There was a buzz in the air for Yes fans in Milwaukee last week when after 34 years from their inception all of the original members of the prog-rock band assembled onstage together. They were all there amid the blinding strobes and flashes of luminnessic light - vocalist Jon Anderson, guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire, drummer Alan White, along with keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who's name seemed to be on most people's lips that night.
Other than Howe's mesmerising leads and Squire's motivational attack on his instrument, the reunion proved less than the welcome homecoming that most had hoped for, however. Anderson still had the voice from some time ago, even if, at a constant pitch and tone, it didn't vary much thoughtout the night. Wakeman, showed little signs of emotion, despite a slight smile that emerged once or twice during the second set. He gave hints of "Toccata and Fugue" on his keys before breaking into what sounded like a soundtrack to a 1970s Roger Corman sci-fi flick.
"Hearts of the Sunrise" started with a feverish entrance only to peter into a mellow ending, while on "Long Distance Runaround/Whitefish" Wakeman's hands fevorishly moved in a blurred semi circle over the keys, but soon became tetouse and overdone. "Yours Is No Disgrace" and "Awaken" were likewise dragged out to the point of obnonixness. There were quite a few parents, standing and clapping throughout the show, who made the mistake of bringing their children. Judging from the somber looks on the seated youngsters faces this was a show with no end in sight. There were a few strongpoints throughout their performance, though, such as "Close to the Edge" and "Don't Kill the Whale," which proved to be the highlights of the evening.
At $61.50 for a decent seat to see a band way past their prime who were unable to generate any real steam, I'll just have to say 'no' to Yes the next time they roll through town.
Core music endures despite distractions at Yes concert By JON M. GILBERTSON
By progressive-rock standards, the one indisputably excessive thing about the Yes concert at the Riverside Theatre on Friday night was the ticket price: $61.50. (Mind you, this was row H, seat 101, right by the aisle.)
Then again, by prog-rock standards, a 10-minute keyboard solo, usually known by musician and fanatic alike as an "exploration," is considered a bit of a truncated performance. Still, the British quintet mostly kept things tidy during the Milwaukee stop of a tour celebrating or at least marking its 34th year of existence.
Which isn't to say some of the exuberance didn't spill over into overindulgence. After all, legendary keyboardist Rick Wakeman had returned to the band, and with his dextrous hands placed on the other side of the stage from those of guitarist Steve Howe, the opportunity for solos/explorations was doubled, perhaps even trebled.
Furthermore, Wakeman hunched inside a semicircle of more than half a dozen keyboards, arranged in two-tiered formation, and he had to find a way to use each of them. Meanwhile, a roadie kept wheeling different guitars in front of Howe so that he didn't even have to unstrap his electric to play an acoustic or pedal steel alternative. Wakeman was no Oscar Peterson (or Ben Folds or Warren Zevon), and Howe was certainly no Jimi Hendrix (or Richard Thompson or Wayne Kramer), but they kept their sounds varied and interesting.
Meanwhile, closer to stage center, Jon Anderson sang with the same hoarse, reedy and oddly appealing voice he's used since the beginning. Likewise, the passage of time hadn't taken much of the low counterpoint from fellow Yes founding member Chris Squire's backing vocals, and his bass playing retained the tiny funkiness that long ago became a band trademark. (Combined with Alan White's comparatively modest but steady drumming, Squire's bass also kept up the momentum when the vaunted virtuosos got bogged down.)
So some things about Yes aged well. Others did not. The band's mystical side hadn't grown any less mush-headed since ye olde hippie daze of the '60s and '70s. The lyrics constantly masked vagueness as profundity. And from "Long Distance Runaround" to "Close to the Edge" and "Heart of the Sunrise," the best-remembered songs gradually but inevitably merged into a single track of a circular, faux-intricate melody more technically constructed than artistically achieved.
However, Yes almost packed the Riverside, leaving only a couple of back rows empty, and almost everyone in the audience went absolutely nuts. Standing ovations were more common than trips to the bathroom.
Perhaps the crowd reaction was another excessive thing about the show. Then again, by prog-rock standards, no one was on hallucinogens.
The preconcert crowd was very pumped. I had gotten the tix about 2 weeks prior after a ticketmaster email alert of "concerts in Wisconsin". I hadn't followed any Yes coverage, didn't know they were touring and wasn't even sure what the lineup was until I bought a Tour Program. I was floored that it was the complete "Classic Yes" lineup including Rick Wakeman (I love his solo stuff).
When the lights dimmed and the sweet rise of Firebird Suite started I couldn't believe it. As a spotlight slowly lit Steve and he exacted the smooth note opening of Siberian Khatru followed by Rick's fast keyboard work and Jon's perfect voice, I knew we were in for a treat.
The band is tight and Jon's voice is remarkable in sounding identical to Yessongs. God these guys are good.
Starship Trooper as a closer was fantastic.
I would like to have heard Roundabout for my girlfriend's benefit since it was the only song she would have been familiar with (and it's an awesome, timeless piece). I hope they come back through here - perhaps in the summer. I'd love to see them headline a night at Milwaukee's famed Summerfest in July.
Don't miss this tour! They sound like they did 25 years ago and I really sense they are enjoying themselves. They aren't phoning it in, they are working to make it a peak experience for the audience. This night they suceeded.