Drama)
- Yours is No Disgrace (The Yes Album)
- We Can Fly (Fly From Here)
- And You and I (Close to the Edge)
- Heart of the Sunrise (Fragile)
- I’ve Seen All Good People (The Yes Album)
- Owner of a Lonely Heart (90125)
- Encore: Roundabout (Fragile)
- Encore: Starship Trooper (The Yes Album)
As much as I hate to say it, this show was easily the worst Yes concert I have ever seen. At the conclusion of this show, my thoughts about the future of the band were conflicted. Yes had just released a fantastic new album called Fly From Here, which I thought was a great return to form and a harbinger of great things to come. So, when the band announced the tour in support of the album, I was cautiously optimistic.
Why cautiously? Well, obviously, I was excited to see the new album toured, yet, as I mentioned in my review of a show from the tour immediately previous to this one (which you can see here), at this point Yes had been touring very regularly since 2008 and, by the beginning of 2011, seemed to simply try to cram concert tours into any open part of their schedule. Their Rite of Spring Tour, which concluded not two months before this tour, seemed to be scheduled simply to meet the obligations under keyboardist Oliver Wakeman‘s contract. Although Wakeman participated at the beginning of the Fly From Here sessions, the band decided to go in a different direction and asked Geoff Downes to come back into the Yes fold as their keyboardist for the first time since 1980. Very few of Wakeman’s contributions (writing or playing) made it to the album in favor of Downes’ contributions. So, this tour was the first tour to feature Geoff Downes in Yes for 31 years. I had never seen Downes with Yes, obviously, so I was excited to see what he could bring to their live show, as I thought Wakeman’s performances were increasingly rote and boring over his years in the band.
Needless to say, none of my optimism was warranted as this show revealed a perfect storm of Yes’ combined failings up to this time. First of all, the set was extremely short as they had to make room for Styx’s opening set. I have to say that Styx’s performance was fantastic, energetic, tight, and really well done. I really enjoyed them and, as you can see from the photographs below, they even looked better. I never thought I would see the day when Styx out performs Yes, but this was that day. Second, as I mentioned in my last post (and the one before that which you can see here), Yes’ singer Benoit David’s voice had been on a precipitous decline for at least a year at this point. His voice just was not strong enough to tour with Yes in the long term and his voice reached its limit during this tour. His voice was raspy and weak and, as a result, frequently off key. Yes had been slowing the songs down to help him and by this show they were embarrassingly slow. David simply could not hit the high notes. It all came to a head during “Heart of the Sunrise” when his voice broke during the big climax toward the end of the song and he could not sing the rest of it. At the end of the tour something like this could happen I suppose, but this was the first show of the tour! Third, for over the fourteen years or so prior to this show, Yes is notoriously under-rehearsed at the beginning of a tour. This was the first show of the tour with a new keyboard player, so that under-rehearsal came through very clearly (with muddled cues and transitions). Indeed, according to my father-in-law who is friends with someone who was helping set up the concert and was at the rehearsal earlier in the day, Steve Howe had words with Downes due to him missing cues and other parts. So, needless to say, they could have been better prepared! Downes was positioned in the classic Wakeman slot on the right of the stage and, evidently due to “communication issues” with Howe, has since been repositioned behind Howe and next to White for subsequent tours. Fourth, the set list was really disappointing. I understand it had to be shorter, but it basically consisted of the predicable and now boring “classics” with “Tempus Fugit” (played at practically every show since 2008) and “We Can Fly” which is a 6 minute segment of their then new 23-minute epic “Fly From Here.” They were clearly going through the motions with this set list. Needless to say, I was rather crestfallen to hear virtually nothing from the new album on the tour promoting it! I probably should have realized I would be disappointed when their walk-out music was simply playing a track (the first movement of “Fly From Here”) from their new album over the speakers instead of playing it themselves. Fifth, as has been the case since 2008, White’s playing has gotten thinner and thinner.
When this show was finished, I thought, despite a great new album, Yes’ future was really bleak. They have a singer whose voice is shot, they cannot seem to get it together to play a decent set decently, they do not seem to want to promote their new album, and they were getting shown up by Styx. I tried to take consolation that Yes would close out their career with a great album and the fact that I, at least, got to see them one more time, and this time with Downes, before they decided to call it a day. Apparently, the tour did not get much better as it went forward (though perhaps better rehearsed by then). This tour, I think, really saw Yes bottom out like they had never done before.
A positive epilogue: despite clearly bottoming out, Yes booked a ton of shows around the world in support of Fly From Here as they were going to make the best of what they had. The album sold better than any album since Talk in 1994, so they knew they still had something to work with even if their shows were suffering. This leg of the tour concluded in August 2011 and the next leg was in Europe and Britain starting in November 2011. This gave David’s voice a few months to recover, which he sorely needed, and also for the band to revamp their set list and allow the album to continue selling well. When they got to this next leg of the tour, they were playing large sections of Fly From Here and played a much longer set. Between the improved set, longer shows, and slightly recovered David, things seemed to be recovering from when Yes bottomed out in 2011’s summer tour. Unfortunately, even with his modest improvement, David’s limitations still lingered throughout the autumn and winter of 2011, until the inevitable happened at the end of that tour. David’s voice gave out, causing the band to cancel their last three shows of 2011, and he could no longer serve as Yes’ singer, and Yes was to seek out a replacement. As much as I thought David was a good guy, and I do not want to wish ill on anyone, I have to admit that I took this as great news (both that David was out and Yes still intended to continue). Yes had to seek a replacement pretty quickly as the Pacific Rim leg of the tour was to begin in four months or so. By late-March 2012 Jon Davison joined the band as new lead singer and has led them to a new renaissance in the second decade of the twenty-first century. I will write more about this when I review the show from their next tour in the summer of 2012.