Looks can be deceiving. A professor of English, three mates you might find at a pub throwing back a few while enjoying the local football match (non-American) on television and their young, wide eyed nephew should not comprise one of the longest lasting, innovative, most successful progressive rock groups in history. Yet Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Alan White, Geoff Downes and Jon Davison, collectively known as Yes, took the stage on Friday, August 17, 2012 at the Talking Stick Resort Ballroom in Scottsdale and delivered a powerhouse two hour set that showed that forty plus years of touring has done nothing to diminish what this band can bring.
As blinding blue lights shot into the audience, Howe's chords and Squire's distinctive bass line that opens "Yours is No Disgrace" brought the sold out crowd to its feet. The opening song was a testament to what makes Yes who they are, great harmonies, virtuoso guitar playing, complex drumming, innovative bass playing, multiple keyboard work and marathon length songs.
On audition for the Scottsdale gathering was newcomer vocalist Jon Davison who, due to an illness of singer Benoît David, had just joined Yes in February. David had taken over the vocal duties for Yes in 2008 replacing long time vocalist Jon Anderson who, according to the band, had also been sidelined due to illness.
Comparisons between Davison and Anderson will be certain but Yes is in good hands vocally with Davison. In addition to hitting all the high notes, Davison showed his versatility by playing various percussion, acoustic guitar and keyboards throughout the night. When introduced by Squire after the band's stirring version of "Tempus Fugit," Davison received a standing ovation. Davison had passed the Scottsdale audition.
Long time concert favorite "I've Seen All Good People," brought the crowd again to their feet and for the "All Good People" segment, the house lights went up showing a crowd that was happily swaying and clapping along.
Thankfully added back to Yes' concert set list mix was their cover version of Simon and Garfunkle's "America." Once again Howe got to show off his guitar skills, Downes showed why he is considered one of rock's greatest keyboard players and White and Squire pounded away as one would expect of two artists also considered among the best of their craft.
One constant of the evening was that no matter how great the others were around him, Steve Howe's guitar prowess drew your eyes back to him time and time again. His acoustic guitar solo was mesmerizing, as it has been for years. It's a joy to watch his ability.
Howe introduced Yes' latest epic, the "Fly From Here" suite, as the largest piece Yes has ever done. That's saying a lot when the concert opener, "Yours is No Disgrace," lasted almost fifteen minutes. Downes was showcased often throughout the number, which is not surprising given that he co-wrote the over twenty minute long opus. He played at least six different keyboards in just the opening two minutes of the suite's "Overture."
Because "Fly From Here," comes from Yes' latest 2011 CD release, it will continue to replace "Close to the Edge" in concert as the group's longest song. It's a worthy replacement.
Not that he was ever off, but Davison's voice seemed to gain power as the evening progressed. By the time Yes played "Heart of the Sunrise" and "Awaken," Davison was at his best. The former song featured Squire as he made his way around the stage interacting with each band member.
For "Awaken" Squire brought out his triple neck bass guitar and once again, every band member got some well-deserved I'll show you what I got time. "Awaken" remains one of Yes' best songs and was an appropriate show ender.