To celebrate their 50th anniversary, seminal prog rockers and 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees, YES, continued what has become their annual trek through the Bay Area last night with their appearance at the City National Civic in San Jose. With minor changes from last years’ line-up, the band this year was comprised of Steve Howe on guitar (since 1970), Alan White (who first joined in 1972) and Jay Schellen (since 2016) both on drums, Billy Sherwood on bass (who’s been performing with the band since the ‘90s and was hand-picked by original founding bassist Chris Squire), Jon Davison on vocals (since 2011), Geoff Downes (who first joined in 1980) and Tony Kaye (the only original founding member from 1968) both on keyboards. The band, as in years past, went without a show opener and kicked-off promptly at 7:30pm to a venue roughly three-quarters full and made-up of one of the most loyal fanbases I’ve ever witnessed.
As I’ve learned to expect and embrace from what I’ll call, "Steve Howe's" YES, the night featured a wide range of songs from across their 21 album catalog — and as you’ll see from the setlist below, the 15 songs came from roughly half of those 21 albums! This wasn’t meant to be a ‘greatest hits’ show, but a celebration of the diversity of styles across the bands 50 year history, and an homage to the late Chris Squire who passed away in 2015. Although Steve rarely spoke throughout the night, he made an effort to speak about the importance and impact Chris had on the legacy of YES before the band launched into “Parallels”, played in tribute to Chris Squire.
This was the band’s 10th show since they kicked off the tour a few weeks ago, so I’ll give them some leeway on how this set came together, but to be honest, the first half of the first set, was still a little rough around the edges. I’m not sure if it was the mix for the room, or the amount of practice that the band put into those early songs, but it wasn’t until the second half of the first set that things started to gel and come together. The energy from both the crowd and band members onstage just wasn’t there in the early part of the night, but all that changed with “Fly From Here, Part 1; We Can Fly.” From that point forward, it seemed like the band was on the same page, and the crowd was noticeably more engaged during “Sweet Dreams” and “Heart of the Sunrise” which concluded the first set.
After a brief 20 minute intermission, the band re-emerged with “Perceptual Change”, “Does It Really Happen?”, and “Soon”, all which -- along with the first set -- had been performed with Jay Schellen behind the drums. But that changed when Jay stepped back out of the massive drum kit and let Steve ask Alan White to join them for “Awaken.” Jay stayed onstage throughout the song and took up the tambourines next to the drum kit to keep the energy going.
“Awaken” closed the second set and the band broke for a quick break before returning for the encore. During the intermission, I’d overheard several people in the audience talking about Alan White’s expected appearance later in the show, but I didn't get the impression that it was widely known that Tony Kaye was touring with the band and would take the stage during their encore. When the band re-emerged, Steve invited Tony out to center stage where a Roland VK-8 keyboard was ready and waiting... in addition to the crowd who was now on their feet. The newly formed 7-piece capped a 2-hour+ night with fan favorites "Yours Is No Disgrace", "Roundabout", and the show closer, "Starship Trooper".
With the exception of the shakey start, YES put on a great show and it was fantastic to see Tony Kaye perform with the band that he founded 50 years ago. I'd add that I'm always blown away by the way Jon Davison is able to channel (original founding vocalist) Jon Anderson's alto-tenor vocals and tone; and last night was no exception. If you close your eyes, you'd be hard pressed to distinguish the two from each other.
So, if you're reading this outside of the Bay Area, be sure to check their tour schedule here to see if/when they're coming to your city.