I hold no secrets about my love for Yes, I am the music lover I am today primarily because of them, going back to the mid seventies when I was a lad of six years old playing rock band with my older brothers to the Yessongs album. Mind you, this was old school rock band, no fancy controllers or scrolling screens to tell us when to hit the notes. We did it with tennis rackets, and did it with our ears and our hearts. I knew Yessongs inside out before I really came across any other bands, and my first large show was Yes on their 90125 tour. Since then, I have seen them numerous times, but when this tour was announced, I knew it was something special, and had to go. They were playing three albums, The Yes Album, Close to the Edge, and Going for the One in their entirety, at the amazing Warfield Theater in San Francisco. This, friends, was a must see concert for me.
The lineup is always a fluidic thing for Yes. For this tour, they have the three mainstays in Steve Howe on guitar, Chris Squire on Bass, and Alan White on drums. Geoff Downes is on the keyboards, and taking over the vocal duties is Jon Davison. Knowing what to expect from all the other members, Davison is the only real wildcard here, this being my first show without legendary Jon Anderson at the helm.
In general it is an older crowd, but there are scatterings of young prog heads paying their just due to the deities that paved the way. Sound wise, Yes is tight as usual, some early feedback issues with Squire’s bass are fixed quickly. The opener of Yours is No Disgrace is laid out, followed by the always charming acoustic guitar piece, The Clap. Then they flow into Starship Trooper, and the finish of this one is where they start to take off as Steve starts to let loose with the masterful playing that has made him a legend among guitarist. The crowd is finally starting to wake up, and those that aren’t pumped yet get their due with Your Move/All Good People. As they finish album one off with Venture and Perpetual Change, I start to feel that tingle of anticipation for what’s coming next, Close to the Edge, beginning to end, three legendary songs laid relentlessly upon my soul.
What can one say about seeing Close to the Edge live, the song that basically paved the way for all other prog epics to come. It was my sixth time personally seeing it played live, and it still stuns me. Davison handled the task well, though he did get confused on whether he was supposed to be “down by the river” or “round by the corner” at one time, but we’ll let that one slide, mainly because when it came to the most beautiful vocal part of the show, he nailed it. The I Get Up/I Get Down section is a stunning piece of vocal harmony, and the gents delivered flawlessly here. Davison had passed my test, and had my full permission to front Yes for however long he wishes too. And You and I is always a stunner, with Howe juggling three instruments with precision. Siberian Khatru was rocked out, and Howe’s work at the end put the crowd down for good. This audience was all theirs now, no dissenters or doubters were left.
After a brief break, they wasted no time in getting the crowd back into it with Going for the One. It was at this point that I could see the older crowd wanting to jump up and dance, but the reservations of society still held most at bay. Next, Turn of the Century was played. To me personally, this is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, musically, lyrically, and thematically. The stunning tale of the sculptor and dancer was laid out with shimmering wonder, and the moment when the statue of the dancer comes to life, hallmarked by Howe’s soul wrenching guitar, brought a little mist to this fan’s eye. Parallels and Wondrous Stories set the crowd up for the epic finale, Awaken. Having already passed the test of Close to the Edge and Turn of the Century, I was confident in Davison’s ability to handle this challenge too, and he delivered with authority. After ripping through the upbeat opening of the song, Yes proceeded to own the audience fully with the middle section of the song, though we should have known big things were coming when Squire busted out the triple neck bass (insert squeal here). This section is hypnotic in the studio version, but with Downes masterful keys and the tick tock precision of Whites percussion, it stepped up a notch. I took a look around at the crowd, and they were all in a stunned state, with strings of drool hanging from the corners of their mouths. Enter the master again, Howe’s guitar leading into the final section of Awaken are nothing short of perfection. All the members gather together to build the crescendo of the piece to its breaking point, and on the words “farewell, farewell…”, they knock the audience out with a confetti explosion that literally fills the whole theater. The soft closing and the final words of the song though, “Like the time I ran away, turned around, and you were standing close to me”, are what do it for me. I let a manly tear escape, and join the crowd in a well deserved standing ovation that last until they come out for the predictable encore, Roundabout. With total ownership of the audience at this point, they let the song fly with joy, and the whole crowd turns on the “I don’t give a shit” sign. They jump up, they dance, they sing along, and for a brief moment, they are all free.
I think it’s a sign of the appeal that Yes has, that on the train ride home, groups of strangers, forty years or more separating them in age, were united together in the sheer bliss that only a Yes show can deliver. We all shared the joy that the unique experience delivers. I have seen hundreds of shows in my life, but no other band can take me to that special place in my heart and soul that Yes does, and last night, after over forty years of rocking, they did it once again.