It was thirty three years ago tonight that I first experienced Yes live and needless to say it changed my entire life. I have been a sound professional all of my life and it was because of that night and the emotions and wonder that overwhelmed me that I am. Thank you gentlemen for giving me a reason to be.
Michele Marie Moore
Just about everyone in Yes fandom has a specific concert performance that they found especially moving or significant, one that had a deep personal meaning or made a difference in their lives -- and all of those choices are different.
But there seems to be one unifying factor among all Yes fans -- the FIRST concert forever divided life into "before Yes," and "after Yes." Everyone seems to remember the exact date, time, and hour when they first saw the band perform live, and recalls vividly the impact of that show -- the intensity and the immensity of it. Ask any Yes fan about that first show, and an unmistakable, far-away look seems to overtake them... scanning a distant and past horizon, drifting into a previous day, a different time of life, perhaps even a different kind of heart that was forever changed by the Yes experience. That facial expression of remembrance seems to be practically universal, and it always seems to come with a smile.
For me, my first Yes concert was also my best Yes concert -- not because the band's performance was so superior to others given at a later date, but because that first Yes experience seemed so intimately *personal* to me at a time when I needed it most.
It was April 1973, the spring semester of my freshman year of college. Readers of Notes from the Edge will recall the story of how I met Kay Zahasky, my first Yes friend, and what a difference she made in my life. (No. 246). Kay was also responsible for my first Yes concert experience. If I ever see her again, I'd like to remind her of all of these things. I am sure she, too, would be overtaken by that that far-away, past-the-horizon, happy remembrance gaze.
I came to that first live Yes experience as a true "babe in the woods." Before that day, I lived a "separated" existence. As far back as I can remember, my life had been consumed by symphonic music, opera and ballet. I seriously studied many instruments for many years, sang in the adult opera chorus even as a child, and proved to be a very gifted dancer. This left no time at all for typical girlish pursuits. I was expected to be a "grown-up" even before I was a teenager. By the time I was 14, I was performing professionally with a ballet company, gradually rising through the ranks until I "retired" at 18 to pursue a more "normal" lifestyle by going to college -- something my peers, parents and mentors thought was equivalent to "throwing it all away." I strongly disagreed.
By then, I felt it was time for LIFE. Absolutely nothing about my life before college had been "normal." I knew there was something else out there that I desperately wanted -- something beyond the regimen of rehearsal, the four walls of the practice studio and the stage. College was the logical choice.
And that's where Kay Zahasky entered my life. Once we met and discovered that our love of Yes was a common tie, Kay delighted in surprising me daily with new and exciting challenges to my thinking. But no surprise was greater than the day she telephoned and said, "You're going to the Yes concert on Thursday! I have an extra ticket!"
I knew nothing about the concert. I had only been to one previous rock concert in my life, about five years earlier. It had been a rather drab, boring and disappointing "date" to see Neil Diamond from the nosebleed seats of a gigantic arena. If *that* was what rock concerts were all about, I was not interested. It had been like watching some teensy stick figure from across a great impenetrable divide of bodies, all blurry and indistinct. And the music had been one big indistinguishable roar -- very bad acoustics at the venue. The audience was rowdy, noisy, and talkative. I came from a classical background and was only accustomed to attending concerts to *listen.* Needless to say, that initial concert exposure was a total disaster, one I did not particularly want to repeat.
Yet here was Kay, telling me that I was going to see Yes the next day.
As much as I totally loved Yes on their recorded albums, I was not entirely convinced that I was going to enjoy a live performance. The show was being held at the Fair Grounds Arena in Oklahoma City, and I knew it was a large barrel of a venue that seated almost 11,000 people. My mind was full of all of the negatives... all of the reasons "why not." I was very intimidated by large crowds, and didn't really know what to expect. And Kay told me that she had purchased the extra ticket at the last minute, and I would not be sitting with her. I would be all by myself at the show, and this made me a bit nervous. I was imagining myself lost in the midst of a crush of seething, writhing, rockin'-out bodies, and this did not seem like my kind of thing at all. Would I fit into this scene? Could I handle this? I was very hesitant.
But as usual, Kay was full of excitement and enthusiasm and wouldn't take "no" for an answer. She said, "You can't turn this down, Michele. I'm giving you the ticket. I promise this will change your life forever. Guaranteed. The show is tomorrow night. I'll pick you up around 6 p.m. We'll go in my car." Without giving me any time to protest or refuse, she hung up the phone, and that was that. I was going to the Yes concert whether I liked it or not.
The next day, Thursday, April 12th, 1973, started out just like any other day. But Kay was right -- nothing was ever the same thereafter.
That evening, we parked the car at what seemed like miles from the front entrance of the Fairgrounds Arena and made our way through a very large crowd to our seats. Kay took me first to my seat, which was a single, lone chair located at the left end of the soundboard. On one side of me was the big center aisle, and on the other, the technical engineers for the show. Once Kay was certain that I was settled, she went to her own seat and I did not see her again until the end of the concert.
The arena was indeed a mass of bodies. On the ground floor, the rows were very crammed together and the aisles were packed with people moving here and there, talking and laughing, waving at friends, finding their seats. It was chaotic, but everyone seemed very happy and all were smiling.
I felt like I was watching all of this pass before me from a place removed... not quite fully present at the scene yet. Everything seemed sort of "on the edge" ... some great anticipation was in the air that I had never before experienced. Frisbees and beach balls were being tossed playfully about the arena, and clouds of aromatic smoke drifted past me throughout the evening. I believe the show opened with a totally forgettable set by a band called "Trapeze." All I remember about it is that I was glad when it was over. The house lights came up and the roadies began resetting the stage for Yes. It doesn't seem like the break between the first band and Yes was very long, but I do remember feeling increasingly nervous and edgy.
It all seems so silly and trivial now in retrospect. But at that time, it was very important to me that the reality of Yes on stage not "disturb" the way I perceived Yes in my mind, based on their studio albums. After all, I had had almost four years of extremely happy private Yes listening -- and four years is a long time to dream dreams and imagine things the way you want them to be. The opening act, Trapeze, had been just awful enough to make me worry about seeing Yes.
The longer I thought about the possibility that the Yes of my dreams might not be the same as the "real" Yes, the more tense I became. I began scanning the crowd, looking for Kay, wondering if I could escape this before it all began. But I had no idea where she was, and the crowd was now even larger than it had been before. There was nothing I could do but endure whatever might come. I suppose I was a bit frightened by the whole scene, not knowing what might happen next.
But just when I was at this peak of emotional tension, I heard something very quietly in the background... something I had heard before... my ears strained to hear it. The lights began to dim, first to half-house and then out-full. Then I suddenly knew what I was hearing. It was the opening French horn melody from the Finale of Stravinsky's "Firebird," gradually increasing in volume until the grand orchestra was filling the arena with all its glory.
I couldn't believe it! The Firebird! This was music on which I had been raised! -- music I had played many times in the symphony, a ballet in which I had performed many times with the company! This was familiar territory! This was my Home Ground!
That was one of the most emotionally miraculous moments of my life!
The incredible release of the previous fearful tension was like a huge wave of freedom breaking over my heart. It suddenly seemed like this was all "just for me"... to put me at ease, to build my expectations positively, as if to say, "It's all right, Michele. This is going to be Great, and you're going to Love it!"
And I think that's when I started crying. I must have wept through most of the show, but they were tears of joy and great relief.
I remember the engineer sitting next to me at the soundboard leaned over and put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Are you okay?" All I could do was sniffle and nod and say, "Oh, yes! This is wonderful!" He smiled, patted my shoulder again, and went back to his knobs and faders. I guess he was used to this sort of thing.
But for me, it truly was a night of all nights. Everything astonishingly new! Everything totally marvelous!
The stage was completely dark when the Firebird ended. There was an unexpected musical transition in the darkness from the Wakeman keyboard rig. And then, with no warning whatsoever, the stage was suddenly blindingly filled with light, and *there* was Yes! -- ripping into "Siberian Khatru," louder than I'd ever heard it, stronger and more powerful than I had ever experienced it, practically lifting me out of my seat.
Suddenly before my very eyes was Jon Anderson, looking like an angel, swaying rhythmically, shifting his weight from one foot to the other in time to the music. And Steve Howe was one big energetic burst of expressiveness, totally into communicating through his instrument, his hair flying in every direction -- a force not to be contained. Chris Squire was much taller than I had imagined, looking very statuesque, lithe and strong -- handsome devil! -- turning and posing and almost leaping at the audience. He seemed very mischievous. And Alan White was pounding out the heartbeat of the song, his head bounding with every beat, totally enjoying himself.
My eyes drank in this colorful, rhythmical spectacle before me. But Rick Wakeman's golden cape was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen -- and I'd been around theatrical costuming my whole life. That head-to-toe golden, shimmering, sequined fabric, and Rick's incredibly long, blond hair bouncing with every beat, whipping from side to side as he turned from one keyboard to another -- this was the stuff of high DRAMA!
And not only that -- these guys were all *smiling*! They really seemed to love the music they were playing and the effect it was having on the audience. The audience of course was on its feet, cheering and waving and clapping. The audience was a secondary show all its own.
This was obviously not just any old rock concert. This was THEATER! And I loved it!
Nothing from that previous piddly Neal Diamond show prepared me in any way AT ALL for the total "Yes Live Experience." There was just no comparison. Yes in live concert is unlike any other group on the planet. Nothing equaled it then, and nothing equals it now. No band has ever been better!
The rest of that first concert was one moment of incredulity after another. Just when I thought the band couldn't top what they had just played, they blew me away with something even greater -- every song a masterpiece, every melody a miracle, every lyric a message straight to the heart....
Needless to say, I was deeply moved -- changed for a lifetime. Kay, as always, knew exactly what she was talking about. Thank you, Kay, for "forcing" that unforgettable evening into my life.
Sometimes it is good to remember those younger days -- even with all of their uncertainties, searching, fearful moments and immaturities. Knowing the path from which we came makes it easier to know where we are now. And life has never before been so clear and simple and positive. Walk in love, walk in light, and walk circumspectly. With Yes, it is an easier journey. Thank you, Yes, for all of the wonderful years… and all the years to come.