Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Yes—March 20 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre

I’ve been lucky enough to see most of the classic prog greats—Rush, Genesis, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Van der Graaf Generator—but never Yes. When I was in high school they toured Western Canada for 90125, and while I liked that album, it sure wasn’t the Yes of the previous decade, and I snobbishly decided not to go.

I followed Yes casually for the next couple decades, occasionally checking in to little reward. The Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe album was a real bummer, and I couldn’t bring myself to touch that Union enterprise. By the latter half of the '90s there was a whole new progressive rock scene to get into and the Yes soap opera just seemed silly and irrelevant. I had Spock’s Beard, the revitalized IQ, and mail-order labels like The Laser’s Edge and Cuneiform Records to keep me busy, not to mention a burgeoning international metal scene that to me represented the true spirit of “progressive”.

But now I’m old and nostalgic, and it seems that the keepers of the Yes legacy are too. When I had the chance to go to their show last week at the Queen E (thanks to the loveable Luke Meat), I did indeed seize it. The lineup of Howe/Squire/White/Downes and newish vocalist Jon Davison looked respectable, and the show’s format of presenting three classic albums in their entirety guaranteed a solid setlist, albeit an predictable one. The three albums in question, The Yes AlbumClose to the Edge, and Going for the One, contain five or six of my favourite songs of all time. I was looking forward to hearing them in a live setting.

“I saw Yes in 1974, and it cost five bucks! And you know who opened for them? THE EAGLES!” You always get these people at the old-time prog shows. I reckon I was the only person in the joint who hadn’t seen them on the Relayer tour. The lights went down at 7:30, quelling the babbling of aging nerds. Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite came on the PA; the band’s traditional walk-on music. This was just like the real thing. Hold on, it was the real thing. That gnome/hippy figure was Steve Howe, and there was Chris Squire with requisite Rickenbacker. Geoff Downes stood among three banks of keyboards. They started with "Close to the Edge" and played the rest of the album in order. It was all bang-on, especially Davison whose voice soared, note perfect all the way. Sure he wasn’t their original vocalist, but his performance was a marvellous tribute to Jon Anderson’s melodic talents.

The stage production was Spartan—nothing in the way of a “set” and minimal backline. A screen behind the drum kit presented animated Roger Dean vistas, rainbow-hued butterflies, mysterious figures in yogic poses, and other suitably-Yeslike imagery. As well, the screen introduced each song with a title card (e.g. “Siberian Khatru” Close to the Edge (1972)).

Going for the One was next, with Steve Howe kicking out the jams on pedal steel guitar. He had a good style of shoving the wheeled contraption off stage whenever he was done with it. A roadie would put it back in place when it was time for another go. Davison’s performance on “Turn of the Century” was a highlight of the GftO segment and earned him a standing ovation. “Parallels” sounded creaky in comparison; probably the only instance where I thought the band could have pounded out a song with more authority. For “Awaken” Howe put on an odd-looking headstock-less guitar. Not to be outdone, Squire emerged with a triple-neck bass/guitar contraption. Hope he has a good supply of Robaxacet for this tour! He’s not a poser, our Chris—he did indeed play on all three necks during the course of the song.

After a 20-minute intermission and some words from Howe praising Vancouver for its more European feel compared to America (“cosmopolitan” was the word he used), they embarked on The Yes Album (1971). They slayed it too, especially on Howe’s solo spot, “The Clap”. Seeing him in action live confirmed his status as a guitar god. After the musical jigsaw that is “Perpetual Change” they left the stage briefly before resuming with “Roundabout” for an encore. This started two folks dancing and going nuts in the aisle at the front of the stage. Maybe the song had been their first dance song at their wedding, in which case I wish I'd been invited to that wedding. They were allowed to boogie down until the first chorus, when they were beaten to a pulp by security and tossed out (kidding).

It really was a great night. The only downside was going home and facing the wrath of Mrs. Mule, who’ll probably never forgive me for not bringing her along. Now that this is published, I’ll never speak of this again.

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