Like its finest songs, the saga of Yes’s line-up changes is a tangled epic, full of unexpected departures, risky detours and triumphant returns.
Fans of the pugnacious prog rockers are used to not knowing who’ll be playing the keyboards from one year to the next, but even the diehards feared the worst when Jon Anderson, the band’s frontman and spiritual leader, fell off the Yes roundabout for the second time.
The last time this happened, in 1980, the Accrington shaman was replaced by non-singing savant Trevor Horn, with mildly calamitous results.
Now it’s happened again. With veteran Yes men Chris Squire (bass), Steve Howe (guitar), Geoff Downes (keyboards) and Alan White (drums) on board, the music might still sound sublime, but without Anderson, is it Yes? Not really, I’d have said, before the band’s world tour rolled into De Montfort Hall with youngish American Jon (not John) Davison as frontman.
I was a doubter, but I couldn’t have been alone. Conscious of the need to sweeten the £35 deal for long-suffering devotees, the band opted to perform three of their best-loved albums in their entirety – Close to the Edge, Going for the One and The Yes Album.
An overwhelming torrent of classic songs from start to finish, then, tenderly played by the most ferociously dexterous of the great English prog bands – but would it be Yes?
Well, maybe. Davison certainly sounds like Anderson – he has the older man’s radiant, doe-eyed tenor off to a tee – but he’s no mere imitator. Rather than parrot the songs, he sings them with love and intelligence, allowing their joyous optimism to shine through. When he harmonises with Squire and Howe on the blissful And You And I, 1972 doesn’t seem all that far away.
Never renowned for bum notes, the rest of the band were in no mood to drop the ball and were magnificent throughout. Sparks flew when Howe and Squire combined for the stunning, bolero-like finale to Starship Trooper.
The reaction of a sold-out De Montfort Hall was ecstatic. A memorable night for devotees, then, but was it Yes? Hell, why not?
Wednesday, May 7, 2014 6:28 AM
I agree totally with the guy just before me. Jon Davidson was awesome and performed as if he had always been part of Yes, with such passion and humility. The highlights for me were all of The Yes Album, Geoff Downe's amazing skills (and his turquoise trousers!), Awaken (energised like never before), the aforementioned Jon D, and yet again the surreal skills of the fretmeister himself. Fingers crossed that next year will be Relayer, TFTO, beer break, then my favourite, Relayer. We can only dream.
Rick N Backer
Wednesday, May 7, 2014 5:37 AM
I've literally just got home from the show and want to send my thoughts out now before I get off to bed.
What an utterly amazing show. I've been with Yes by my side since 1974 and seen too many shows to count, but this one is way up there with the very very best of Yes. We started off in Row P in the stalls, my best mate and me and after three songs he declared that there were already three highlights. He was right. Jon nailed the vocals for all three CTTE pieces and the band were ROCKING. I hadn't experienced Khatru since 1978 and it was stupendous, with the whole band firing on al cylinders. Jon seemed to be having the time of his life and the band were animated, excited, together and faultless. The crowd though were a bit lost I felt and although reactions after each song were strong, they mostly sat stony faced and silent.
On swiftly to GFTO and by TotC there had been another highlight. It was clear from Chris' reaction to Jon afterwards that HE felt Jon had nailed that one too, and so it went. Awaken came and went with obviously Parallels and Stories in between, each of which had been delivered with note perfect voice and music. And Awaken, usually a massive highlight of its own, became, well, just another highlight! It was truly amazing with the harp played by Jon on a mini keyboard. Geoff came into his own on Awaken and I felt he'd perhaps been waiting for this one to flex his muscles, and he did it great justice.
During the break we had a quick de-brief and a beer, meeting up with our other pal who'd been sat in the front row on his own with a spare seat next to him for the ticket he couldn't sell. So we swapped over and sat beneath Chris, to whom we nodded, winked and waved throughout the second part of the show. I've had the privilege of being in this exact same position a few times and it's always the same. Make eye contact with him, offer a thumbs up and he's plays to you! I couldn't have asked for more.
The highlights kept on coming. ISAGP has become, well, a little tired for me of late. Not tonight though! Each song from TYA was played with a degree of enthusiasm and skill that I've never before seen. Too much to mention, but the highlight of highlights was Perpetual Change, which had a bucket load of power. Off for a breather then back for Roundabout, which I thought I'd tired of live. Got that wrong! Fantastic energy all the way to the last note.
This was Yes in a new light. There's something very special going on with the band right now that's hard to put into words. Theres energy and synergy. There's enthusiasm, skill, power and delicacy and a sense of friendship amongst the band on stage that hasn't always come across.
After all these years and a period of abandoning them live during the BD days I'm so pleased to have been able to see them tonight on a real high that bodes well for the future and the new album. I fully expect Heaven and Earth to have benefited from all this new spirit.
Too many highlights, too many star performances, but man of the match, without doubt and no arguments was Jon Davison. Jon, you really did nail it. Oh, and I got Chris' plectrum, so what more could I ask for.