The line-up Yes fielded that show was:
- Jon Davison: lead vocals, guitar
- Steve Howe: guitars, vocals
- Billy Sherwood: bass guitars, vocals
- Alan White: drums, percussion
- Geoff Downes: keyboards
- Dylan Howe: drums and percussion
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
- Survival (Yes)
- Time And A Word (Time And A Word)
- Yours Is No Disgrace (The Yes Album)
- South Side Of The Sky (Fragile)
- And You And I (Close To The Edge)
- Leaves Of Green (Tales of Topographic Oceans)
- Soon (Relayer)
- Going For The One (Going For The One)
- Drum Duet Intro and Don’t Kill The Whale (Tormato)
- Machine Messiah (Drama)
- Encore: Madrigal (Tormato)
- Encore: Roundabout (Fragile)
This concert was my twenty-fourth Yesshow and, at this point, it is difficult to say something that has not already been said. Yes played one song from their first ten albums for their main set before the encore (although Steve Howe said first nine albums by accident).
- Comments on Instrumentation
I suppose the drumming situation is what most people are wondering about, so, just to get that out of the way, the drumming arrangements, in terms of who played what, were as follows:
- Survival: Howe and White
- Time And A Word: Howe and White
- Yours Is No Disgrace: Howe
- South Side Of The Sky: Howe
- And You And I
- Cord of Life: Howe
- Eclipse: White
- The Preacher, the Teacher: Howe
- Apocalypse: Howe and White
- Leaves Of Green: no drumming
- Soon: White
- Going For The One: White
- Drum Duet Intro and Don’t Kill The Whale: Howe and White
- Machine Messiah: White
- Madrigal: no drumming
- Roundabout: Howe and White
Aside from the two drummers, Jon Davison played second guitar on “Survival,” “Time and a Word,” the end of “South Side of the Sky” (the keyboard/guitar duel), “Cord of Life” (the first time ever, as far as I know, someone played guitar with Howe on this section), “Soon,” “Don’t Kill the Whale,” parts of “Machine Messiah,” and “Madrigal.” I have never seen the vocalist play guitar so much for Yes before. So, that was pretty cool. “Madrigal” and “Leaves of Green” were Howe/Davison duets with Sherwood coming on stage for some harmonies. There was no keyboard for “Madrigal” (despite it being a harpsichord song). It was rearranged for two acoustic guitars. Howe played his Les Paul on “And You And I” instead of his Gibson ES 345, and his Switchmaster on Roundabout. He still is still using his guitar synthesizer for his acoustic sounds (except for “Madrigal” and “Leaves of Green”). He used his Gibson ED 175D on “Survival.” On “Southside of the Sky” Davison sung Squire’s parts during the vocal interlude in the middle while Sherwood sang Anderson’s.
At the beginning of the show, Downes played an extra cord or two accidentally as the introduction segued into the quiet acoustic guitar beginning. S. Howe also lost his place in one of the transitions during “Machine Messiah” which led to him being out of synchronization with the rest of the band. He wound up taking a measure off and counting with his hand before resuming the song.
- The Rest
The show, over all, was vintage Yes and, of the 24 shows I have seen, probably fits in as an average show. The playing was solid, the sound was excellent, and the mix was near perfect (perhaps due to me being in about the middle in the balcony).
Davison and Sherwood’s singing was the best I have heard from the pair, and Downes is more and more comfortable in the band. Downes’ rig had a microphone but I did not see him use it, but he may have sang a little too. Sherwood is the perfect Squire replacement. His playing, his sound, and sometimes even his mannerisms remind me of Squire, so although I’d much rather have Squire, Sherwood is a worthy bass player and singer for Yes. I would not want anyone else in that slot. Howe was solid as always.
As far as the drumming is concerned, White looks terrible. He can barely get around (walking I mean), and his playing was mainly very simple no frills top kit sort of stuff. This is not a slight on him, his age and, more importantly, his back problems, have really caught up with him. I suspect he remains in the band to give them credibility and authenticity in the face of a surging ARW, as it cannot be for his contribution to the music (which is minimal). D. Howe did the heavy lifting when he was on stage, playing all the fills and fast parts and embellishments. He needs time to get integrated in the band as the drumming, over all, was pretty conservative unfortunately despite the presence of two drummers. Howe used a small and traditional jazz set (which looks a lot like Bruford’s set from back in the early 1970s) and, between that and his style, he really brought back the memories and sounds of Bill Bruford, and I am looking forward to more of that in the future. I think there are a lot of possibilities with the drums with Howe, but their conservative approach this time around was disappointing. Even Jay Schellen‘s aggressive approach from the 2016 tour was missed. At least, however, the songs were played at the proper tempo. I will say that the drumming during the “along the drifting cloud…” section of “Roundabout” (which is my favorite part of the song) was excellent due to the second drummer really ramping things up. I usually lose interest during that song as it has been played at every show I have ever seen, but the second drummer really made this section powerful and exciting. My comments about “Don’t Kill the Whale” are below.
Steve Howe seemed to struggle with his monitors all night, which caused him to be distracted at times, and his playing was affected as a result when that happened. He was gesturing a lot to someone off stage over the course of the show and, as mentioned above, during “Machine Messiah” he seemed to miss a cue. Judging from other shows from this tour, and my experience in seeing him over the years, it was not due to his playing I do not think. It was just some weird glitches here and there.
Of course, in addition to the above, S. Howe also seems to scold the audience more than ever. During the quiet parts in “Soon,” “Leaves of Green,” and “And You And I” he was shaking his head at people in the audience and waving at them as they were making, in his mind, too much noise. As a result, he missed a note or two due to his distraction. It’s a shame he does that as it does not do anything to enhance his playing.
Obviously Rick Wakeman and Downes have totally different styles and Wakeman is my favorite keyboardist. Wakeman is an all time great, but Downes is really good too and while some of his approach to Wakeman’s songs may be due to not being quite as good a keyboardist, I think a lot of it comes down to style. Wakeman plays tons and tons of notes and is very flashy, whereas Downes seems to approach the songs with a “less is more” approach. This is especially evident on solos where Wakeman tries to play as fast as he can and play as many notes as possible all the time, whereas Downes tries to get into a grove and focuses on chords more than scales (which seems to be Wakeman’s go to form). Wakeman has a special place in my heart, but I cannot allow that to lead me to conclude that Downes’ approach is “worse” or “bad,” it is just different at times and not what I am used to from my 26 years of Yes fandom. I have certain keyboard solos and parts in my head sounding a certain way, and Downes has a different approach. Sometimes “less is more” works as Wakeman over plays, and other times it doesn’t as it seems to forgo the excitement and flash of a good lightening fast Wakeman run. It is give and take. Downes is integrated while Wakeman stands out. Both are legitimate. This time around, “South Side of the Sky” had a better and more exciting ending than it has had on any prior tour with Downes, and Downes really got more into the honky tonk piano on “Going for the One” than on prior tours. So, that’s something. By contrast, on”Yours is no Disgrace,” Downes plays the barest minimum. During the guitar interlude in the middle of the song Downes does not play at all, which is unfortunate as Wakeman added some cool parts to that section and, would you believe, so did Igor Khoroshev. In fact, Khoroshev’s playing is probably my favorite keyboard interpretation of the song. The lack of keyboards really, in my mind, makes the song too sparse.
Of course, what made the show worth it for me was “Survival” and “Madrigal,” both of which are virtually never played songs. I only know of one performance of “Survival” (not including some lyrics here and there in the 1978/79 medley), and only a few of “Madrigal” from that same tour. So, needless to say, after 23 previous shows, I am excited about the music that is new to me live, and these two certainly qualify and are surprising. I really love “Survival” and this line up did it justice. S. Howe and Davison did a great job with the two acoustic guitars at the beginning, Downes replicated Tony Kaye’s organ very well, and Sherwood’s bass was really angry and growly sounding. It was very good despite the little goof noted above. The singing was quality too with even S. Howe contributing some “aaahhhhs” during the verses leading to the chorus. “Madrigal” was a little weird. Originally it was a harpsichord song with light vocal harmonies and classical guitar. It has never truly been played live as it was recorded. Even back in ’78/’79 it was with electric piano and incomplete. Now, in 2017, Yes rearranged it for two acoustic guitars and harmony vocals (between Davison and Sherwood). S. Howe played the thematic harpsichord parts and his own guitar parts while Davison’s acoustic guitar filled in the gaps when S. Howe played his guitar solos. It was short and sweet and really very nice, and the gentle quiet acoustic song was a good contrast to the rest of the set.
Aside from “Survival” and “Madrigal,” I was surprised to find that “Don’t Kill the Whale” was the highlight of the show for me. This song does not really do much for me. It’s not that I do not like it, I just find it a bit meh. At this show, Yes decided to take advantage of their dual drumming situation and introduce the song with a drum duet. White played a steady beat while D. Howe played fills and patterns over it. Really cool. This duet was then recapitulated in the middle of the song after the guitar solo. Between S. Howe’s guitar tone and the heavy drumming, the song took on a really down and dirty sound that really made the song interesting to me and provided a cool new perspective on it.
Finally, the staging was pretty similar to what they had last year, but, in my view, not quite as good. Regardless, I love how Yes are really putting some money into stage presentation and not just touring with a tiny screen or just the word “Yes” with lighting as they had on previous tours.
The show ended with a #Yes50 and I am really looking forward to it! Hopefully a new album will be toured as well. Time will tell.
- The Other Bands
The Carl Palmer ELP Legacy Band and Todd Rundgren were the opening bands. Carl Palmer rearranged some classic ELP songs for guitar and no voice and it was complete nostalgia. The band came out to a video montage of ELP references on television in shows like Jeopardy, Cheers, and The Simpsons, which was pretty fun. Palmer’s performance was really high quality, aggressive, and he shows absolutely no signs of age. His performance was better than the other three drummers that took the stage combined. As far as Rundgren is concerned, I had never heard of him before this tour and never heard his music. He was really polished, with a great light show, and cool performance. He had two attractive female backup singers in slinky dresses, so that was enjoyable. He also used an old fashion broadcaster microphone, which was neat.
- The Venue
Just a word on the venue. This venue, as can be seen in the photographs below, is probably the most beautiful venue in which I have seen Yes play. It was absolutely gorgeous, historical, in great condition, and looks like a medieval castle on the inside.