Somewhere on the hierarchy of great progressive rock acts, nestled near the top just below King Crimson and just above Electric Light Orchestra, lies the topic of this week’s concert review. Of course, it only makes sense to talk about them considering that they share a name with this very publication. Prog legends Yes paid a visit to the historic Carolina Theatre on Friday to what was a sold-out and incredibly excited crowd in downtown Greensboro.
Now, many of the band’s casual fans may be a little hesitant in recognizing the current incarnation of the group as the genuine article.
Those are completely reasonable feelings, however, as two of its most notable members are absent for the band’s current tour. Vocalist Jon Anderson is currently missing due to severe complications with his asthma and Rick Wakeman is absent, frankly, because the Yes keyboard spot has more turnover than Dewey’s bakery. It seems that the mantle has been passed to the next generation of Wakemans, as son Oliver took over quite adequately in his father’s absence.
Still, their shoes are presently being filled by artists of an extremely high caliber and the history of Yes isn’t exactly a model of stability.
Seventeen different musicians have taken post at one of the five spots in the band since its formation in 1968. True fans of the band, especially those from the early days, should look past the replacement of Anderson with Benoit David. It is true that Anderson has been there from day one, except for a brief period in 1981 just before Yes broke up, but there has been plenty of speculation that his health may prevent him from joining the band for quite some time, if at all. After the show, drummer Alan White was noncommittal when asked about Anderson’s future with the band. From Yes’ performance at the Carolina Theatre, it was obvious that the band did quite well in selecting David. Though Anderson is one of the most distinct and instantly recognizable vocal talents in all of popular music, the Canadian David was spot on in his interpretation of the material. His voice is striking in its similarity to Anderson’s, hitting all of the same highs with ease. His stage presence is commanding, though he was quick to defer to the veterans when the occasion called for it. The only noticeable difference was David’s height. While Jon Anderson was like a sprite onstage at a paltry five-feet and fiveinches, David may be even shorter. The top of his head came up to my chest when standing next to him and he was completely dwarfed when standing next to the 6-foot-2 bassist Chris Squire.
Speaking of Squire, he was his usual charismatic self and you can really tell how much he relishes the band’s rock star role. He even acknowledged the long-haired classic rock radio junkies who ran to the stage with fingers pointed his way in homage. As the only member of Yes to have been there from the beginning and never once relinquish his spot, Squire certainly appears comfortable as the center of attention. So much in fact, that he thought it fitting to go commando during the Carolina Theatre performance. His extremely thin black tights were quite comfortable, I’m sure. But all of the gallivanting around stage and the resulting fabric cling probably became a real point of contention for the VIPs in the pit area. But Squire’s playing was masterful as always, even if it did seem as though he slung his bass a little higher than it needed to be. Opposite of Squire stood one of the most unusual artists of the Guitar God era. Guitarist Steve Howe has begun sporting the madscientist look as he’s grown older; part Doc Brown and part Steve Vai. His look sort of gives new meaning to the term “math rock.” Howe’s body language while performing is almost as much of a source of entertainment as his actual playing itself can be. Time and time again, he shot the audience these incredulous glares through his large spectacles during particularly rapid exchanges or marked chord changes.
Each one seemed to say, “Oh my gawd, can you believe what I just did?” Yes played an exceptional set, full of crowdpleasing classics and far-off rarities for the most devoted in attendance. Almost all of their biggest hits were heard, including a powerpacked encore of “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “Roundabout.” I seemed odd, however, that some of the breakbeat samples heard during the intro and bridge on the studio track of “Owner” were used in the live performance.
With such a talented cast of musicians onstage, surely they could have recreated the passage themselves. In any event, hardcore fans had to be pleased to hear “Astral Traveler” in the middle of the two-hour set, a song that Yes hasn’t performed live since 1971. It was interesting that they stuck to performing one long set plus encore, rather than breaking their show into recording eras. A set break would have certainly allowed the venue to do a little business with the sold-out audience, since the ticket price wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for a band of that caliber. White would later comment that they try to keep continuity for the sake of the audience. One could easily argue, however, that due to the length of Yes’ typical composition, the crowd was never lacking for a time to take a break.
Though the band was tight and the songs were well-chosen, some pieces, particularly “Close to the Edge,” just seemed excessive and selfindulgent.
Granted, I’m a huge fan of many bands that play excessively long songs, but spontaneity is a key element to their appeal and Yes seems a bit artificial in their delivery at this point.