33 years, 10 months ago
Wednesday, August 9, 1989
Middletown, New York
Orange County Fairgrounds Speedway
Since I got into the band in early '88, I've had an estimated seven opportunitues to catch the band live...and only taken advantage of two. This was the first. (ABWH, actually, but why split hairs?)
August 9 is my birthday (17 that year, wow) and this concert was my birthday present. I met my best friend Charley, who was interning in a summer choral program, and we got a lift down into the wilds of Middletown from my Dad (I didn't learn to drive for another year and a half.) It seemed to take forever, but at last we got out in a distinctly ratty looking field. My Dad spent the night at the movies, Dead Poets Society I believe.
"The Ancient " was blaring from someone's automobile system as we entered the gates; ticket takers also provided us each with a survey from Yes Magazine (now defunct.) Afterwards, I listed my favorite ABWH song as "Themes," (why?) and the one number I'd missed hearing as "Gates of Delirium" (yeah right.) Yes, I'd like to hear a live album from the tour (who knew it would take 4 years to come out?) But I never sent in the form, and saved it with my tour program to this day.
We settled down about halfway up a gentle embankment. The show was completely outdoors (the band & set under a pavilion) and the "fairgrounds" were matted down with straw of the three-ring circus variety. On the whole a rather tatty place...we took our chances sitting in the stuff. My friend, a superb drummer, offered me earplugs (declined.)
The opening medley was a soothing way to kick off, and sounds nearly as good on the official live release as it does in my memory. Charley and I sang the harmony lines on "Time & A Word." Afterwards, Charley sneered, "thank you, session musicians..." to be fair, Colbeck & MacDonald virtually disappeared into the background thereafter. I was thrilled to see Steve, my favorite Yesman, playing beautiful, lengthy classically inspired intros to his two signature acoustic pieces...very intimate, followed by a fond thank-you in his customary gravelly voice. Everyone was waiting to see how Rick had held up over the years...his synths were routine even for that era, but he didn't disappoint. By "Birthright," twilight gave way to night and the crowd really got into it. No preponderance of grey here...loads of attractive women dancing (it's hard dancing to the beginning of "Heart Of The Sunrise" but I did!)
After intermission the background tapes for "Close To The Edge" began, and gasps of disbelief from the crowd slowly coalesced into a mighty roar, gaining in intensity with the sound effects. Could it be...the whole thing, for real? Suffice it to say, one of the true high points of my musical life. Bruford was a dynamic, athletic presence in his duet with Levin, whacking a piece of sheet metal percussion with huge, melodramatic strokes. I can't say enough for Tony throughout; when the ABWH project was announced, I'd idly mused they should get Tony Levin, and great minds think alike (hah!) His rendition of the bass lead intro to "Heart Of The Sunrise" was progressive in the true sense of the word; sharp, funkified and totally in tune with the times. Here one really felt the potential power of this musical unit, and the heights they might scale, although at the same time I don't think any of us expected ABWH to be a long-term proposition. Only towards the end of "Order of the Universe," did the volume actually reach painful levels; grin & bear it. "Starship Trooper," with the silly New Age intro, "Roundabout," with the band getting out of sync for a few bars, confused by their monitors, Jon clearly having a great time, smiling with eyes closed and doing little cosmic dance steps.
The drive back (to Troy NY) seemed much briefer, albeit exhausting...we started opening the windows to keep my Dad awake!
It's a long time ago now, and the official live release didn't capture what I remembered at all...but 8/09/89 was an amazing initiation into the world of Yes, ABWH-wise.