Review by: Michael Senft (Special for the Republic | azcentral.com)
Thirty-five years ago, punk rock was supposed to be a meteor that drove prog-rock dinosaurs into extinction. But in 1978, the kings of prog, Yes, embarked on one of their most successful tours, playing over 40 arenas “in the round” across America, including a memorable show at the ASU Activity Center.
But in 2013, and despite all fashion, the Sex Pistols are gone and Yes have survived. A lot has changed since the prog-rock kings bid farewell to the ’70s in such grandiose fashion. Hairlines have receded and the two most recognizable members of Yes are no longer present — elfin singer Jon Anderson and flamboyant keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman.
And though they aren’t commanding the crowds they did in 1978, Yes still played in the round when they visited the Celebrity Theatre on Tuesday, July 9.
Anderson, who was sidelined in 2006 after a nasty lung infection kept him from touring, has been replaced twice —first by tribute-band singer Benoit David, who was also dismissed from the band after suffering a debilitating lung infection, and now by name-alike Jon Davison, of Christian prog-rockers Glass Hammer. Wakeman, who was briefly replaced by his son Oliver, now sees his keyboard stool occupied by Geoff Downes, the former Buggle and Asia founder who originally replaced Wakeman in 1979.
But Steve Howe’s nimble fretwork and bassist Chris Squire’s thunderous low-end still anchor Yes as they jumped on the “perform an album in its entirety” bandwagon. In typical prog-rock fashion, Yes expanded this now-clichéd nostalgia concept to three-times its original size, performing three entire albums — 1971’s “The Yes Album”, 1973’s “Close to the Edge” and 1977’s “Going for the One.”
Because most of Yes’ most popular repertoire is drawn from these three albums, the show did not miss many of their highpoints — “I’ve Seen All Good People,” “Starship Trooper,” “Yours is No Disgrace,” “And You and I” were all included. And a couple rarely played gems surfaced as well — “A Venture” from “The Yes Album” had never been performed live before this tour.
Taking the stage to a video collage set to the familiar strains of Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” Yes opened the show with the “Close to the Edge” album. Easily the band’s finest waxing, and indeed one of the pinnacles of prog, the album opened with the epic 20-minute title track, which earned an immediate standing ovation — one of many throughout the night.
“Going for the One” provided the weakest portion of the evening. The least of the three albums, it also provoked the biggest bathroom/beer/smoke exodus of the evening. The rocking title track has never been one of Yes’ strongest tunes, and the mostly acoustic “Turn of the Century” stalled the show’s momentum. But “Wonderous Stories,” which featured Howe on lute, and the magnificent “Awaken” — which closed the first set —were highlights of the evening. “Awaken” is arguably Yes’s finest moment, and even though it was missing Wakeman’s church organ and Anderson’s light harp, it still soared.
After a 20-minute break, Yes returned strongly for the final album of the evening. “The Yes Album” marked Howe’s debut with the band and marked Yes’s transition from psychedelic ’60s to cosmic prog, through songs like “Yours Is No Disgrace.” Howe’s intricate guitar work was prominent, from the rollicking acoustic workout “Clap” to the soaring closing of “Starship Trooper.” “A Venture” featured a solo from Downes, and “I’ve Seen All Good People” had the audience dancing.
Of course, none of those three albums included Yes’ biggest hits — “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “Roundabout.” An encore performance of “Roundabout” covered that omission, but “Owner,” Yes’ New Wave-influenced smash from 1983’s “90125,” was absent. Not that the mostly boomer crowd — who were there to relive Yes’ ’70s heyday — cared.