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ARW: in Parallel with Yes?

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 ARW play a show at the at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA on October 16, 2016 during the their ARW Tour.  While the official Yes band exists and is touring (see here), former Yes members Jon Anderson (vocals), Trevor Rabin (guitars), and Rick Wakeman (keyboards) decided to form a band – called ARW – and tour in order to do homage to their common heritage as members of Yes.  Wakeman recruited his friend, bass player Lee Pomeroy, while Rabin netted his friend drummer Lou Molino III, to flesh out the band.  While technically (i.e.: legally) not Yes, the band’s tour is being advertised as “An Evening of Yes Music and More” and in interviews the band seems to view themselves as the next phase of Yes or at least a Yes-band even if they cannot legally use the name.  A similar phenomenon happened in 1989 with ABWH, and that band seems to have been folded into official Yes history.

 

The official Yes has a lineup has been greatly watered down, and I have written a piece on whether it, philosophically/spiritually/ontologically (not legally) speaking, can really, legitimately, and in good faith, claim the name Yes (see here).

 

When ARW formed, I immediately wondered if that band, with its vaunted line up, would be the true and rightful heir to the Yes name regardless of whether they are legally permitted to use it.  ARW currently exists in parallel to Yes (hence the name of this post (see here)).

 

On the face of it, ARW’s line up is leagues above that of Yes in 2016.  Even with only three guys – the A and R and W – ARW members have a stronger claim and are more inherent to Yes history than the five guys of Yes 2016 together.  Anderson is, of course, a Yes founder and main song writer, while Wakeman is their most important keyboard player, while Rabin was their prime mover during their 1980s resurgence.  Compare this lineup with Yes2016 which contains no founder, and consists of their most important guitar player (Steve Howe), their fourth keyboard player (Geoff Downes who has only played on fairly obscure non-classic albums in 1980, 2011, and 2014), a bass player who had some involvement with Yes in the 1990s but never on bass (Billy Sherwood who was a supporting touring musician, and eventual sixth member, in the 1990s, and played on two non-classic albums (one of which is universally considered the worst Yes album) and helped produce a couple of others), and a drummer who has never played on any Yes album (Jay Schellen).  Of course, if drummer Alan White returns, it will increase Yes’ claim to the name as he has been in the band and on every album since 1972 (but those albums do not include the “big three” of The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close to the Edge).  Still, it would seem the scales tip toward ARW as far as a rightful claim to the name Yes is concerned if personnel is the only consideration.

 

In fairness, though, there is more to a band than membership.  When I went to see ARW , I fully expected to see a Yes concert.  In many ways it was: it had the voice and keyboard wizardry one expects to see at a Yesshow.  In saying that, Rabin has always been difficult for me to embrace.  I am not a big fan of his and what he did to Yes in the 1980s.  I find his playing has always tended toward a sort of one dimensional generic 1980’s shredder sort of playing (with a vague John McLaughlin edge).  His playing always seems to tend toward screaming Stratocaster sounds, with a lot of notes and a lack of diversity in sounds, tones, and instrumentation.  As a result, just as he did in his last tenure with Yes, he continues to reinterpret Steve Howe’s guitar parts by flatting them out, eliminating the subtly and stylistic variety and tonal variety and instrumental variety (replacing acoustics, twelve string, steel guitars, etc with a single electric guitar) Steve Howe brought to the music, and replacing all of that with his trademark faux-Van Halen playing.  So, unless they played Yes’ 1980s music, Rabin’s guitar playing just does not sound Yessish to me.  I am not asking for a Howe clone, but I feel like Rabin’s style is so completely different – and unoriginal and non-prog rock – that it just does not mesh well with Howe’s Yes music.  I think this really comes to the fore with songs like “Awaken” or “And You And I,” where they sound completely different and not in a prog rock sort of way.

 

Surprisingly, though, even with the 1980s songs, Rabin’s live chops seem to have diminished due to his twenty-two years away from the stage.    His singing was warbley at times and his playing lacked the excitement and pyrotechnics he used to exhibit during his prior tenure with Yes.  He used to a showman, walking the stage and playing to the audience, but, now, that aspect of his performance was gone.  His stage performance was reserved, perhaps even conservative, as he seemed to be concentrating on his playing as opposed to his stage presence.

 

Even if I liked Rabin and his chops were up to snuff, ARW’s performance and sound just was not what I expect from Yes.  Yes’s sound has always been marked by the involvement of five completely integrated musicians, each often struggling to make themselves heard in the face of four other strong musicians.  Unlike Yes – or a true five piece band – the drummer and bass player in ARW were clearly support musicians.  They, more or less, stayed out of the spotlight and were there to support the main three – the ARW.  Although the drummer was pretty good, I have to say that his snare drum sounded like a cardboard box filled with old clothes, which is not at all what Yes drums sound like.  The bass player also seemed like he was a good bass player, but, unlike Chris SquireBilly Sherwood, or even Tony Levin, his sound levels was rather low as compared to the other members.  Again, because I think he and the drummer were to get out of the way of ARW.  Even Tony Kaye or Benoit David, arguably the weakest and/or most humble members of the band, were fully integrated into the sound of the band.  By contrast, the bass and drums were clearly secondary to ARW.

 

While it is difficult to suppress the sound of the drums, to me the biggest contrast with Yes was the bass.  It has nothing to do with Pomeroy’s chops.  It has to do with the fact that a key element to Yes music is a big, fat, and prominent bass sound pushing back against the guitar and keyboards.  The bass parts are not just loud, but key elements to the music itself.  Sherwood has kept this tradition alive and, during his brief tenure, Levin respected it.  By contrast, Pomeroy’s bass was subdued, and not an equal part of the music as compared to ARW.  Indeed, even his placement on the stage – in the back behind Anderson and/or Rabin – tacitly revealed his secondary place in the band.  Gone was the powerful bass player on stage going toe-to-toe with the guitarist and/or keyboardist one expects from Yes.

 

In addition, strong vocal harmonies is also a key element to Yes music.  While Anderson’s voice was backed up by the other members of the ARW band, the strong vocal harmonies that are so integral to Yes were missing.  The other singers were not mixed nearly as high as Anderson and, quite frankly, Anderson’s voice was not mixed particularly high either.  Suffice it to say, the backing singing just was not as as strong as one would expect for Yes.  As a result, the music had a much different feel and sound than what one would expect from Yes.

 

If there was one thing that marked the ARW show I saw is that it was safe.  The performances – notably Anderson and Rabin – tended toward the safe notes.  Instead of a dynamic high note, a safer more standard note was sung.  Instead of the blistering solos of old, Rabin tended to play it safe and were more measured.  Even Wakeman – though still amazing – did not play some of the things he used to play.  For example, he did not play his more juiced up keyboard parts on “Rhythm of Love” as he did on the Union Tour or similar interesting playing on “Cinema” that Igor Khoroshev played.  In his case, though, it seems like a lack of preparation.

 

So, strangely enough, despite the advantage in the line up, ARW just does not have the sound and feel of Yes.  Their sound, thus far, was safe, lacking full integration of the rhythm section, and is missing key vocal harmonies.  Despite the lineup disadvantage, the Yes of 2016 sounds like Yes should sound like and presents itself as Yes traditionally has: powerful, five fully integrated members, prominent vocal harmonies, and taking chances.

 

As with Yes2016, the future of ARW will determine whether they can become legitimate heirs to the Yes name.  Right now – despite the Yes nostalgia that Anderson and Wakeman and Rabin bring to bear to ARW – Yes2016, to me, has maintained the spirit, sound, and feel of Yes, whereas ARW merely seems like old friends having fun trying to relive some good memories.  My ultimate hope is that the two bands will merge to form one single band – ala Union – and Yes can be reunited into the band it should be with its core members playing and sounding like they should.

Yesstats Update: Post 10/16/16 show

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 (technically ARW) play at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA on October 16, 2016 during the their ARW Tour – An Evening of Yes Music and More.  I posted a review of this show here.

As I tend to be a pedantic, borderline OCD, person, I like to statistically keep track of various aspects of the Yes shows I have seen over years.  I posted various catalogs of things regarding these shows to this blog, and after each subsequent concert I update all those posts.

The following posts have all been updated in light of the above-mentioned October 16, 2016 show:

If you keep track of these sorts of things, please share your stats in the comments section!

Enjoy!

Yesshow (ARW) Review (with pictures): 10/16/16 (Glenside, PA)

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 (technically ARW) play a show at the at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA on October 16, 2016 during the their ARW Tour.  You can read more about this show here.

The line-up Yes(ARW) fielded that show was:

The set Yes(ARW) played was (the album from which the song comes is in parenthesis):

  • Intro
  • Cinema (90125)
  • Perpetual Change (The Yes Album)
  • Keyboard ditty
  • Hold On (90125)
  • I’ve Seen All Good People (The Yes Album)
  • Drum solo
  • Lift Me Up (Union)
  • And You And I (Close to the Edge)
  • Rhythm Of Love (Big Generator)
  • Heart Of The Sunrise (Fragile)
  • Long Distance Runaround (Fragile)
  • The Fish (Fragile)
  • The Meeting (ABWH)
  • Awaken (Going for the One)
  • Make It Easy
  • Owner Of A Lonely Heart (90125)
  • ENCORE: Roundabout  (Fragile)

About the band:

This concert was my twenty-third Yesshow, though technically it was an ARW show.  While the official Yes exists and is touring (see here), former Yes members Anderson, Rabin, and Wakeman decided to form a band and tour in order to do homage to their common heritage as members of Yes.  Anderson is, of course, a Yes founder and main song writer, while Wakeman is their most important keyboard player, and Rabin was their prime mover during their 1980s resurgence.  Wakeman recruited his friend Pomeroy while Rabin netted his friend Molina to flesh out the band.  While technically (i.e.: legally) not Yes, the band’s tour is being advertised as “An Evening of Yes Music and More” and in interviews the band seems to view themselves as the next phase of Yes or at least a Yes-band even if they cannot legally use the name.  A similar phenomenon happened in 1989 with ABWH and that band seems to have been folded into official Yes history.  So, I will treat ARW as Yes for the purpose of my review and concert statistics.  The official Yes has a lineup which has been greatly watered down and I have written a piece on whether it, philosophically/spiritually/ontologically (not legally) speaking, can really, legitimately, and in good faith claim the name Yes (see here).  Once I collect my thoughts on the subject, I will write a similar piece on ARW in the near future; I will not comment on the subject in this review as this post is really about the show itself.

Recollections:

As a Yes fan, I have to say that this show was something I never thought I would ever see: the return of Trevor Rabin into the Yes fold (after a 22 year absence) from his lucrative film scoring career and, not just that, but his return would also be accompanied by Rick Wakeman’s return as well (from an 11 year absence).  To top it off, Jon Anderson, who has not been in Yes since about 2006, returned as well.  So, needless to say, this show was a great nostalgia trip and a fulfillment of a fan’s dream.

Anderson, who has been struggling with health problems for several years (which caused him to be unable to sing with Yes for a few years), seems to have largely overcome them.  Granted, his singing is, at times, a little quieter (or less powerful), and sometimes the songs have been put into a different key, but it was still strong and on key.  It was wonderful to hear the original voice of Yes singing his own songs again!  I will say, though, he did play it safe.  He did not shoot for the dynamic high notes or take a more exciting or aggressive tone with his voice.  He kept his voice clear, deliberate, and, therefore, on key and consistent through the show.

Rick Wakeman was, for me, the man to see.  I have not seen him since his last tour with Yes in 2004 (see here).  For all his health problems and seemingly being, at times, down and out, he seems ageless when he performs.  His playing is, I think, as good as it’s ever been, and his showmanship is always great to see.  He is an exciting and dynamic player and he keeps his stage performance at a high level.  As usual, he had an enormous keyboard rig, including a keytar, his famous cape, a mini-moog, and his signature lightening fast fingers.  He always seems to add something new to his performance repertoire.  This time around, his new element (new to me at least) is to play his keyboards from behind them.  During “Owner of a Lonely Heart” he walked around with his keytar and, instead of going back behind his keyboard rig, he simply reached over the back of the keyboard and played it from behind.  Amazing stuff!

Trevor Rabin finds himself back into the Yes fold for the first time since 1994.  Rabin and Wakeman never played on a Yes album together, but they did tour together in 1991-92 during the Union Tour.  They each really respected each other and enjoyed playing with each other and expressed a desire to do it again.  Unfortunately, it took nearly twenty-five years to make it happen, but, hey, better late than never!  Aside from a performance here and there, Rabin has not played live since he left Yes in 1994.  Although I was excited to see Rabin’s return to Yes, and see him reunite with Wakeman, his years away from live performance was readily apparent.   His singing was warbley at times and his playing lacked the excitement and pyrotechnics he used to exhibit during his prior tenure with Yes.  He used to a showman, walking the stage and playing to the audience, but, now, that aspect of his performance was gone.  His stage performance was reserved, perhaps even conservative, as he seemed to be concentrating on his playing as opposed to his stage presence.  I do hope this is all due to some rust and getting reacclimated to live performance instead of a decline in his musicianship; only time will tell.  I have to admit, also, that I am not a Rabin fan.  Although, as a Yes fan, and a fan of its history, I was excited to see Rabin back, my preferred guitar player for Yes has always been, and remains, Steve Howe.  Rabin’s style has always tended toward a sort of one dimensional generic 1980’s shredder sort of playing (with a vague John McLaughlin edge).  His playing always seems to tend toward screaming Stratocaster sounds, with a lot of notes and a lack of diversity in sounds, tones, and instrumentation.  As a result, just as he did in his last tenure with Yes, he continues to reinterpret Steve Howe’s guitar parts by flatting them out, eliminating the subtly and stylistic variety and tonal variety and instrumental variety (replacing acoustics, twelve string, steel guitars, etc with a single electric guitar) Steve Howe brought to the music, and replacing all of that with his trademark faux-Van Halen playing.  In this way, he has not changed one iota.

The band was fleshed out with a drummer and a bass player (noted above).  Unlike Yes – or a true five piece band – these two musicians were clearly support musicians.  They, more or less, stayed out of the spotlight and were there to support the main three – the ARW.  The drummer played a low sort of drum set that looked like a jazz drum set with double bass drums.  He was a capable drummer, but largely stayed out of the way of ARW.  Although he was a decent drummer, I have to say that his snare drum sounded like a cardboard box filled with old clothes, which is not at all what Yes drums sound like.  The bass player seemed like he was a good bass player, but, unlike Chris Squire, Billy Sherwood, or even Tony Levin, his sound levels was rather low as compared to the other members.  Again, because I think he and the drummer were to get out of the way of ARW.

The show was clearly one of nostalgia and enjoying the company of one another and, in that way, it was a great night with a lot of great memories.  In saying that, though, if there was one thing that marked the show is that it was safe.  The performances – notably Anderson and Rabin – tended toward the safe notes.  Instead of a dynamic high note, a safer more standard note was sung.  Instead of the blistering solos of old, Rabin tended to play it safe and were more measured.  Even Wakeman – though still amazing (noted above) – did not play some of the things he used to play.  For example, he did not play his more juiced up keyboard parts on “Rhythm of Love” as he did on the Union Tour or similar interesting playing on “Cinema” that Igor Khoroshev played.  In his case it seems like a lack of preparation.

Even the set list did not really have anything creative.  I was surprised to see how few Rabin songs there was in the set.  I got tickets hoping to see a good swath of Rabin material, but, alas, that was not to be.  Indeed – obviously – his guitar style on those songs works a lot better than the other Yes songs.  Perhaps the set was due to the fact that these guys – as coming back into the Yes fold – really wanted to play the songs they enjoyed from tours of old as opposed to try something new and interesting.  Also, as noted above, this tour was supposed to be “Yes music and more,” but unfortunately there was no “and more” (in favor of the safer route of playing tried and true classics), and even the “reinterpretations” that were to happen amounted only to, more or less, keying down some songs and bringing back how Rabin played the Howe songs from his previous tenure in Yes.

What was not safe was the stage set which was an interesting screen of multiple intersecting parts with cool lights and images projected onto it.  It seemed like an interesting mesh of the classic Roger Dean art work with the art from the Rabin era of thee 1980s.

There were some interesting moments during some of the songs.  First of all, I have never seen “Hold On” and “Lift Me Up” live before, and it was great to finally see these songs in a live setting.  Cinema was a great experience too as I have only seen that song once before (see here) and it was not played by Rabin and suffered for it.  Wakeman played the weird vocal sounds on “Hold On” on a keyboard which was a cool change from prior performances way back when.  Unfortunately, Wakeman added very little to “Hold On,” “Lift Me Up,” and “Cinema.”  I am not a fan of “Rhythm of Love” but I enjoyed this performance because the introduction (which consists of layered vocals on the album) was done in a different way with Wakeman filling out the music and vocals on keyboards while the four singers contributed to the vocal parts on the introduction.  It, I think, was the best arrangement of the introduction Yes has ever attempted live.  Wakeman played a solo at the end of the song, but, unlike his performance of the song on the Union Tour, he played it on his mini-moog instead of a digital keyboard and, this time, it was so much better.  I really liked the little keyboard ditty before “Hold On.”   Granted it was only about a minute long, but it showed promise, and I hope more of that starts to develop as ARW continues to perform and mesh as a group.  While I loved hearing “Lift Me Up,” the drum sound was completely wrong.  The clacking sort of drum pattern was sorely missed as it is a key element to the sound of the song.  The pattern was played but on the wrong sort of drums (standard drums instead of whatever was played on the album).  On “Long Distance Runaround” Rabin did not double the keyboards like Howe does.  Instead he played these swiping sort of chords over the keyboard parts.  This changed the dynamic of the song and was one of the few truly interesting reinterpretations of the show.  “The Fish” was a weird piece to include.  “The Fish” is not so much a piece as a solo feature for Chris Squire, so it is a little weird for someone to play someone else’s solo.  Anderson presented “The Fish” as an homage to Squire and, to his credit, Pomeroy played it in a way that I would have expected Yes to play it for years.  “The Fish,” on the album, consists of multiple bass lines, all played by Squire, overdubbed over each other.  In a live setting, Squire merely played a bass solo that – no pun intended – was based on the album as opposed to play the album itself.  Pomeroy, using on stage recording devices, played each separate bass line, recording himself live, and then played the next bass line over his own live recording.  Once he finished layering his own recordings he went ahead and played a solo.  Again, to Pomeroy’s credit, once he created his layers of bass guitars (which duplicated Squire’s rhythms on “The Fish”), the solo Pomeroy played was entirely his own as opposed to trying to duplicate Squire’s solo.  “Awaken” started with something that sounded like the “Flight Jam” they would play before it back in the 1970s.  The “Flight Jam” and the middle portion took on a theatric aspect, and some tribal drumming, to give it a modern and different interpretation.  To my ears, the reinterpretations reminded me a lot of the reinterpretation of “Firth of Fifth” on The Tokyo TapesUnfortunately, the bass player only used his standard bass (instead of a triple neck) and Rabin did not use a twelve-string or steel guitar, and those changed the dynamics to the song (though not in a positive way to my ears).  The middle portion was less classical (or baroque) and more theatrical with tribal drums.  Unlike Howe, Rabin stayed on stage and he played the ticking-clock sort of guitar line instead of the bass player.  As far as “Roundabout” is concerned, after 22 Yesshows I sort of tune it out, but I did really enjoy Wakeman playing the solo as only he can play it.  In saying that, they played the shortened version – with the middle section taken out – which is disappointing to me as that is my favorite part of the song.  I have no idea why they remove that part of the song.  It makes no sense.  Finally, I have to comment on “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”  I am not a fan of that song and I have seen it live so many times I tend to tune out during it as much as I do with “Roundabout.”  In saying that, this was the best “Owner” I have ever seen.  First and foremost, it had Rabin playing the guitar lines and solo as they were meant to be played (no disrespect to Howe’s attempts).  Further, it also reintroduced the “Make it Easy” introduction.  Perhaps what made the song so cool, for me, is that they added an instrumental jam at the end of the song which featured Wakeman (on keytar) and Rabin trading solos.  While they were playing they walked through the audience for a little while!  In addition, their soloing would recapitulate the “Make it Easy” theme in order to keep it all together.  So very cool!

As I said above, I am not going to get into whether ARW is truly Yes in everything but name (that will be another post); however, I do want to make a brief comment on the band’s overall sound.  Yes’s sound has always been marked by the involvement of five completely integrated musicians, each often struggling to make themselves heard in the face of four other strong musicians.  Even Tony Kaye or Benoit David, arguably the weakest and/or most humble members of the band, were fully integrated into the sound of the band.  By contrast, the bass and drums were clearly secondary to ARW.  While it is difficult to down play the drums, to me the biggest contrast with Yes was the bass.  It has nothing to do with Pomeroy’s chops.  It has to do with the fact that a key element to Yes music is a big, fat, and prominent bass sound pushing back against the guitar and keyboards.  The bass parts are not just loud, but key elements to the music itself.  Sherwood has kept this tradition alive and, during his brief tenure, Levin respected it.  By contrast, Pomeroy’s bass was subdued, and not an equal part of the music as compared to ARW.  In addition, strong vocal harmonies is also a key element to Yes music.  While Anderson’s voice was backed up by the other members of the band, the strong vocal harmonies that are so integral to Yes were missing.  The other singers were not mixed nearly as high as Anderson and, quite frankly, Anderson’s voice was not mixed particularly high either.  Suffice it to say, the backing singing just was not as as strong as one would expect for Yes.  As a result, the music had a much different feel and sound than what one would expect from Yes.  This is not necessarily a criticism – it is just a way to reinterpret Yes music – but it, I think, speaks to ARW’s relationship to Yes and its music and history.

Epilogue:

I had one of the coolest experiences I have ever had at a Yes concert at this show.  The break down of the stage seemed to take place at a record pace.  I left the theater within a reasonable time after the show and as I walked through the parking lot, I noted that the delivery doors were open and the staging was already being taken out the back and rested on the outside walls.  I could see into the theater to the back of the stage and saw the roadies breaking down the stage and instruments.  In doing this, the roadies blocked off a section of the parking lot with cones and ropes and the tour bus and truck were near.  I saw the roadies break down the keyboard rig and, suddenly, I saw the members of the band pass back and forth.  So, I waited about 30 minutes in the parking lot and, amazingly, Wakeman came out and shook hands and said hello, followed by Rabin, and finally by Anderson.  They all were so cool and personable and happy to see everyone!  I was able, among 40 other people, to shout my appreciation and pat them on the back.  Other people were ready and prepared for this (they seemed to know this would happen – with items to sign and ready to pose for photographs – but I was totally unprepared as I had no idea this would happen).  Either way, I was able to take a few snapshots and, at least momentarily, spend a little time in the presence of my musical heroes.  Thanks guys!

Photographs:

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Yes in 2016: We Exist Through This Strange Disguise

This post is the part of my Yes concert series of posts.  I started this series here and you can read the others here.

Over the past 48 years, Yes has had many lineups and members.  In fact, no lineup has survived more than two consecutive albums.  So, shuffling the lineup is nothing new for the band, but something seemed to change in 2015 with the passing of Yes founder Chris Squire (I wrote extensively about his passing here).  At the moment, Yes, in 2016, consists of guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Geoff Downes, vocalist Jon Davison, bass player Billy Sherwood, and drummer Jay Schellen (drummer Alan White is technically still in the band but is convalescing from back surgery and is supposed to return to the band once he recovers.  Schellen is filling in for him for the time being).  The loss of Squire was huge and pushed Yes into uncharted territory and, now, if it did not with the loss of Squire, with the (allegedly temporary) loss of Alan White, the band has now truly entered into an existential crisis (Howe has indicated in a recent interview that White will “take a while” to recover, which does not bode well for his return any time soon, if at all, see here).

Now, many Yes fans cannot seem to recognize the reality that Yes2016 is a Yes unlike what has ever come before, and that it represents an existential crisis for the band.  Indeed, a perusal of any Yes Faceboook group reveals many Yes fans are in denial about Yes’s 2016 lineup, and vociferously so, with many proclaiming that Yes2016 is like any other lineup Yes has ever had, and pointing out that that is clearly not the case means one is not a “true” fan or some such nonsense.

Maybe being from Philadelphia, and being a fairly typical Philadelphia sports fan (see here and here), I am able to bridge the gap between recognizing the crisis Yes is struggling through while enjoying and being a fan of the band simultaneously.  Philadelphia Phillie, and greatest third basemen of all time, Mike Schmidt once said “Philadelphia is the only city where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day.”  My wife once quipped that the Philadelphia Eagles often have such a great road record because they get heckled less on the road as compared to at home.  In short, Philadelphia fans fill the seats and watch the games with utmost love and loyalty while relentlessly booing and criticizing their teams at the same time.  As a Philadelphia Yes fan, I have not missed a show in 22 years, and I ravenously buy up whatever they release (and then some), but that does not provide me any conflict with recognizing the negatives in the band.

It is my observation that bands seem to come in three types.  The first is the small group of friends who get together to form a band and stay together for a long time so that those guys become identical with the band.  I am thinking of ELP, Rush, ZZ  Topp, the Beatles, and Led Zeppelin.  The second type is a band controlled by one guy (or so), and that guy, regardless of anyone else, becomes identical with the band.  For example, Jethro Tull, Procol Harum, Porcupine Tree, and King Crimson basically function as the project of one member regardless of whomever else is in the band.  The third type is a band with a shifting lineup that cannot seem to settle on a guy or guys that truly represent the band over all the others.  Savoy Brown, Uriah HeepLynyrd Skynyrd, and, relevant to this post, Yes are like that.  This third type is much harder to define and discern, ontologically, just what makes the band what it is.  The first type is easy: the band is who it more-or-less always has been and if it loses one or more of those guys, it is no longer the band.  The second type is even easier: is the “leader” in the band?  If so, it is the band, if not, then it is not the band.

The third type requires additional work.  One needs to discern and figure out just what the essential elements of the band are, and whether a particular iteration of the band has those elements.  It is not particularly obvious, especially not with a band like Yes, where it can exist along side a band like ABWH: in 1989 Yes was paving its future with two founders and its most recent lineup while, simultaneously, ABWH also had two founders and two classic members, and played traditional Yes music.  Which is, ontologically/existentially speaking, Yes?  What makes Yes, well, Yes?  Is it the music? The members? The vision? It is not an easy question, and the mere legal entity with the right to use the name really does not answer the greater and more ontological, spiritual, existential, and/or philosophical question as to what makes the band what it is.

Despite having the reputation for having a rotating lineup, Yes’ personnel is actually a lot more stable than people like to admit.  Yes formed in 1968.  Chris Squire, a Yes founder, was in the band continuously until his untimely death in summer 2015 (see here).  He founded the band with vocalist Jon Anderson in 1968.  Howe joined in 1970, which first formed the core of Squire, Anderson, and Howe.  In 1972 that core expanded to include drummer Alan White when he replaced drummer Bill Bruford.  From 1972 to 2015 there has never been a Yes (leaving the technical and arguable issues of ABWH aside) without at least three of these men in the lineup, and all four have been in Yes from 1972 – 1979, 1991 – 1992, and 1996 – 2008.

In the context of Yes’ “core,” Squire’s departure was a huge step into the unknown for Yes.  I did not realize just how huge until recently when I just happened to watch old footage of Yes’s television appearances in 1968 through 1970 (see here).  The Yes in those videos was its original line up which consisted of Anderson, Squire, Bill Bruford, Peter Banks (guitar), and Tony Kaye (keyboards).  After watching this video I realized that it is now possible, for the very first time in Yes history, to watch or listen to a Yes lineup (or indeed even ABWH) that contains no current Yes members.  This is perhaps why Squire’s loss has hit me so much harder than Anderson’s departure from the band in 2008.  At least with the loss of Anderson, the core still retained three of them (as it did without Anderson during the Drama era or the post-Big Generator era for example).  Now the core is reduced to two (assuming White remains) and, in a five man band, can two really be considered “a core,” especially since neither, either together or separate, can lay claim to every era of Yes?  For the very first time in Yes’ history, its lineup has lost all continuity with its origin.

It gets worse.  Yes2016 has doubled down on the reduction of the core.  White is out of the band, allegedly temporarily, for back surgery, being replaced by Asia/Conspiracy/Circa alumnus Jay Schellen.  Now, the band’s core is reduced to just Howe, and that reduction has left a band which has almost no connection to the Yes of 2008-2011 (Howe alone is connects the two) let alone the founding lineup.  The band has had eighty-percent turn over in just over five years; that is how unstable this band is!  Yes has always had a rotating lineup, but it has never been this unstable.  Three times in Yes history it lost/replaced two of its five members at the same time, and in one of those three times the replacements were former members.  Yes has never lost three, let alone four, members so quickly (and produced so little to boot)!  In the current line up (with Schellen), there are currently no founders, one guy from the 1970s (Yes’ defining era and the one that people care about), no one from YesWest (the nickname for the guitarist Trevor Rabin led resurgent Yes of the 1980s), two guys in the band have a total of 1 Yes album between them (namely 2014’s Heaven & Earth which fans pan), three of the guys have only three Yes albums between them (fans pan two of them (Heaven & Earth and Open Your Eyes) and one is obscure (The Ladder from 1999)), only one guy in common with a line up from only five years ago (Howe), four guys have only five Yes albums between them (none are classic (four are from 1997 onward when the band was nearly thirty years old (and almost 20 years after the classic era) and already considered dinosaurs (Open Your Eyes, The Ladder, Fly From Here, Heaven & Earth)), while the remaining one, Drama, under performed when it came out, was forgotten by the band for twenty-eight years, and was from an era less than one year long), only three current members have recorded together as Yes at the same time, and they’ve played virtually nothing new since 2012.  Indeed, from 1969 until 2008 Yes has never toured a lineup that did not also release an album, but Yes2016 is third Yes lineup since 2011 with no album to its name.  Yes2016 has no members from the 1960s, one member from the 1970s (the era that defined the band), one guy from 1980, none from the 1980s (the era when the band had a resurgence), one guy from 1997, one from 2014, and one from 2016.  Clearly, Yes2016 is unprecedented in its near total lack of connection to Yes history, and it’s claim to the name on grounds that are other than legal or by intertia is extremely tenuous.

So, what conclusions should be reached about Yes2016?  Well, it clearly has the legal right to the name.  No one denies that.  It also is the band that has inherited the name through the inertia of history, but are legality and inertia enough to, spiritually/philosophically/existentially/ontologically make Yes2016 actually Yes?

Well, if personnel was the standard, it really is impossible to say Yes2016 is “spiritually (etc)” Yes.  Even with White still in the band, the lineup had been so watered down and disconnected it is really impossible to say that Yes2015 (Howe, White, Davison, Downes, Sherwood) is Yes judging solely on its lineup let alone, as even White’s addition still leaves the band with no original members, YesWest with only one guy remaining, and the big three albums (The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge) with one only guy remaining; can two out of five really be considered the same band?  Ironically, Yes2016 has more in common with Asia than Yes as three of the members of Yes2016 have been in Asia and have strong connections to that band (and, in the case of Downes and Schellen, they have stronger connections to Asia than Yes).

What about the concerts?  Well this cuts both ways.  On one hand, Yes2016 is playing the music at a level unseen in Yes since at least 2004.  Unfortunately, reintroducing White to the band will lower its quality at this point as he is getting too old to play at the level required by Yes.  This is not a criticism –  people get old! – just an observation (as an aside, I hope Yes moves to two drummers if/when White returns ala The Moody Blues).  So, sound wise, Yes2016 is reestablishing and maintaining the quality virtuoso playing fans have come to expect from Yes.  In the alternative, the set lists Yes has played since its reunion in 2008 have been focused on “classic” material.  I give the band a pass for the years 2008 – 2011 as they were getting back on track after a four year hiatus and trying to right the ship after Anderson’s departure.  2011 – 2012 were good years for the set list as it had a lot of new material.  Unfortunately, since 2012, the set list has almost exclusively featured music from the 1970 – 1980 era (aside from that, they only play “Owner of a Lonely Heart” from the 1980s occasionally, in 2014 they played three songs from Heaven & Earth (and only two songs per show), and “Nine Voices” from 1999 has been played three or four times total since Sherwood rejoined in June 2015).  So, as far as set lists showing a band looking to the future and trying new things and being on the front lines of innovation, Yes’s recent set lists are a huge disappointment.  Instead, the set lists reflect a band reveling in nostalgia and enjoying its back catalogue from its golden era.  Now, there really is nothing wrong with that, but that is not, historically, how Yes has functioned.  Yes has always been creative and pushing boundaries, and not backward looking relying on old material and old glories.  The band’s sets over the last four years are those heavy on exploring and celebrating its legacy as opposed to being a continuing creative force, and that is a change for Yes.  This would not really cause an existential crisis if Yes’s core remained (it may show the band becoming a nostalgia act – which is another issue – but it would still be the band), but this focus on the past is especially jarring when one realizes that virtually no one in the band originally recorded and toured the music it is now playing.  A band playing music few to none of its members wrote or recorded is typically called a tribute band.  Set lists featuring music from The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge contain music recorded and toured by only one member of Yes, and, awkwardly, the inclusion of “Time and a Word” (or even “Owner of a Lonely Heart” at this point) is to include a song no one in the band recorded.  Only the recent addition of Drama to the set list provides music that three of the current members played originally (when White was in the band at least that is.  Now that he is out (for now) only two members can claim music from Drama).  Two members is the maximum number of members who originally recorded together on any given song for Yes2016.  This issue also touches on the above issue, that Yes2016 has extremely thin connection to Yes history: they cannot come up with a set list that features more than two members right now!  So, based on the set lists, it is difficult to say that they reflect the spirit and tradition of Yes of pushing boundaries and looking to the future.  Instead, they reveal a band that show a band living in nostalgia and off of an amazing legacy.

So, is Yes2016 actually – spiritually/ontologically/(etc) – really, Yes?  Well, it all depends on how the future unfolds.  As it stands now, I reluctantly and sadly say, no it is not.  The membership of Yes2016 is too disconnected to Yes history.  It’s set lists are too orientated toward nostalgia.  Now, this does not mean that one cannot enjoy Yes2016 or that its shows are bad or anything of the sort.  I thought the show I saw on July 31, 2106 (see here) was fantastic and I have loved hearing the classics, especially those I have never heard live before.  Yes2016 is an amazing testament to Yes and its legacy and more than does justice to Yes and its music.  It is the ultimate tribute group and it is truly respectful to both the music and the fans.  I love seeing them and I hope to continue to see and enjoy them for as long as they perform.   Yes2016 would be a great way for the band to play out its final years as a worthy tribute to nearly fifty years of the best of progressive rock.

Alternatively, Yes could turn a corner.  It could be argued that the “essence” of Yes is more than its mere members and is able to be passed on from one generation to another.  If so, then the disconnection of the current lineup from Yes history is not as determinative as I suggest above.  I am more than open to this idea.  As it stands now, Sherwood is the personally selected (and, in my mind, natural) successor to Squire.  Davison was chosen by Howe and Squire to replace Anderson, and Davison is an amazing musician, singer, and song writer who embodies the spirituality introduced to Yes by Anderson.  Squire and classic keyboardist Rick Wakeman have often spoken of their hope that Yes becomes like an orchestra where its “essence” transcends its members and can continue on for generations to come (for example, see here).  If the traditional members of Yes give the newer guys their blessing and imprimatur, and the new members fully embrace the creative, innovative, forward thinking progressive philosophy that Yes historically has had, then Yes2016 (and what could follow it) could reasonably, legitimately, and credibly claim the Yes name.  Yes2016 (and what could follow it), if it was to be the legitimate heir to the Yes name, must establish itself as a creative force.  It must make new music and feature that music, that music must be in the spirit respectful of the Yes heritage, and this new music must be the focus in its shows as it paves the way for the future and continued development of the band and its music.  Without new music, a band calling itself Yes into the future will be nothing more than an authorized tribute act playing old music which its members did not write or record and thus with which have no connection.

So, time will tell and the future could be the graceful sending off of an historically great band, or it could be the turning of the page into a new era of great progressive rock in the Yes tradition.

As an aside, Anderson-Rabin-Wakeman (“ARW”) will be debuting soon and how that band relates to Yes and its history remains to be seen; ARW may be the true successor to Yes, or, in the alternative, they may just be touring and playing as a tribute to their collective pasts.  It remains to be seen.  ARW has a founder, the most important keyboardist in Yes history (Rick Wakeman), and the leader of their 1980s resurgence (Trevor Rabin) as members.  So, from personnel alone, they have just as strong of a claim to the name as Yes2016 does.  I am seeing ARW on October 16, 2016 and I will communicate my thoughts on them in this blog after the show.  Ideally, I hope they can, sometime soon, merge with Yes as ABWH merged with Yes back in 1990 or so (see here).

So, for now, as Asia once said, “Only Time Will Tell.”

Long live Yes!

(The title of this post is taken from the lyrics of the Yessong “Big Generator.”)

Yesstats Update: Post 7/31/16 show

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 Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on July 31, 2016 during the their USA 2016 The Album Series Tour.  I posted a review of this show here.

As I tend to be a pedantic, borderline OCD, person, I like to statistically keep track of various aspects of the Yes shows I have seen over years.  I posted various catalogues of things regarding these shows to this blog, and after each subsequent concert I update all those posts.

The following posts have all been updated in light of the above-mentioned July 31, 2016 show:

If you keep track of these sorts of things, please share your stats in the comments section!

Enjoy!

Yesshow Review (with pictures): 7/31/16 Bethlehem, PA

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 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:

The set Yes played was (the album from which the song comes in parenthesis):

Recollections:

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!

Photographs:

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