Yesshow Review (with pictures): 7/31/16 Bethlehem, PA
I saw the progressive rock band Yes play at the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on July 31, 2016 during the their USA 2016 The Album Series Tour. You can read more about this show here.
The line-up Yes fielded that show was:
- Jon Davison: lead vocals, guitar
- Steve Howe: guitars, vocals
- Billy Sherwood: bass guitars, vocals
- Jay Schellen: drums, percussion
- Geoff Downes: keyboards
The set Yes played was (the album from which the song comes in parenthesis):
- Intro: Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
- Machine Messiah (Drama)
- White Car (Drama)
- Does it Really Happen? (Drama)
- Into the Lens (Drama)
- Run Through the Light (Drama)
- Tempus Fugit (Drama)
- I’ve Seen All Good People (The Yes Album)
- Siberian Khatru (Close To The Edge)
- And You And I (Close To The Edge)
- The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn) (Tales from Topographic Oceans)
- Leaves of Green (Tales from Topographic Oceans)
- Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil) (Tales from Topographic Oceans)
- Encore: Roundabout (Fragile)
- Encore: Starship Trooper (The Yes Album)
This concert was my twenty-second Yesshow and, at this point, it is difficult to say something that has not already been said.
The elephant in the room, of course, is the band’s line up. Chris Squire’s untimely passing introduced Sherwood as the band’s bass player last summer (see here). This year, drummer Alan White, while still a member, is sitting out this summer tour to get back surgery. He will allegedly return once he convalesces. Sitting in on drums on this night (and for this tour) was Jay Schellen who was/is a collaborator with Asia, Squire, Sherwood, and others. The loss of Squire was, itself, a loss of existential proportions for Yes and the loss of White doubles down on that, and really reduces the band to, when it comes down to it, simply Howe. I will discuss the existential crisis the band is undergoing in another post (I already touched on it here and here). I only mention it here so my readers know I am not ignoring the obvious, I just think it is an issue that is too big and beyond the scope of this post.
The set list was a complete performance of Drama, a little more than half of Tales from Topographic Oceans, and some other songs sprinkled throughout.
Despite the line up issues, I have to say that this performance was one of the best I have seen in years. I have said in many of my other Yes concert reviews over the last few years that White has been slowing down significantly over the years and has really starting simplifying his playing. The man is simply getting older and cannot do what he once could, so my comments above are not really a criticism but more of an observation. With White now out, all of the culprits responsible for slowing down Yes music are gone. Squire tended to like to draw some parts out live as he felt it added to dramatic effect to the music. Former Yes vocalist Benoit David needed tempo reduced to accommodate his respiratory problems. White, it seems, has been feeling the understandable effects of his age and has either played slower and/or simpler of late. Without any of these three in the band, it seems the tempo and intensity of the music is closer to what one would expect for Yes. Indeed, the introduction of Schellen to the band really amps up the music once again. Schellen reintroduces the excitement that a good percussionist can contribute to the music which White, once upon a time, could do. Schellen really did sound like White of old. The songs sounded like they were played at the proper tempo and I think Schellen has a lot to do with that. I hope the band takes note of this while White is out and works something out when he does return. Perhaps Yes could go to a dual drummer situation ala the Moody Blues when it became clear that Graeme Edge could not do it alone anymore. Let White do accents and stuff and Schellen can bring the thunder. I doubt White, as co-owner of the band with Howe (and presumably Squire’s estate), can be involuntarily kicked out at this point.
Interestingly, I felt Downes’ style really worked well for Topographic. His playing really meshed well with the music and, if one closed his eyes, it was easy to imagine (former keyboardist) Rick Wakeman playing. Of course, he played Drama very well. I was really happy with Downes’ playing. His style, though more modern and electronic as compared to Wakeman’s, is more complimentary to the Wakeman and (other former keyboardist) Tony Kaye material than was the style of (yet another former keys-man) Patrick Moraz. The differences between Wakeman and Downes only become truly noticeable during the solos as Downes simply cannot play as fast and as fluidly as Wakeman can when soloing (of course, Downes has different sound preferences too as compared to Wakeman), so the solos take on a different character and sound than one is accustomed to hearing. The solos are not better or worse, just different and, perhaps, less cluttered with a barrage of notes.
Davison is really coming into his own now. He is, more than ever, singing things in his own style and cadence and not simply trying to copy (Yes founder and vocalist) Jon Anderson or (one time Yes vocalist) Trevor Horn’s singing style. He sounded as angelic as always. Indeed, Davison modified melodies and and accents here and there in ways to suit his preferences and in ways, I do not think, he felt comfortable (or able to be) doing in, say, 2012. He is also a very capable musician and that comes to the fore as well. Yes is lucky to have found him as he is a worthy successor to Anderson.
Howe was no nonsense and on top of his game, and Sherwood was clearly having fun all night. Howe was conducting the band and even gave cues to the lighting guys. Sherwood was laughing and goofing a lot during the night and seem happy to be doing what he is doing. His bass sound is not a copy of Squire’s but definitely has a Yessy sound that fits the music very well. Sherwood is truly a great replacement for Squire. I miss Squire but Sherwood is worthy and keeps the flame alive. He played Squire very well (and much better than last summer).
Despite issues with the line up, the band played excellently and truly sounded like one would and should expect Yes to sound. I do hope the band settles on a decent lineup and creates its own identity through new well composed and recorded music that is performed extensively. While they certainly do the classic material justice, the new lineup – whatever it winds up being – needs to create its own independent identity and credibility and contribution to the Yes story. Simply being people who go out to tour and play music only one (sometimes two) guys actually wrote/recorded (and sometimes not even that) reduces the band to a tribute or nostalgia act, which is fine I suppose, but it certainly marks the end of the band as a creative and substantive group of musicians.
There were some technical problems during the show, which is unusual for Yes. Sherwood’s microphone was very hard to hear the entire night, and about halfway through “The Revealing Science of God” Howe’s Gibson ES 345 conked out and he had to switch to a Les Paul very quickly mid-song. Sherwood played Howe’s guitar line on bass while Howe switched. It looked like one of his pickups on the ES 345 went bad. Luckily it was during a slower and more contemplative part of the song.
The staging is the best I have seen for this band in years as well. There was a floor to ceiling screen behind them that could be turned into a diptych or (more often) triptych with moving images and the drum riser and keyboard riser were sitting on coordinated screens as well.
I only heard backing tracks a couple of times, namely: the persistent clicking percussion during the drum break in “Ritual” and some extra vocals on the “ooohs” coming out of “Dissolution” and, as always, the piano chords under the keyboard solo in “And You And I.” There were also backing tracks on “White Car,” but that is to be expected.
In terms of the songs, here are some interesting tid bits from this show that I saw that my readers may also find interesting. Howe played his trusty ES 175 on “Machine Messiah” (as opposed to a Les Paul). Sherwood’s bass on the Drama stuff was fantastic. I loved how the screens had elements of the Drama cover. I never saw four of the six Drama songs live before and, for me, these songs were the highlight. Indeed, “Into the Lens” is one of my favorite songs and it was exciting to finally see it played live. Howe played his Les Paul on “Does it Really Happen?” and “Run Through the Light,” while Davison played acoustic guitar and Sherwood played fretless bass on the latter. Sherwood played the harmonica on “The Preacher, the Teacher” like Squire used to do. Davison played electric bongos here and there through the show. Sherwood and Davison had tablets (i.e.: something like ipods) with the lyrics on their microphone stands, while it seemed Schellen had some sort of tablet as well. The beginning of “Revealing” was magical. They use these really ethereal sound effects that fit in perfectly. The drum break in “Ritual” was near perfect. Granted it had a backing track (see above), but the drums really did sound powerful. I was disappointed that Davison and Sherwood did not play real drums but, instead, played electronic drums. Rolling out the tympanis has a much greater visual impact than some pads. “Leaves of Green” was a duo of Davison/Howe, but Sherwood came out and sang some harmonies at the end (Howe had to tell the lighting guy to illuminate him!). Sherwood played the bass solo in “Ritual” pretty straight. No scat singing or adding elements of “The Remembering” or “The Ancient” to it. Howe played his Les Paul on “Ritual” and used his trusty guitar synth on the sitar parts (he used his guitar-synth instead of his acoustics on stands, as has been his custom since about 2008). Downes, however, played Moraz like keyboards during the drum break and it sounded excellent! I loved the Topographic images on the screen while they played. Sherwood took a solo in “Wurm” (no strut, like Squire, thankfully), but Downes did not, and they launched right into “Trooper” from “Roundabout” with no break in between.
Finally, the audience was really into it and this is a great venue. Unfortunately, I had to sit next to a “whoooo” lady who did that in my ear all night and, doubly unfortunately, she was heavy set and insisted on exaggerated swaying with her hands in the air all night as well, which meant she got up close and personal with me more times than I can count while swaying back and forth knocking my glasses off with her elbows. I had to laugh that, as soon as the lights went up for the intermission, an ad for the upcoming ARW show (the rival schismatic-Yes band featuring Anderson, Wakeman, and former guitarist Trevor Rabin) appeared on the screen; that had to be intentional.
All in all a great show, true to form, with a great Yes sound. Now all the band has to do is get this lineup some credibility and this could be the start of a new generation of Yes!