It was the climax of the Stone Free Festival at the O2 Arena, and the 20,000 seater was less than a third full. Perhaps a reflection of the bill which veered from Supertramp to Megadeth but stuck to a “classic rock” brief, but perhaps just a reflection of the popularity of Fathers Day and a Brazilian World Cup match.
Not that this should reflect badly on the performers.
There has been, over the fifty years since their formation in 1968, almost as many members of Yes as there have been members of The Sugababes, and as many versions of Yes as there have been of The Drifters, albeit both current touring Yes versions do, at least, have members of the classic early ’70’s line ups, with a group featuring Steve Howe, Allan White and Geoff Downes touring America with Tales of Topographical Oceans and this band, featuring Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson, mercifully for all concerned, not.
The addition of Rabin allows this version of Yes to spend time away from their seventies output and play a few songs from those late eighties albums 90125 and Big Generator, with the show kicking off with “Cinema” and “Hold On” from the former, inserting “Rhythm of Love” from the latter and then back to 90125 for “Changes” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. For those of us too young to remember the first wave of Yes (but sufficiently long in the tooth to recall the second) these songs help to relive our youths.
Save for people of a certain age, the early Yes songs are perhaps better known by reputation or brief BBC4 documentary clips featuring elaborate sets and costumes, than they are by being actually heard.
There are still those with a jaundiced view of Prog Rock even now. It has been an acceptable prejudice in the same way as being rude about someone with ginger hair has been. There can be a wariness of songs with unfathomable time signatures that even Miss Marple couldn’t solve, however good an air- drummer she may have been. The reason the drummer is constantly smiling can only because he can’t believe he is still keeping time.
If you grew up with punk, you may have been persuaded by those anar-chists that such music was the anti-Christ, but this is just people looking to play a bit, and forty years on from such tribal warfare Prog is, at it’s best, memorable and moving. Songs like “And You And I” have inspired all the right sort of people that music can go in places you weren’t always expecting and that tunes don’t always have to have a verse, chorus and bridge. It turns out Punk didn’t permanently demolish all that came before it: it just offered an alternative Spotify Playlist.
Let’s look at those players again.
Jon Anderson. Vocals. Wizened like Robert Plant, and with a Blockbusters-style mascot hanging from his microphone. A voice with pitch capable of talking to dogs without humans noticing. Anderson remains able to hit notes that Wakeman can’t even reach with his keyboard.
Trevor Rabin. Guitar. Lithe, ten years younger than the other two (making him a mere pup at sixty four years of age) and a star despite a guitar with a paint job of such a catastrophically eighties countenance as to make Steve Vai look understated.
Rick Wakeman. Keyboards. Wearing a cape because a) it adds a bit of showbiz and b) you suspect he mistakenly thinks it flatters the figure. Faultless playing: he played on Hunky Dory, for Pete’s sake. He could dress in a rabbit costume if he wanted and he’d still be a legend.
So what of the evening?
Despite the sparse crowd, all shuffled to the front to give a bit of atmosphere, the playing was faultless, Anderson was charming and a revelation voice-wise, while the choice of songs – a mix of earlier material and the 90125/Big Generator – worked for an appreciative audience. Two songs from 1971’s third LP ‘The Yes Album’ surface early: “Perpetual Change” and “I’ve Seen All Good People” while 1971 remains a strong year for Yes, proven by songs from that year’s Fragile album in the shape of ‘Heart of the Sunrise” and show closer ‘Roundabout’.
There’s time for Rabin and Wakeman to go for a walkabout in the audience: piano-king Wakeman brandishing his sceptred key-tar and wearing his cloak regally, but the set highlight is that version of “And You And I” from 1972’s Close To The Edge, which represents everything good about Yes. It builds slowly, with guitar and vocals as light as a feather before melodic but thumping bass kicks in. It meanders in the best possible way. It is timeless stuff, and worth the price of admission alone. If you haven’t heard the track before, here’s a very early clip of it – give it a listen here:
Categories: Live Reviews