Can a band that’s been around more than 40 years really hit the heights of yesteryear?
In the case of Yes, the answer is…well, you know.
Last night in Rama, Ontario, the band (one of my favourites) kicked off their summer tour, which also serves as a North American introduction to their new lead singer, Jon Davison, who has some pretty big shoes to fill. Did he do it? Find out after the jump? Yes In 2012 (left to right) – Chris Squire, Alan White, Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, Jon Davison
Realistically, no fan likes the idea of a lead singer being replaced. In the grand scheme of rock and roll, it has only been successfully done a handful of times (AC/DC, Van Halen, Genesis). The thing about Yes is, the band is not looking to hit the top of the charts or score a number one single. Instead, they are looking to perform live and bring their music, both old and new, to a still hardcore group of fans. Unfortunately for some, founding member Jon Anderson isn’t along for the ride for various reasons not worth getting into, mainly because new singer Jon Davison is breathing a unbelieveable amount of life into the band.
On stage at Casino Rama, Davison wasn’t the new guy on stage. He wasn’t a fish out of water. He was the singer in Yes. And he was spectacular. With a natural tenor, he hit the highest of notes with an ease previous Anderson stand-in Benoit David simply couldn’t muster (no slight to Canadian David, who contributed vocals to the bands 2011 studio album Fly From Here, their best in 30 years). Davison, with his long hair and hippyish attire, looked the part, but more than looking like he fit, he sounded like he’d been in Yes for years, handling classic material like Yours Is No Disgrace and Heart of The Sunrise as though he’d written those melodies and words himself.
While the other members of the band (Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White) were their reliable, musically brilliant selves, for me, the night belonged to Davison and keyboardist Geoff Downes. No doubt, I have a personal bias here, as Downes is one of my favourite keyboardists (along with a recent Biff Bam Pop interview subject), but seeing him for the first time in Yes was simply a personal highlight. Like Davison, he played those classic Yes songs as though he’d created them, which is to say, flawlessly.
For me, the highlight of the night came when the band played their 1977 epic Awaken. To give you some context, this is not one of my favourite Yes pieces. I’ve never really been able to connect with it. Further to that, the middle section, a melding of harp and organ, has always felt like a very quintessential Rick Wakeman/Jon Anderson moment – two guys who aren’t in Yes anymore. I wasn’t looking forward to hearing Awaken when I found out it was part of the set. However, by the time the long piece was complete, I had a tear in my eye. It was simply astounding what Jon Davison and Geoff Downes were able to accomplish – they made that middle moment, not to mention the rest of the song, their own.
Yes has a very vocal fan base online, one that often seems as though they’d rather tear down or complain about group line-ups and set lists rather than simply embrace the band at what they choose to do and who they do it with. To them, I say, chill out. In 2012, the line-up of Yes that I saw perform last night (my lucky 13th show) isn’t Classic Yes. To me, it’s Ultimate Yes. Four virtuoso musicians, including a superstar keyboardist with a personality to match his bandmates, and a unbelievbly talented singer who, in being himself, managed to be the perfect Yes singer for the perfect Yes line-up for the 2010′s.
Thursday, April 18, 2013 8:15 AM
"YES – Casino Rama, Orillia – July 10, 2012"
Review by Darren Eagles
UK prog-rock icons, Yes, took the stage at Casino Rama this past Tuesday evening for their only Canadian date, to kick off their 29-city North America Summer 2012 tour. The house was full of eager fans, mostly from the era when the classic Yes catalogue was unveiled. However, there were a few kids and grandkids of the young adult vintage that listened wide-eyed to the musical melting pot that is a Yes show.
The band took the stage without an opening act and dove right into “Yours Is No Disgrace” from the classic 1971 “The Yes Album”. Yes, of late, has been playing this one at a noticeably slower tempo than the original, but they still nailed all of its nuances and intricacies. They followed up with a regular tempo version of “Tempus Fugit” from the greatly underrated 1980 release “Drama”.
Early in the show, veteran Yes bassist Chris Squire introduced the band’s new lead vocalist to us. This would be Jon Davison’s first-ever Canadian Yes show. Former lead vocalist and Canadian, Benoit David, had to leave the band in February 2012 due to respiratory issues. A cursory glance at internet blogs and forums on Yes, depicts a divided fan base on whether the band should even be touring without original signer Jon Anderson. If this show was any indication whether Jon Davison was the right man for the job, the band got it right. With shoulder length hair, a 60’s inspired patterned shirt and tight bellbottom pants, he looked the part. Trying to achieve the sound and shape of another person’s vocal style across the vast scope of a band’s work is nearly impossible. But Davison seemed to be effortlessly doing just that. And the similarity is uncanny. He was nailing the full palate of what Anderson originally laid out previously. Having seen Yes performances with Anderson, Davison was a welcome surprise and made for a wonderful show.
After a rousing rendition of “I’ve Seen All Good People” resulting in a near perfect grade for Davison, Squire mentioned that Yes is a band that creates long opus’ such as “Close To The Edge” and the band wanted to play their latest for the audience. The title track of their 2011 release, “Fly From Here” is surely an opus, clocking in at over 23 minutes, and takes the listener on a musical journey in the styles of classic Yes. The members have been sculpting notes into masterpieces for over 40 years, and seeing a band of this caliber come out with significant and relevant music after all this time is uplifting. Squire played a modified bass guitar fitted with a long pole stand which allowed it to be played like a classical standup bass for this song.
The show wasn’t without its gaffs though. Timing and sync was off slightly here and there, but not too noticeably. After all, it was their first show in almost 2 months, so the dust had to be blown off a bit. And guitar virtuoso, Steve Howe could be seen counting Davison in during some portions of the arrangements. As the show progressed the polish and musicianship shone through.
This performance brought us through the 80’s with “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” back to 1977 with UK top ten hit “Wonderous Stories” and even further back to 1971 with “Heart Of The Sunrise” from “Fragile”. Classic Yes album cover artist, Roger Dean’s timeless images flashed across the rear video screen throughout the show, offering an animated version of many of the covers. The main set ended with the 15-minute track, “Awaken” from Going For The One. This one was taken from way back in the vault, and the band played it flawlessly. It came across with a slightly harder edge than the studio recording, and that was for the better. Squire broke out his backbreaking triple neck bass/bass/guitar for this one as well and wielded it with power and fury.
After a short break, the band returned with Howe’s familiar harmonic guitar notes from “Round