Definitely maybe as prog legends show their age
I THINK Saturday’s Yes show in Nottingham featured the ninth line-up I’ve seen. They’re one of the greatest bands of the 70s and I’ve followed them for years.
But I’ve not seen them live for ages – I think the last time was the Jon Anderson/trevor Rabin/rick Wakeman configuration in 2017. So what could be better in 2022 than a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the classic Close To The Edge, their best album?
Well, quite a lot, as it turned out. The story of Yes is a maddening soap opera. The band was formed 54 years ago by singer Jon Anderson and bassist Chris Squire. But Anderson, their creative driving force, was banished years ago and Squire died in 2015.
The latest line-up is led by guitarist Steve Howe, who joined in 1970. Keyboard player and ex-buggle Geoff Downes was in Yes for a year or so at the start of the 80s and is now back. Bassist Billy Sherwood has been an on-off sideman for aeons. Singer Jon Davison is a former member of a Yes tribute band. Drummer Jay Schellen is standing in for veteran Yesman Alan White, who tragically died on the eve of this tour.
It wasn’t bad, sometimes. The setlist featured a decent spread of old favourites, some rarely played, and a couple of new songs. The crowd, after a “polite” response to the first half, gave several ovations after the interval.
But something was off from the beginning.
They started with the striking, dramatic On The Silent Wings Of Freedom. And they butchered it. The exciting bass-driven intro was completely ditched and cuts were made in the oddest places to the rest of it, jettisoning all but one chorus. It was bizarre.
The band itself never gelled. Now, I’m not a musician. I’ve no idea how complicated this stuff is to play. But it all seemed a bit too difficult for several people on stage. This is music that relies on a degree of precision. And this outfit didn’t have it.
Sherwood and Schellen made the best fist of it, even if the drums were occasionally heavy-handed. But they seemed uncertain of their timing and never properly locked together – despite the fact that many of the songs had been dragged into slower tempos.
In place of Jon Anderson’s range, emotion and eccentricity, Davison merely contributed dour impersonation. His performance on the marvellous Heart Of The Sunrise was certainly competent. But five years ago I sat in the same room and saw Anderson’s vocal power pull people to their feet in mid-song. Saturday’s version wasn’t in the same league.
Then there’s Downes. A lot of his playing was confused and approximate, and on at least two songs – their version of Richie Haven’s No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed and new number Dare To Know – there were prominent, presumably recorded, keyboard parts he obviously wasn’t playing. When he did play... remember Wakeman’s surging church organ in the middle of Close To The Edge? Good, wasn’t it? This was the Jess Yates version.
To be fair, Howe had some sparkling flashes of inspiration. I liked one section of Yours Is No Disgrace, where he briefly seemed to enter entirely new territory, and there was a quite impressive version of Does It Really Happen?, another rarity.
Too often, however, even he was rambling and twee and, like the entire band, his timing seemed intermittent. Then, in the later stages, he began to jump around very strangely indeed. I wish he hadn’t.
By the end, buoyed by the increasingly enthusiastic audience, they’d warmed up enough to blast out rousing versions of Siberian Khatru, Roundabout and Starship Trooper.
For me, though, it was all too late. I have oceans of fondness for Yes and enduring love for huge swathes of their music. But maybe it’s time for them to call it a day.
Don’t remember them this way.