This post is the part of my Yes concert series of posts. I started this series here and you can read the others here.
I saw the progressive rock band Yes play at the Fillmore in Philadelphia, PA on July 20, 2018 during their 50th Anniversary Tour. You can read more about this show here.
The line-up Yes fielded that show was:
The set Yes played was (the album from which the song comes in parenthesis):
Fifty years! Amazing. My twenty-sixth Yesshow and I am still seeing and hearing new things. As a 41 year old guy, I never once thought I’d have the opportunity to see Patrick Moraz or Trevor Horn with Yes, but, as always with Yes, you just never ever know what will happen with Yes. This concert was the first time Moraz played with Yes since 1976! I thought the setlist was pretty good, and pretty varied, though I wad disappointed in them not including any YesWest song at all, not even “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” and they dropped “Believe Again” from the set, which is a song I really wanted to hear as I have never heard it live before.
For a Yesshow veteran, the highlights for me, in terms of the set list, were the rarities, like “Nine Voices” (which I have never seen live) and “Sweet Dreams,” “We Can Fly,” and “Does it Really Happen?,” which I have only seen a couple of times live before. “Close to the Edge” was played at a proper tempo and sounded really good. Interestingly Sherwood assisted Davison with the little vocal stabs during the opening guitar solo. Downes, as I have observed before, played the mellotron wisps (e.g.: during “Total Mass Retain”) with foot pedals, which I think is an interesting technique. I thought “Nine Voices” was great. It lacked the depth of vocals as compared to the studio version simply because this iteration of Yes only has two strong singers instead of four as on The Ladder, but it still sounded nice and jangley. Downes play the “world instruments” sounds through his keyboards and contributed to the vocals while Sherwood played a fretless bass with which he soloed toward the end of the song. Davison played the electronic bongos really well during this song. Really nice. “Parallels” was dedicated to Chris Squire. Steve Howe, starting with “Mood for a Day” through to about the intermission, became distracted by, I guess, the chatter or hubbub at the bar in the theater which was on the wall to Howe’s right (my left, as an audience member). During “Mood for a Day” he started motioning to the people at that bar to get them to quiet down. I guess his ire toward them started during “Close to the Edge” as after that song he remarked that someone tried to smoke something discreetly that, despite his efforts, turned out to be pretty obvious. After he finished, he got up to the mic and scolded them telling them that everyone was there to listen and they were being too loud. After that he continued to look over at the bar, motion with his hands, which, to my ears, caused his playing to suffer as he was too busy being angry and annoyed at the people at the bar than pay attention to his playing. He got too distracted and noticeably, to me, played sloppily here and there until the intermission. Before “Sweet Dreams” Howe specifically said the arrangement of the song at this show was taken from the arrangement they played during their tours in 1976 (though Downes’ approach was not exactly like Moraz’s despite using that arrangement). Before “Soon” Howe paid tribute to David Foster and Peter Banks. Although Foster and Banks and Squire were mentioned, Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman, and Trevor Rabin never were (except for one passing mention of Anderson’s name (just “Jon” was stated I think) as working with Foster on the lyrics on Time and a Word. Davison played guitar on “Soon,” “Sweet Dreams,” and “Wurm” at the end of “Starship Trooper.” He also played various percussion when not singing. “We Can Fly” was the “Fly From Here” version and not the “Return Trip” version. Davison played the electronic bongos again on this song. Also, when it comes to this song, I am almost 100% positive that the background vocals for the chorus (the singing of “We Can Fly!”) also included a recording of Chris Squire’s vocals from the album. Horn sang some lines of this song in a different key as compared to the album. “Awaken” was interesting as it is the first tour where Sherwood played bass on it. He did not whip out the triple-neck bass, or even use three basses. He used a fretless bass for the first part, and a standard bass for the organ section and the last section. During the organ section Sherwood played the parts at a lower register than Chris Squire did as Squire used a higher pitched instrument. Davison played the harp parts through a keyboard. “Awaken” sounded a little thin in parts because, first, White’s playing was very minimal and, second, Downes’ simplified Wakeman’s parts during the first verses (which I really find unfortunate and disappointing). Finally, Downes sang the counter-point vocals at the end of “Roundabout” and Howe sang the chant lines between the verses at the beginning of “Awaken.” All of the songs were played in a similar fashion and arrangement as the band’s recent tours. I thought the band was on point throughout and played really well except for Howe’s distraction noted above. The vocals were excellent and Sherwood’s harmonies were fantastic. I will note that the ultra-fast tempo and the fire of the youthful Yes of the 70s is gone. They play the songs as on the album and in a way that is more reverent to the material than their approach in their youth where they were more inclined to show off their individual prowess. The stage set was fine but unobtrusive. I realized about 2/3 through the show that I never really noticed it. Their stage set in 2016 was fantastic. This time around I would say it as fine, not great, but not bad either.
The highlight of the whole show, of course, was the special guests. Trevor Horn was the first guest. He has very little stage presence. He is very reserved and visibly not really comfortable being the focus of it all. He sang “We Can Fly.” His voice broke almost immediately on the first few lines of the song, which caused him to look sheepishly at the other guys, and, I would note, he sang very few lines by himself. His vocals were supplemented by Davison and Sherwood through most of the song. Despite his lackluster performance, it was great to see him live for probably the only time in my life. He really seemed to love the band and it was obvious to me that he did. Patrick Moraz was the next guest and he played “Soon.” His enthusiasm and joy was contagious. He was so excited to be there. Unfortunately, you could not hear a note he played during “Soon.” It was impossible to distinguish between his playing and that of Downes. He also played with sunglasses on and had an affect similar to Ray Charles, which was weird. The next guest was founding member Tony Kaye who played the entire encore. His playing was clear, audible, and upfront. His sound, of course, is a lot more straight forward: Hammond organ only. He played virtually all of his organ parts from the songs while Downes played the synthesizer parts and other parts as well. He also got to play the organ solo in “Roundabout” and his organ played a rhythm part during the opening chords of the song. Of course, he continues to play one handed constantly for some reason. Alan White, though not a “guest,” was basically presented as such, and he played “Awaken” and the encores. I have been saying for the past couple of tours now that White, despite being one of the greatest drummers in rock, is a shadow of his former self due to his recent health problems. It is no secret that the members of Yes are getting old, but White is the one guy who truly looks old and looks like he is barely getting around. His drumming was very simple and the high intensity “thunder machine” is gone, likely for good. It is great seeing him, but he just can’t do it anymore. Finally, with White at the kit, Schellen stayed on stage and wandered around playing various percussion. During “Yours is no Disgrace” Davison and Schellen hung out behind Downes’ keyboard rig to use his microphone for their percussion, In fact, during “Wurm” (the end of “Starship Trooper”), even Moraz came out to shake a tambourine, which made for a stage with eight Yes men all playing together!
This show was a great show. The set list was great. The playing was great. Honestly, if you compare it to recent shows, the performance was not quite as good as, say, the 2016 tour, but the playing was still great nonetheless. Obviously, as a Yes fan, this show will always go down as one of the greatest for me, perhaps the second greatest next to the 2004 shows, due to the fact that I had a chance to see Horn, Moraz, and Kaye!