Yes pleases fans old and new on its current tour “You have to kind of balance it out with the old and the new.”
By Bill Kopp
Currently there are two bands touring as Yes. Long story short, after more than a dozen lineup shakeups and less-than-ceremonious splits, the group now tours in two iterations. Both feature longtime members of the progressive-rock band: the group calling itself “Yes featuring ARW” includes original singer Jon Anderson, celebrated keyboard virtuoso Rick Wakeman, and Trevor Rabin, guitarist in the band 1982-94. The other band — simply known as Yes — is led by guitarist Steve Howe; he’s not the group’s original guitarist, but he joined in 1970.
The Steve Howe-led Yes features several musicians who’ve been with the band — admittedly on and off — for a very long while: drummer Alan White (45 years), bassist Billy Sherwood (7 years, hand-picked by founding bassist Chris Squire as his replacement before Squire’s 2015 death), vocalist Jon Davison (5 years) and keyboardist Geoff Downes (9 years).
Downes, who featured most prominently on two of Yes’ finest albums (1980’s Drama and Fly From Here in 2011), appreciates that a Yes concert in 2017 has to be carefully put together to appeal to a diverse fanbase. “You have to kind of balance it out with the old and the new, if you like,” he tells City Paper in a phone interview. “And I think we do a fair job of that.”
Yes’ set is designed to satisfy all kinds of fans.
When Alan White joined in 1972, he was effectively thrown in the deep end. “Learning the whole repertoire in three days was quite an exciting challenge for me,” he tells CP. “And in fact, the first show I seemed to play most things right!”
After all these years, White has a hard time picking a favorite Yes tune. At first, he mentions a track from 1972’s Close to the Edge. “Playing ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ for instance is a great experience,” he offers, adding, “Oh boy, I could go on: ‘Sound Chaser’ and ‘Gates of Delirium’ from Relayer .”
Yes released 10 albums of new material between 1969 and 1980. And on this “Yestival” tour — coming to the Palace Theatre on Aug. 16 — it will play one song from each of those records, in chronological order. That’s likely to include anything from big hits (possibly “Roundabout” or “Long Distance Runaround” from 1971’s Fragile) to fan favorites (perhaps the entire album-side-long “Ritual” from Tales From Topographic Oceans).
Yes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, one of few progressive rock groups to be included. And while they’re honored at the recognition, veteran members of the band view it with some bemusement. “You become eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when you’re 25 years [old as a] band,” Alan White says. “And it’s been almost 25 years since that happened to us!”
And Downes believes Yes still has plenty to say as a band as it approaches its 50th anniversary next year. Even though the lineup has gone through many iterations — a hardcore Yes fan might refer to it as “Perpetual Change” (a song off 1971’s The Yes Album) — Downes says that “it’s the focus of the central core of musicians that really carries the torch.”