Yes – Bridgewater Hall, Manchester – 17th June 2022
It’s over fifty years since a band called Yes emerged into a vibrant rock music scene with their unique blend and fifty years exactly since their meisterwork Close to The Edge appeared. We’re sitting in anticipation along with a crowd who’ve been on the same journey, in a state of the art concert hall in Manchester to share memories with the current incarnation of the band.
1972 was a period when anything vaguely imaginable was possible and Yes cracked it with Close To The Edge. Despite anything they wrote and recorded in the following decade and beyond, CTTE (as it shall be known) remains, for most, their corwoning glory. I’d argue a case for Going For The One (or GFTO) but that’s another story. Even artist Roger Dean, who’s on tour with his pop up exhhibition/shop, talks of the privilege of being part of the journey. And so he should, so it seems fitting that the man who created the visuals that are as much a part of Yes package, should be making the introduction.
But before the 2022 version of Yes sets foot on stage there’s a respectful video tribute to recently passed and much loved drummer Alan White, soundtracked by the beautiful Turn Of The Century (from GFTO of course) and those “As Autumn calls, we’ll both remember all those many years ago” fade, we take a moment to compose and ready ourselves as the show begins.
While it may be 2022 and the world seems at times a strange place, some things never change; the intro music remains the same. The Firebird Suite gives the signal for Howe, Davison, Sherwood, Schellen and Donwes to take up their places. Like Dean and his art, Stravinky is as much a goosebumps part of the Yesshow as the quintet throw a bit of a curveball and offer up a new arrangement of Tormato’ ‘sOn The Silenet WIngs Of Freedom; one that Howe says we might not have heard for some time. I’m thinking back to 1978 and the wonderful (and legendary) show from the Wembley radio broadcast. We have, however, some more familiarity with the rest of the first set that settles on a 1970-1980 theme with the softer acousticity of Wonderous Stories (GFTO – again – get my point?) balanced with a heavier touch of Drama album that seems to have more legs now than it had back in 1980.
We also get The Ice Bridge and Dare To Know from the 2021 The Quest album. It’s not clear what was sought on that quest…maybe a bit of that magic from 1972, but the former is arguably the most invigorating piece of the first half – think how you might hope yes to sound in 2022 and throw in a dash of The South Side Of The Sky in the wintery ambience and you’re on the right track. A blizzard playing out on the projection screens and Howe and Downes trading solos, it highlights the latter of the two new pieces as a lesser number by comparison.
And while much of the music might remain the same, Yes in 2022 is a different beast. Anyone waking from a fifty years’ sleep might wonder what the heck is going on. Howe is still there leading the line and still throwing some of the shapes, twists and startled expressions (the one like you’ve just heard a firework go off unexpectedly). We might be used to Geoff Downes by now – he seems a veteran having been in and out (and back in again) of Yes since 1980. Never too far from Howe, he subscribes to the banks of keyboards setup, even extending on the odd occasion to the classic arms reaching out to play on opposite banks at the same time. Probably copyrighted to a certain R.Wakeman Esq.
On the vocal front, the continued absence of Jon Anderson (the talismanic voice of Yes) Jon Davison is as good a fit as can be expected, now even featuring on two studio albums. His range makes sure we still hear the classic lines and phrases authentically in the same way that we’re also now used to Jay Schellen on the drum stool, subbing and supporting and now replacing Alan White. It’s Billy Sherwood who’s the revelation tonight though. He’s been on the teamsheet in various capacities for over twenty years, but stepping into the almost impossible to fill shoes of Chris Squire, you could argue he’s now made the spot his own. he seems inhabited by the spirit of Squire, not just in playing his parts but also in the way those parts make him move and coax the notes from his instrument. Add a flowing gauze oversize shirt and he’s even looking the part.
That first half sees cobwebs blown away and a little of the rustiness from a prolonged period of gig abstinence. We’re only two gigs into the tour – a warm up and Glasgow ticked off – and to be fair, there’s only one way to get gig fit again. Not always easy when the music and time signatures are as complex and challenging as much of the Seventies prog rock that Yesmusic set the template for.
It might be my ears or memory, but some of the lengthier outings/indulgences (Howe’s Yours Is No Disgrace solo and the repeated opening riffs in Heart Of The Sunrise) seem to have been treated to a little trim. Howe is the only soloist too… Gone are the days of indulgent solo spots between the songs. No ‘Whitefish’ bass and drums showcase as Alan White and Chris Squire used to work out on (maybe they’ve reinstated it in the great gig in the sky?) and any Wakemanesque keyboard solos pieces from Geoff Downes (or even snatches of Video Killed The Radio Star) are left in the past. It’s just Howe who gets to sit in the solo spotlight to perform Clap and you can forgive him as it’s less of an indulgence and more of a Yeshow ritual.
Things step up considerably in a second half of stone cold classic Yes. The Close To The Edge album making up three of five songs that each warranted standing ovations, whether it was the five men on stage or the music they played that earned the ovations (or perhaps both?). There’s a fire in the belly though. Howe regularly charges, almost threateningly (think De Niro – you looking at ME???) to the lip of the stage firing out a barrage of notes in the opening flurry of CTTE. He and Sherwood also nail the harmonies and 2/3 part vocal lines with Jon Davison that could easily present a stumbling block. As we emerge from I Get Up I Get Down, the organ part seems slightly subdued, but on the second cycle, the Schellen cymbal flourishes and the ground trembling Sherwood bass pedals made sure that the turbo boost of power did its job. I think I even heard someone call “Bravo!” during the deserved ovation.
For me, the ‘bravo’ would have been for And You And I; he bass pedals again, Howe’s quivering pedal steel and Sherwood blowing the harp during the jaunty mid dle section a la Squire did the trick. The towering crescendo that used to send Anderson into spiritual raptures fully realised. Maybe lesser in comparison, even Siberian Khatru was treated to a welcome increase in the tempo that of late has earned some fan criticism. A case of a half time pep talk seeing the band really hit their stride in the second half?
Hard to follow but with a double whammy of Roundabout and Starship Trooper (no – der, der-der, der-der concession to the crowd pleasing – not this crowd though – Owner Of A Lonely Heart for this line up) saturation point is imminent. Howe again leading the finale and the charge into the Wurm section and as we hit the final lap, the thought occurs of what happens to Yes when, heaven forbid, the current keeper of the flame plays his last note? We shall see, but the feeling is that someone, somewhere, is going to be playing the Yesmusic which is going to live on for much longer than most of us.
Categories: Live Reviews