Possibly I'm Jaded...but rarely do I walk out of a rock concert these days without a twinge of deja va - the feeling that I've heard it all before from a thousand other bands, and probably better.
"Why don't you just sit back and enjoy the concert? Don't just sit there and pick it apart!"
By nature, I am analytical when it comes to music. The old Dick Clark's American Bandstand routine ("Well, Mr. Clark, I'd give that an 87 because it's got a good beat and you can dance to it...") just doesn't make it nowadays. There's more to music than boogie.
"Rock" is an inaccurate term for much of today's music but it's all we have. Paul Williams, the founder of "Crawdaddy!" used the term New Music but that strikes me as unwieldy if not pretentious. So rock will have to do until someting better comes along.
What's the kid leading up to, you ask? Well, I drove up to the Univerisity Of Alabama Sunday before last to hear Yes in concert with Eagles at the Memorial Coliseum. When I walked out several hours later, my mind had been blasted.
Eagles opened the late afternoon concert after an hour of waiting by the audience. The lead guitarist apologized for the delay, saying they had been eating barbecued chicken in Birmingham at 3:30 p.m. when they noticed a poster for the concert that said 4 p.m. Their contract said 5 p.m. Panic ensued and the band hot-rodded it to Tuscaloosa.
A very honest, fresh, clean band was Eagles. Very reminiscent of early Poco with a little of the Burrito Brothers thrown in for good measure. They played both heavy AM radio hits ("Take It Easy" and "Witchy Woman") as well as their lesser-known meterial. As my traveling companion pointed out, no one in the band really comes out as the dominating personality. Both guitarists played rhythm and lead quite well, and all four members sang. Their harmonies are flawlessly clean.
When yes came on, I forgot about Eagles...not to slight Eagles, of course. It's just that Yes in concert is such a mind blast they tend to crowd other things out.
Looking exactly as pop stars are supposed to look, they opened with "Siberian Khatru" from their latest album. (Check out week before last's column for my gushy, effusive review of that particular platter.)
Jon Anderson, lead singer, stood center stage looking very small indeed next to flasho bassist Chris Squire. Seeming at seven feet tall, he was resplendent in these really bizarre musketeer knee-boots (the kind with the rolled-down tops) and a white waistcoat with wide lapels. Rick Wakeman, keyboard wizard, stood in the middle of a pile of equipment...synthesiser, mellotron, organ, grand piano, electric piano. Straight-as-an-arrow blond hair hung far past his hunched shoulders and he was attired in a sinister-looking black cload, the back of which was adorned with a crescent moon and star...a sort of musical alchemist. Strangely, he never looked at the audience, Only at his keyboards. The rest of the band appeared almost conventional when compared to Wakeman.
I find it hard to describe...there are no real high points to relate. For me, the entire concert was a high point. Their music is rich, full of complexity and subtlety. From a muscial standpoint, they make Emerson, Lake and Palmer look like Cub Scouts. The appeal of Yes to me is that they have fire and passion and purpose to back up their technical proficency. The music of ELP seems hollow and mechanical...flashy business signifying nothing.
Displaying a marked tendency toward understatement. Jon Anderson introduced "Close To The Edge" as a mere song. IN scope and complexity it more closely resmbles a symphony. The stage lights were dimmed and, as a taped introduction of "White Noise" grew progressively louder, the coliseum explided in a burst of light. A mirrored disc had begun to rotate behind the stage and its many facets caught the light of a single spot and broke it up into a thousand pinpoints that danced about the hall. The band stood motionless, seen only as black shapes. Suddenly the music began, leaping from the cacophony of the taped intro...the disc was turned away, and the stage was once again flooded with light.
Yes plays magnificent music. It's powerful, frightening, beautiful and moving...sometimes all of these at once, and more. Through everything they do a feeling of progress, of hope, shines through. Even their name is affirmative.
Chris Squire approaches Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane in originality and execution...he employs a series of foot pedals that allow him to control the sound of his bass.
Wakeman, of course, is equal to anyone in rock...and many musicians outside of rock as well. At one point during his big solo moment (which led into "Roundabout") he performed Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" on organ and synthesiser...playing the voicings on synthesiser. Turning from instrument to instrument, doing jazz riffs on electric piano, then following with a Bach fugue on organ he delivered a mindbending performance.
Steve Howe proved himself to be a virtuoso...switching instruments frequently, he played lute, acoustic guitar, conventional electric guitar, a nifty double-neck number and slide guitar, Amazingly enough, he often played classical-style acoustic riffs on his electric. And pulled them off brilliantly.
Yes may be the most advanced musical aggregation on the entire planet. Their command of the electronic medium is all-encompassing. Effects normally reserved for the studio are used for their onstage performances. The entire concert was in stereo, with various solo instruments running from one set of speakers to the other. Phasing (the sound that resembles a marble rolling around in a tin pan) was frequently used on the drums. Prepared tapes were heard from time to time. On several segments, Anderson sang harmony alone thanks to a device that adds an octave abouve and below any tone fed into it. Eddie Offord, producer and engineer of ELP and Wet Willie fame was on hand, mixing the concert personally and controlling many of the effects.
The audience brought Yes back for an encore...everyone was on his feet and cheering for more. The band dutifully returned and wiped everyone out once again with "Yours Is No Disgrace" from their third album. I left the coliseum on a cloud, needless to say.
Composers and innovators throughout history have natually worked within the framework of the media available to them at the time. The most successful were those who used available resources to the fullest and expanded the horizons reached by their predecessors.
Yes has made full use of this technology's capabilites...and pushed them to the limit. Their music might very well endure for many years to come...this is modern classical music. Their compositions and performances are unique to thes particular age, as Bach's and Vivaldi's were to theirs. The music of Yes mirrors this time accurately...electrically enhanced, a product of an advanced science, yet suffused with warmth and humanity. But Yes has almost left the twentieth century behind...they practically belong to the twenty-first. Music to traverse interstellar space by.
Yes- the human metronome of tomorrow The avant-garde music of today; the music of the 21st century Stomes by Courtney Haden
Brian's got a deadline, and the Eagles have to make Atlanta, and there's nothing I can bring myself to ask Jon Anderson, so what can apoor writer do? Wanna give you the old subjective treatment, but my eardrums haven't healed yet. Wanna give you the words, but music like we heard in the Coliseum last night hovers dangerously above that ragged turf that rock and roll critics have set out to plow.
But the judgment is to be delivered, and it comes in twos. First, you better mark the Eagles well. I'm really short on auiary slang to pretty this up, but all that matters is the Eagles are the best new rockers to hit the scence in a long time. The current surfeit of troubadors has soured most of our rockers, laid 'em back into catatonia. Eagles handle soft songs with the same assertive edge with which they slice off their tougher material. And God, it rocks! Bernie Leadon and Glenn Frey trade licks like masters, and their solid rhythm section rivals the Stones'...most importantly, regard their togetherness. The last time I saw musicians get off on each other so well was at UAB (was it '69), some horn band we'd never heard of. They, of course, were Chicago, and subsequently famous. The Eagles gave me the first fame-rush I've had since Chicago, if that's of any significance to you (it is to me, natch).
And the Yes? I've got all kinds of notes, none of which work outside the ghostly, powerful context of Yes music. Donnie told me Jon Anderson (lead singer) looked Christ-like on the stage, and he's mesmeric, to be sure; in fact, he is the context I'm thinking about. Would Yes work without the eerie cosmic metronome that is Jon Anderson? Hard to say. Alan White and Chris Squire are a perfect, melodic bottom for the ethereal embellishments of Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman, but it is still Anderson's uncanny tenor that carries the meaning of the music.
And what does the music mean? That's the odd thing; theoretically, it should make no sense to average fold like you and me. the lyrics approach those of the Silhouettes' "Get A Job," and the music is light-years from the good old 4-4 boogie beat. yes the lyrics' flow and the band's tightness manage to convey the sense of the music, and that may be the most important idea of all. Yes represent the avant-garde today that the Stones meant in '64: close to the edge dealing in the sense of the music that the kids understand. The same generation for whom Clockwork Orange was a catalyst (ours was The Graduate) will adapt Yes like we adopted the Stones.
What's this to you? You don't care what the kids do, after all. Only remember, what you don't assimilate from the culture comes back to brand you as obsolete. Everything may be cool for you, but for those still on the other side of revolution, Jon Anderson paints pictures of the loneliness of the long distance runaround, and that science fiction noise that the Yes laid down wsa the music of the 21st century stones. You may dig it if you like.
(Last-minute: Brian just told me that his friend was a bit disappointed and all. So disappointees, remember: Poco, Oct 20, and Elton John, Nov. 14, And Bob Hope Nov. 4, but seriously, folks...)