Yes Overcome Sparse Crowd at Stone Free Festival, O2 Arena

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

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11 replies

  1. I’d be sceptical if I saw an ad for this, but your description and pics make it sound rather a blast. Great point about Rabin’s presence allowing some of those terrific songs into an Anderson Wakeman set. Talking of Rick, look at ‘im in ‘is red sneakers and cape. Bless.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m old enough to remember when Topographic Oceans was a pretty big deal. Well, long and tedious really, but we gave it a red hot go. A handful of us 17 year old blokes with our lank greasy hair and first-draft attempts at sidies skinning up on a Supertramp album cover while our girlfriends sat in a corner wishing we’d play something with a tune and a dance beat…
    I love prog from its first golden era. Pavlov’s Dog, Renaissance, Jethro Tull, Sebastian Hardie, Genesis – very white, solemn and middle class but they could certainly play and if their ambitions overreached on occasion, they were at least trying something different. After all, every Beatles album was a progression from the last; Yes even progged up a cover of “Every Little Thing” to acknowledge the debt.
    It’s always seemed to me that having to choose sides, between punk and prog, or pub-rock and pop, was a silly non-argument started by 20-something male music critics who couldn’t get a girlfriend. In my world you could love ABBA and SAHB and Dr Feelgood – although I kept very very quiet about ABBA…
    I’ve never seen Yes live, I’d love to. I recently saw Roger Waters in Melbourne and it was a bloody fantastic concert.
    Great review, Steve. Makes me wish I’d been there.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have never seen Yes, I have to admit this incarnation of the two options seems the most fun. Wakeman does love his capes and Anderson has a fine voice and I am now just coming to terms with the Rabin albums. It seems they have more depth of material than the Howe led band.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really wish I could have seen Anderson, Wakeman, and Rabin live. I don’t think they had any Irish dates or if they did I was busy. 😞

    I saw Yes back in 2013 in Toronto, great show. They played 3 of their classic albums: The Yes Album, Close to the Edge, and Going For The One. Chris Squire and Steve Howe were amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have been a big Yes fan for a little over a decade now. Back when I was a teenager my dad handed me a copy of their greatest hits on CD and said something like “I think you’ll like this. All of the smart, nerdy guys I went to high school with used to listen to Yes”. I, having inherited none of my dad’s coolness, immediately loved them.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good God but this makes me feel old! I first saw Yes in 1971 when they were introducing us to their new album Fragile as well as their new keyboard player Rick Wakeman. This was in a round theatre that held perhaps 2,000. Humble Pie ( sans a newly-departed Peter Frampton ) opened for them. $5. This was the only time I got to see the best-ever Yes lineup that included Bill Bruford. I sat perhaps 15 feet from the band and was really really amazed and impressed.
    Over the next 30 years I saw them several times including the big Union reunion tour, until finally seeing just Bill with his jazz quartet Earthworks and then finally, in 2012, I saw Jon on a solo tour.
    I wouldn’t go to either version of “Yes” today. They should have retired well before this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kirk, You have a couple of years on me, I saw Yes the first time in 1979. I had been listening to them since 1973 (my musical awakening) and I went to the Rabin/Wakeman/Anderson show in here in 2017 with that show being the 6th time I’ve seen them. Honestly I thought the show was great and wish I could have taken my 30 something year old nephew.
      Great experience.
      I had to get up to visit the restroom during the show and as I stood taking care of my business, we could hear they had started into “I’ve Seen All Good People”. Slowly and quietly at first, several guys were softly speaking/humming the song. The number of “singers” grew as the song progressed until a good portion of those of us in the Restroom were singing along with John, loudly.
      Funny as hell and fun as hell.
      I, for one, am truly grateful they haven’t retired. They certainly didn’t embarrass themselves that night although I might have myself.
      I ‘m rather jealous of your first experience back in ’71. Couldn’t imagine a better Yes memory.
      Take care.

      Liked by 1 person

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