I saw the progressive rock band Yes play the Tower Theater on July 19, 2014 in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. It was during their Heaven & Earth Tour; you can read more about this show here. Syd Arthur was the opening band.
The line-up Yes fielded that show was:
- Jon Davison: lead vocals, guitar
- Steve Howe: guitars, vocals
- Chris Squire: bass guitars, vocals
- Alan White: drums, percussion
- Geoff Downes: keyboards
The set Yes played was (the album from which the song comes in parenthesis):
- Prerecorded intro music: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
- Siberian Khatru (Close To The Edge)
- And You And I (Close To The Edge)
- Close to the Edge (Close To The Edge)
- To Ascend (Heaven & Earth)
- The Game (Heaven & Earth)
- Roundabout (Fragile)
- Cans and Brahms (Fragile)
- We Have Heaven (Fragile)
- South Side of the Sky (Fragile)
- Five Percent for Nothing (Fragile)
- Long Distance Runaround (Fragile)
- The Fish (Fragile)
- Mood for a Day (Fragile)
- Heart Of The Sunrise (Fragile)
- Encore: I’ve Seen All Good People (The Yes Album)
- Encore: Starship Trooper (The Yes Album)
This was my twentieth Yes concert in twenty years (my Yes concert history is described here) and after all these years and all these shows it is difficult to say anything that has not already been said, so I will keep this review to just the highlights. As one can tell from the set list, the show featured the entire Close to the Edge album, entire Fragile album, and a couple of new songs and classic songs. The seminal Fragile album has never before been played it in its entirety (mainly due to the nature of the album having overdubbed solo pieces) so that was very exciting for me to hear/see as a Yes fan.
The show was sold out (which cannot be said for Yes’ last visit to the Tower back in 2012, so I guess Yes’ fortunes are doing better with Davison and/or playing whole albums at a time live) and the band played really well and has continued to play better and better with each successive show since their, in my mind, near disastrous show (and tour) in 2011 promoting their then new album Fly From Here (which was a really good album by the way). It is also worth noting that I attended the Yes show in 2008 with my friend, concert buddy, and former neighbor, Mike. We attended shows from the next eight Yes tours until and including the Yestival show in 2013. Mike has since moved to Indiana so our streak has been broken; I’ll miss going to shows with a guy whose Yes fandom rivals my own (he reports seeing nearly sixty shows!) and an all around good guy regardless of Yes fandom. So, I invited my friend, fellow church member, and Yes newbie, Dan to the show instead and he reported having enjoyed the show very much.
Yes sounded tight, energetic, smooth, and confident. Every player was on top of his game and put in a quality performance, both instrumentally and vocally. The stage set up can be seen in the photographs below, and included three projection screens over the band. The lighting was done well and I appreciated it more than usual due to my balcony seat as I could see the entire beams of light. The issues regarding the reduction in tempo for some of the songs from the Benoit David years seems gone as everything sounded as fast or faster than the album recordings for each song. It is amazing how much a deteriorating singer can bring down a band! Jon Davison is about as close to Jon Anderson one can come, yet he is able to maintain his own distinct style. Although no one can replace Jon Anderson, I will say that Davison is a good as one can get, sustains his notes longer for dramatic effect at times (as compared to Anderson), and is a better technical musician than Anderson is/was. The mix was excellent, everyone was loud and clear with very few muddy sections, but that may have been due to my seat location which was toward the front of the first balcony section (I opted for cheaper seats this time around as my wife Tiffani thinks I spend too much money on Yes tickets every year (I disagree obviously) but I have to say the sound quality was really good despite not being close to the stage).
The only goof in the show that I noticed was during “South Side of the Sky.” The transition from the quiet piano section into gentle the three part lyriclesss harmonized singing part was a little rough as someone (it seemed like Downes to me) misplayed the tempo/beat which caused a cascade through the band to have to very rapidly regroup and get back onto the same beat. Throughout that section Howe would retreat back to Downes’ keyboard rig between vocal sections just to make some eye contact with him and ensure they remained on the same page.
As far as individual songs are concerned, apart from the minor hiccup in “South Side of the Sky” as described above, they all came off really well. Downes never sounded better on “Close to the Edge” than he did at this show. The two new songs from Heaven & Earth came across really well. The new album has received its share of criticism but its songs, in a live context, sound really good. The band also seemed to play them a little faster than on the album, which helps. Howe plays his Portuguese 12-string guitar throughout “To Ascend” while Davison strums an acoustic guitar throughout as well. “The Game” featured Howe on his trusty Gibson ES-175D while using an E-bow and, strangely enough, immediately to the right of Alan White (behind the speakers) was a sound guy who set up and played an inverted cymbal during the lead up to the chorus each time it was played. I was only able to notice the guy due to my seat location. Squire played his green Mouridian bass on both songs. There were no projections on the screens during these songs, likely because they are new and songs from the new album rotate from night to night. Steve Howe played his Gibson Switchmaster for most of the Fragile material (as he did on the album); with exception of the Fragile Tour and Close to the Edge Tour, Howe usually simply plays the ES-175D for this material as the sound difference between the guitars is insignificant, but I suppose playing Fragile in its entirety justified pulling the Switchmaster out again. “Roundabout” (and the rest of Fragile) followed the new material and, after twenty Yesshows, I have gotten to the point where I never have to hear this song live again as I have heard it at every show I have seen. Since 1972 “Roundabout” has been an encore song but, for essentially the only time aside from the acoustic 35th Anniversary Tour, Yes played the song in the middle of set this time around (due to this tour’s feature of the entire Fragile album in order) and, I have to say, I enjoyed it a lot more and it seemed to come off with a lot more energy than usual. “We Have Heaven”, “Cans and Brahms,” and “the Fish” are all solo pieces on Fragile with overdubs by the soloist. As a result, these were all played with backing tracks to try and recreate the album. Davison recorded his own voice (as opposed to using Anderson’s existing recordings) to reproduce “We Have Heaven” (Howe and Squire joined in the singing), while Downes recorded some backing tracks for his performance of “Cans and Brahms” (as opposed to using Rick Wakeman‘s existing recordings), and Squire recorded backing tracks for “the Fish” though they were barely audible and what I could hear seemed to be really basic rhythmic bass notes to maintain tempo. “South Side of the Sky” (aside from the minor goof noted above) was presented better than I have ever seen them do it. The lighting was great, which included very bright flashes of light to represent lightening. They also used dry ice smoke (or a fog machine), and, on the projection screens, Roger Dean mountain-scapes with graphics of snow animated over them. Very cool stuff. Davison hopped onto the keyboard riser and reached over the top keyboard on the right (from the audience’s perspective) to trigger the wind and moog distortion sounds in the song. The ending of the song, which, since 2002, has featured trading solos between synthesizer and guitar, did so once again (and Downes, contrary to the belief of many Yes fans, holds his own here), but it was about as long as the solo section played during the Full Circle Tour as opposed to the very extended solo section played during the 35th Anniversary Tour. Davison strummed acoustic guitar during this section, as well as on “We Have Heaven.” “Five Percent for Nothing” was a goofy 30 sections that sounded very chaotic. My ears usually gravitate to the sustained organ chords in order to ground the piece in my mind but I could not hear them during the performance so I was never able to engage in this piece and, no sooner did it begin, it was over. Alan White wore headphones during this track presumably to help him keep everything together. Finally, the only other notable thing was that Downes played a keytar during the “Wurm” section of “Starship Trooper” but, unlike the classic performances of this song, there was no extended keyboard solo.
A brief word on Syd Arthur before I conclude. I know nothing about them aside from their reputation as a modern prog rock band. They played for about 35 minutes and featured a drummer, bass player, guitarist/singer, and a violin/keyboard/mandolin player. Their sound was rather muddy to me and they sounded like a modern Radiohead with influences that appear to be from Porcupine Tree and Pure Reason Revolution. As you can see in the photographs below, they had virtually no stage set up at all; they set up within Yes’ stage set up.
Below are some photographs from the evening, including some photographs of Syd Arthur, Yes, the Tower Theater, and some post-show traffic!