On the fifth of August, I had the opportunity to catch Yes perform at the Bayou Music Center in Houston, Texas. Thanks to a client of mine I was provided with a meet and greet package and a front-row ticket. After all the years creating concert posters for the band, this was the best ticket I have ever had. My seat was right in front of Chris Squire's spot which sets it to be a bit to the right of center stage, a perfect place to be so as long as the sound mix is right. Everything seemed right except for the fact that I was still suffering a bit from jet-lag having flown back all the way from Dublin, Ireland just a few hours earlier.
To my surprise Yes had an opening act, a band of young men under the name Syd Arthur. Signed by Harvest Records, Syd Arthur proved to be a very good opening act mixing musical elements and styles in a creative way that managed to have a nostalgic retro-sound to some of their material.
About twenty minutes after the opening act played their last chord Yes hit the stage playing the album "Close to The Edge" in it's entirety. The only thing they did differently was to play the songs in backwards order, (couldn't figure out why but I assume it was to play the most popular song from it at the end and not at the beginning). For the most part they sounded very good, if anything just a little passive but then again, we are not talking about young lads here. The one thing that bothered me a little was how differently Geoff Downes played the organ solo on the title track. No, I don't expect it to be exactly as it was on the original recording but that solo is such an iconic piece of music that I wished he would have included more bits from the original composition into his interpretation. Other than that, there were certain keyboard patches chosen for the voices that I may have done a bit differently but overall, Downes did a great job commanding the keyboard station. Chris Squire was stellar as usual and Steve Howe showed his prowess at the guitars. Alan White kept the percussion pace but I must admit that he looked physically drained afterwards. I have seen him panting out of breath after finishing a set but this time he looked dizzy as he walked off the drum kit and into the front of the stage to take a bow. I guess it's a sign that none of us are getting any younger. Having said that, he pushed through every song without missing a single beat. I think he is actually under-rated considering how good he really is. You should cheek out Levin Torn White to hear Alan's creativity pushing the envelope.
This was my first time to see the band with Jon Davison on front. He's more than capable for the material and in a way it was refreshing to see some new blood in the band injecting some relative youthfulness into it. I felt Davison doesn't quite carry the same stage presence that Jon Anderson does and that felt a bit strange at times but in the end, it didn't really bother me as much as I thought originally and by mid-show I was already used to seeing Davison comfortably well as the singer. I was there for the music and the music's sake and the play list was nothing short of fantastic. "Close To The Edge" came first, then the band played two cuts from their latest album "Heaven & Earth". The first one being "Believe Again" followed by "The Game". After that, the band went through the whole album "Fragile". For an encore the band played "I've Seen All Good People" and "Starship Trooper".
For me it was fantastic to see gems like "Roundabout", "Siberian Khatru" and "Long Distance Runaround" being played from up close. I was also curious as to how Geoff Downes would pull off "Cans and Brahms" (he did so admirably well). The light set-up looked good and the band had three screens behind them changing graphics and animated backgrounds. In all, the show was good and befitting of a Yes show. It did made me hope for a future show where they would play "Relayer" from beginning to end.
My meet and greet pass came with some "goodies". My client had paid around $300.00 for my ticket and the M&G deal. For that amount I got a grey t-shirt with a one colour Yes logo on it that at best is worth $4.00. Meanwhile there were many people who were walking around with wonderful and colourful tour shirts that had intricate Roger Dean designs and whatnots. The second item was a "tote" bag shaped like a purse just to make sure that you, as a man, will never be seen in public with the bloody thing. The bag is also very cheap and is printed with what it looks like the exact same silk-screen they used on the shirts. Not what you would expect for three hundred bucks. A poster of the Heaven & Earth artwork was included in the package. Being a graphic type of guy, I appreciated the poster as the best of all the "goodies" in the package.
Once the concert ended they lined up the M&G pass holders into a wall as a man went through the procedures and disclaimers that came with the deal, some of them I still remember. "Only two items will be signed by the band. Steve Howe will not sign any musical instrument, any part of a musical instrument, any picks or anything made out of cloth" (although he would sign the cheap tote bag they provided). The man continued, "He will not be shaking hands with anyone nor come close to anyone". At least the rest of the band seemed fine with signing whatever thrown in front of them and gave the occasional handshake.
The first thing you do in the "meet and greet" is line up against the wall as the band stands near by against another wall for the "personalised" photograph. One by one in quick succession people are put in place in front of the band to have taken their picture with them. One shot, no do-overs and if you are caught looking to the side when the camera trigger goes off, though luck. After your photographic personal moment is gone, you are lined up again but this time to get your stuff signed by the band who by now are seated in some tables ahead of the line. People are shoved into the band members who are ready to autograph anything put in front of them (except for Steve Howe as noted).
When my turn arrived to "meet" the band, I first encountered Chris Squire. I have met Chris several times in the past as I used to do graphic work for some of their shows in the past. Now, I don't expect to be remembered because all those meetings were always short and people like them have hundreds of such meetings throughout the years which to be fair, it's completely understandable not to remember a particular person they only see every few years. I though that instead of getting things autographed, I would just to talk to Chris a bit about things like working with Billy Sherwood who I know still is a good friend of his. He seemed confused that I didn't want anything signed and offered to sign my laminate and tote bag. I told him that I wasn't seeking any autographs (which I wasn't) for which he replied: "That's very nice but I can sign that thing there" (pointing to the laminate) It felt a bit awkward so I ended up just handing him the laminate and after he signed it he said, "I can sign the bag too. You get two things signed you know". Ok? I gave him my bag, he signed it and so did the rest of the band. Once I mentioned Billy's name to him he asked me what was Billy doing for me which I replied "He's playing guitars in one of my albums". "Good!" and that was the extent of my meet and greet with Chris Squire. The whole thing was a little strange. I had met Geoff Downes earlier this year over at the NAMM convention in California. He was next at the table and so we talked a little about that and then I moved on to Alan White who still seemed to be a bit tired and did not spoke much (although he did smile). I had never met Jon Davison before but we have some acquaintances in common and so we talked a little bit about them. The last band member to see was Steve Howe but after so many disclaimers I didn't quite know what to tell him so I just said "fantastic show" and moved to the left were I was shown which way was the way out of the venue. No need to hang around, after all your ticket it's only worth $300.00 I was lucky to have been invited by a good client of mine who knows I am a fan but, many people paid lots of money for this. My take on it? It's not worth $300.00. You don't have enough time to meet and greet anybody. It's more like push, shove, rush and get out (and none of it done by you).
Now, to be fair to the band members, they are not responsible for the meet & greet set-up. That's a management thing, another layer of getting more revenue out of a show. I think for the most part the band members are fine with chatting to the folks out there. Sure, there were some of the fans that in my opinion go way overboard with their own brand of fanaticism but, that's to be expected. In short, Yes still has it, they still can rock the house and they have a great deal going by playing some of their best albums in full. The meet and greet? Maybe it's a thing more geared towards those ultra-fanatics who get giddy just at the knowledge of being in the same building with their heroes. For most people (even including many hardcore fans), it's not worth to be treated like cattle after paying a great sum of money. It also doesn't provide you enough time to really engage the band members in conversation which to me, it's what "meeting and greeting" means. Well, at least I got a nice photo with the band out of the deal thing (although I had to retouch it because I didn't find the door hardware necessarily attractive. I also added Roger Dean's logo in the corner which makes it look more "official" than the official item).
I would love to meet the band again under different circumstances. For the time being, I'll stick with just going to the show for the music. They excel at that!