Yes | 12.02.08


 You could actually see it on people’s faces as they were taken back to moments of change and growth in their lives.



The Pageant, St. Louis, MO

In support of their 40th anniversary, Yes has put together the In the Present tour. It is a grand retrospective of the music that defined progressive rock and exposed a generation to the possibilities of the imagination. Like many others, I have deep seeded memories with the older classic Yes tunes and the 90125 era alike. You could feel it in the audience too. You could actually see it on people’s faces as they were taken back to moments of change and growth in their lives. Some of the sounds that Yes were producing made people raise their arms in the air like they were testifying to an immaculate feeling in church. They created majestic and glorious moments with a full spectrum of sounds from infinite lows to choirs of angelic voices.

I personally have cycles where I feel a resurgence of certain music from my past; times where I delve back into my progressive rock roots, having been weaned on Rush, Zep, Kansas and Yes. In the late fall of last year I became obsessed with the album Classic Yes. There is a tune on there called “And You and I” that I started and ended every day for several months by listening to this tune (yes I am that sick and definitely should seek help!). I have seen Yes many times and yet had never seen them play this tune. It was such an amazing surprise when Steve Howe brought out the Lute and went into the intro. I kind of freaked out and got chills and goose-bumps and the whole bit. Since I had stopped listening to this tune completely, when I heard them play it live, it brought me right back to that season in my life. That is my example of the power of this music, the ability the transport you to another time and place.

Bassist Chris Squire is the one constant in an ever evolving Yes. Along with filling in the vocal harmonies, he also rounded out the low end with foot controlled bass pedals that hit additional lower octaves that you could feel moving your chest. I was glad to see him with his iconic Rickenbacker bass. He did switch to a Fender P-bass and to his custom model for a little bit, but it is that throaty growl to the Rickenbacker that is his signature sound. We got a good dose of that on the classic Radio hits like “Heart of the Sunrise”, “Roundabout” and “Long Distance Runaround” which went right into an extended version of his bass solo, “The Fish”.

Steve Howe was using his trademark Gibson archtop most of the night. It has the tone that I most associate with the sound of Yes. He did bust out a strat to cover a few of the tunes from the second era of the band with Trevor Rabin on guitar. You could tell that with some of the younger audience members that when the broke into “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, it was the tune they came to see. Howe also had a guitar mounted on a stand so he could switch between the electric and acoustic guitar parts. But it was actually a solid body guitar with digital pickups that perfectly modeled the sounds of a variety of guitars and sounded just like a 12-string, a nylon string, a steel string or even a sitar. He brought out the classical guitar to do a beautiful version of “Mood for a Day” which is a solo latin piece with some classical style counterpoint. I’ve been practicing playing that piece for a quarter of a century now myself and it was a true honor to be in Steve Howe’s presence as he played. He followed that up with a raucous and rowdy version of his ragtime tune “The Clap” displaying his mastery of tongue twisting finger picking. Watching Steve Howe play is definitely a lesson in “the right way” to play a guitar. By watching the perfect form of his fingers over the grid of the fretboard turning shapes into sounds, you can feel an approach of engineering precision; somehow logic and control that flow freely into creativity. I imagine that if you could get Steve Howe to explain his approach to the guitar, it would be like watching Hank Hill as a scoutmaster explain the proper way to hold a knife.

Drummer Alan White is as solid as ever and has been with them on and off for thirty years. His drumming is rock solid and navigated the band through all sorts of twists and turns during odd time meter changes. While I was watching his solo, I couldn’t help but think how cool it is to watch not just another drummer, but one of the true pioneers of progressive rock drumming. Like Phil Erheart of Kansas, definitely underrated, or at least overshadowed by epic arrangements.

And yes, keyboardist Oliver Wakeman is the son of legendary Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman. Filling in for his pop on this tour, his did a fantastic job of carrying the torch. He did a great job of blending with the band and had total command over the elaborate multi-keyboard setup to produce the wide range of sounds, melodies and harmonies that the music of Yes contains. He has amazing chops and was synchronized tightly with the band through the curvilinear unison lines and frequent time meter shifts. And he looked cool doing it – what more could you ask for?

Original vocalist Jon Anderson unfortunately could not make the tour due to respiratory issues. It sounds a little disappointing how the whole thing was handled. Yes has become something more that just a group of certain guys playing a few tunes. They have created something that has potential longevity beyond measure, if the legacy is preserved. I think that more respect and consideration should have given towards Jon Anderson, but the inclusion of a new singer and Oliver Wakeman is an important transition in the life of the music. Within that context, singer Benoit David, who they found in a Yes cover band in Canada, actually did do justice to reproducing Jon Anderson’s parts. He has an incredible range and preformed difficult passages fluently and effortlessly. His manner of dress, though flamboyant, fit the character of the setting. He sang with clarity and confidence and conveyed the feelings of the original art.

The magic and relevance of the music of Yes is the imagination and inspiration. It is those elements that is severely lacking in a lot of pop music today. The have created musical forms that had not existed before. They sing of things much greater than all of us and give us words to push forward, improve our lives and appreciate the world around us. This type of positive message combined with virtuoso musicianship, playing sounds and arrangements that go beyond the definitions of style or genre, is what defines progressive rock. With the legions of musicians influenced by Yes, this art form is one of the few areas of music that continues to push forward the capabilities of the human spirit. Consider these words of wisdom:

“Move me on to any black square,

Use me any time you want,

Just remember that the goal

Is for us all to capture all we want” – Jon Anderson  | Derek Lauer

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