Here is another addition to my series of Yes music posts. I started this series here and you can read the others here.
I saw the progressive rock band Yes play at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 10, 2004 during the first part of their Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Tour. You can read more about this show here.
This was the greatest Yesshow I have ever attended. It had a little bit of everything, which made for an epic night! When I became a Yes fan in 1991, after being given a copy of Yessongs, I quickly realized that the “classic” Yes is when Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe are in the band. Unfortunately, as I was born in 1977, I am far too young to have seen the classic Yes when they were together in the 1970s. After hearing Yessongs I became an instant fan. As I was getting myself ramped up on what was happening in Yes in the early 1990s, by going to record stores, listening to the radio, asking around, and looking for references in magazines and stuff (there was no internet to look at in those days!), I learned that the Union experiment (of which Wakeman and Howe were a part) had folded, Wakeman and Howe were out of the band, and the chart topping Trevor Rabin-led Yes was to reform. Given that the Union experiment appeared to be a one-off thing (outside of that, Wakeman and Howe had not technically been in Yes since 1979 and 1980 respectively), and the Rabin-led Yes then came out with an album (Talk) which performed reasonably well (though below expectations), toured in arenas in support of it, appeared on national television, and came out with a computer CD-Rom program, I thought that was going to be the version of Yes for the foreseeable future, and my chances to ever experience the classic Yes seemed rather bleak.
Then something wonderful happened.
Evidently the experience of making and touring the Talk album was not quite what guitarist Trevor Rabin had hoped, so, in 1995, he decided to leave Yes for Hollywood to make movie scores. Upon his departure, keyboardist Tony Kaye decided to go into retirement. The departure of those two musicians left the remainder of Yes looking for a guitarist and keyboardist to replace them. Lo, and behold, in 1996 both Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe were available and willing to return to Yes and take their rightful places as Yes’ keyboard player and guitarist. Their return saw the band embark on the Keys to Ascension project (which basically consisted of two studio albums, two live albums, a live DVD, and three live shows) and its promotion. I was elated that the classic Yes had returned, making new music for the first time in 18 years, and I may have opportunity to see them!
Then something terrible happened.
Due to various scheduling and personality issues (mainly with Wakeman) the classic Yes broke up in 1997, no sooner than it had reformed, and my hopes were again dashed. Granted, this time period was a strange one, even for Yes, and I was still happy to see Steve Howe remain in Yes, yet that could not shake the disappointment of being so close to seeing the classic Yes.
Then all was made right.
After a couple of lineup shifts (which included recording and touring with an orchestra replacing the keyboardist), and releasing a handful of albums, by the end of 2001 Yes was once again in need of a keyboardist and, as fate would have it, Wakeman was ready willing to return yet again to the Yes fold, and reform classic Yes once again!
This time, the reunification stuck for a while. The classic Yes went on tour for the better part of the next 3 years (I have reviewed shows from that time period: 8/8/02 and 9/3/04) and released a “best of” with newly recorded acoustic versions of some their songs, as well as a bevy of live albums and DVDs (e.g.: live performances, acoustic performances, and a documentary).
I finally got to see classic Yes and my Yes fandom finally felt legitimate! I got to see the classic Yes four times (this show being the third of the four) and this show was clearly the best and, in fact, greatest Yes concert I have ever seen. I stopped dragging my wife to concerts around this time (see here), but she attended this one with me as it was important to me that she not only share Yes with me but arguably the greatest version of the band. As described in detail below, the reason why this was the greatest Yesshow I ever saw is because I saw it with my wife, it was in a classic arena, it included a classic Roger Dean stage set like they used to tour with in the 1970s (which was introduced specifically for this tour and is another thing I never thought I would ever see in my lifetime), it had perhaps the most diverse and time-spanning setlist they ever played, it included a number of rarities in the set list, and it had an “acoustic” set (which they never really did before), not to mention fantastic performances that lasted nearly three hours.
The band fielded the following line up for this concert:
The set list at the concert is as follows:
As a person in the audience at one of these shows, and having seen Yes 20 times as of this writing (see here), I think it is safe to say that this tour was one of the best Yes has ever done, or, at the very least, the best in Yes’ latter-day history. This tour was the most recent, and likely the last, Yes tour to take place in arenas instead of theaters, so, needless to say, the shows were pretty large. The scope of the tour allowed Roger Dean to create one of his large stage sets to set the scene in which the band could play. Indeed, the stage also included large multiple bass drums which attached to long telescoping arms rotating around Alan White’s drum kit. Of course, as the concert was performed by Yes’ classic line-up, that makes it special for that reason alone.
Perhaps the best part of this tour is the set-list. I cannot think of a set list from any other tour that is so long and so varied! At least thirteen different albums are represented and some extremely rare pieces were played, such as “Every Little Thing” (not played since 1969), “Sweet Dreams” (only played on a couple of tours), “Southside of the Sky” (played regularly for the first time starting in 2002), “Going for the One” and “Turn of the Century” (not played on tour since 1977), Ritual (anything played in full from Tales from Topograhic Oceans is pretty rare), “The Meeting” (an ABWH piece), and perhaps rarest of all are significant segments from the second volume of Keys to Ascension (“Mind Drive” and “My Eyes”) and “Time is Time” (from Magnification) which had never been played live before or since. The band also included material from the 1980’s when Steve Howe was not the guitar player. So, as one can see, material from virtually all Yes eras was played from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, even including music from the “technically” (i.e.: legally) non-Yes album Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe. To make the set-list even more interesting, this era of Yes saw them experimenting with the then 10-year old idea of playing “unplugged.” During the acoustic segment the large Roger-Dean-created canopy descended to just over the band and they all gathered at the middle of the stage to play acoustic instruments. Yes converted many of their classics, including things like “Roundabout” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” to acoustic pieces. So, the attraction for this show was the fact that it was not only a show by the classic line up, but it was also an anniversary show celebrating their 35 years as a band (which coincided with the release of The Ultimate Yes collection), which explains the diversity of material played, and highlighted their new feature of playing their material acoustically (as found on The Ultimate Yes but truly on the fully acoustic show Yes Acoustic: Guaranteed No Hiss).
In terms of the songs, here are some highlights that I took away from the show: I wish “Mind Drive” was played in full. It is a shame they chopped it up as they did. What was played was very good (full disclosure: I like this song) and really brings across the power and innovation of the song though loses the contrasts and dynamics found in the studio version (almost none of the acoustic sections are played live unfortunately). “My Eyes” is just the chorus from “Footprints” so, needless to say, it was just a tease to the fans who wanted more! “Southside of the Sky” is amazing and the trading solos at the end of it between Howe and Wakeman is very exciting and really shows off their respective strengths. The solo trading is one of my favorite moments of seeing Yes live. “Every Little Thing” is a lot of fun and the first time they played it live since 1969! It is rearranged from how they played it on their first album, which is itself a rearrangement from how the Beatles played it. The acoustic material makes this set very interesting as the pieces are all reworked for that sort of presentation. So, for Yes fans who have heard these pieces so many times, this set provides a nice respite: while one can hear some classics they can hear them in new, different, interesting and fun ways as rearranged by the band itself. Finally, this line-up played a classic Trevor Rabin song (“Rhythm of Love”) and it comes across very credibly. Wakeman soups up Tony Kaye‘s simple keyboard line and Howe’s solo, while “very Howe” and different from Rabin’s, fits nonetheless. During the performance of this tour, Jon Anderson strolled around the floor of the arena in the midst of the audience while he sang. Well done!
The audience was ecstatic through most of the show. Usually the audience is a little more reserved, but I guess the combination of the classic lineup along with the show being at the Spectrum brought out the excitement in people. I sat at the front row of a section on the floor, so I had an aisle in front of me. The guy next to me spent the entire show in a sweaty frenzy playing a crazy and thrashing air guitar (I am not sure who he thought he was imitating but Howe certainly does not play quite like that!). On my other side were some rather over zealous ladies and a guy who would not stop handling them. Of course, the audience was largely of an age one would expect for a band from the 1970s and I guess they were all trying to relive their days when they saw the classic Yes in their 1970s heyday.
All I can say was that this show was absolutely amazing. It had everything a Yes fan could ever ask for from a Yesshow. It had songs from virtually every era of the band (save Drama; even the then very recent Billy Sherwood era was represented at a handful of shows when they played Nine Voices), a great stage set that calls their classic 70s stages to mind, great performances, the classic lineup, and cool quirky features like the acoustic set and a roving Jon Anderson. This show will likely always be the crown jewel of my Yes fandom!