I Went to See “Yes” Last Night. Can the Old Rockers Still Cut It?
Classic prog-rockers on their “Close to the Edge” 50th anniversary tour in York, UK.
There’s ongoing controversy around veteran rock bands and artists who are now in the twilight of their long careers?
Should these hoary old rockers retire (semi) gracefully and vacate the stage?
Is it (past) time for them to stop pretending they can still rock out as they could fifty years ago?
Or do they still have a worthwhile and enduring place within the rock and prog world?
I’ll be honest. These were the kinds of questions swirling around in my mind when I was considering pulling the trigger on ticket concerts for the 2022 Yes Tour a few months ago.
I’ve never seen Yes — and they are probably the only classic progressive rock band from that era whom I could still see at this point. All the other bands from the early 70s are either long gone to “the great gig in the sky” — or I’ve already seen them.
And that was a consideration. How long can Yes realistically still keep playing? In other words — if not now, when?
But then there are all the naysayers with their repeated mantras about “No Jon Anderson, no Yes” or “It’s not Yes without Chris Squire.”
Would I regret going to see the band — and possibly spoil my mental image of a classic progressive rock band in their pomp? Would I just be better at sticking with listening to Yessongs and filling in the blanks in my head?
My hand hovered over the ‘Buy Ticket’ button for a couple of weeks.
Finally, I whipped out my credit card and smashed ‘Buy.’
And so I made my way, along with my long-suffering non-prog wife, to York last evening. This was the sixth night in a ten-date UK tour celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the legendary Close to the Edge album, which the band promised to play in full for the first time since 1972.
I’ll be honest — I nearly bottled going earlier in the week when scratchy clips of an earlier concert in Glasgow appeared on YouTube. They sounded bloody awful — and people rapidly filled the comment sections of those clips with bile towards the band for tarnishing “their legacy”.
I dared to believe that sticking an iPhone into the air probably doesn’t give the most favourable impression of the concert experience — a view confirmed when the respected Classic Rock Reviews YouTube channel posted a review of the Nottingham concert a couple of days later assuring listeners he’d had a terrific experience at the concert.
So, let’s get into my review of Yes at The Barbican Theatre in York on Wednesday, June 22.
The lights dimmed, and a grey-haired figure ambled onto the stage and began to talk about Yes album covers. I’m assuming it was Roger Dean — the legendary album cover designer — although I’d never seen so much as a photo of him before.
After bumbling through an anecdote about the famous Yes logo, he muttered, “Well, I don’t know what else to tell you, really” and shuffled off stage right.
Next, we had a short video tribute to Alan White who died last month, with the music of Turn of the Century, one of his few Yes compositions. Straight into the traditional intro music of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite whilst the band entered and we’re into the opening song, On the Silent Wings of Freedom.
It felt like an oddly low-key beginning — the juxtaposition of words, tribute, intro music, and a little-known song from Tormato and, as confirmed by Steve Howe, not played live for more than 40 years.
At this stage, I sensed a palpable lack of energy from the crowd, but then the band crashed straight into the opening chords of Yours Is No Disgrace, and the energy levels suddenly skyrocketed.
It felt like the concert began in earnest at this point.
From there, the band took us on a jaunt through a collection of songs from the band’s storied history. We went from No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed from 1970s Time and a Word — complete with the crowd-pleasing theme from The Big Country — right through to two songs from 2021's The Quest album.
The new material was warmly enough received — but crowd response jumped a notch when the band segued into Heart of the Sunrise, so it was obvious where the affinity of this crowd lay.
Indeed, one only had to look around to confirm this. I’m 63 years old and I’d estimate I was a good couple of years below the median age of the assembled throng.
All of this meant that we welcomed the interval which followed — and given the queues which immediately formed outside the restroom, I wasn’t the only person struggling to… ummm… control my bladder through the length of the concert.
The second half was the centrepiece of the tour — a full rendition of Close to the Edge in all its magnificence. Since this is by common consent among classic prog fans in the top echelon progressive rock albums of all time, this was a genuine treat for us.
I’ve gotta confess I nerded out sitting there listening to the different sections of Close to the Edge itself — I Get Up, I Get Down was a particular highlight. And You and I was fantastic. Steve Howe swapped effortlessly between his regular Gibson, an acoustic guitar, and his Fender lap steel. Truly a master at work.
After a spirited rendition of Siberian Khatru, the third and final track from Close to the Edge, we were down to the encores — a rousing version of Roundabout, wrapping up with the crowd-pleasing Starship Trooper.
So, what did I make of my first experience of Yes playing live?
Well, we have to be honest. This is a band in the sunset of a lengthy career. I mean Steve Howe is 75 years old, for heaven’s sake!
He could legitimately put his (Gibson) cue on the rack and sit at home — instead, he’s touring the country playing complex prog rock for the best part of three hours a night.
Thank you, Steve.
The sound was excellent, but there were flaws in the performance that couldn’t really be covered up from the sound desk. Whereas plenty of know-it-alls in YouTube comments don’t seem to make allowances, I can.
I didn’t expect Yes to be at the absolute peak of their 1970s powers — and they weren’t. But they provided an entertaining evening of high-quality music, which I greatly enjoyed.
Then there’s the ever-present elephant in the room that we must address. Is this really Yes? Or are they now a Yes tribute band?
The short answer is they are Yes.
Lots of bands change lineups over time and Yes has changed more than most. Wikipedia lists more than 20 musicians who have played with the band — including six keyboard players. It’s a myth that there ever was a Yes lineup so sacrosanct that any other has to be disqualified.
I heard people say this tour shouldn’t have gone ahead with Alan White — but Alan White didn’t even play on Close to the Edge. Bill Bruford played on that record, leaving for King Crimson before the tour.
Then we have the “Yes shouldn’t exist without Chris Squire” argument.
Yet Squire himself called Alan White before he died and urged that Yes should continue if anything happened to him.
So where does that leave us?
The way I see it is this.
The band obviously wants to continue playing tours and making new music. The theatre last night was as close to its 2,000 capacity as makes no difference, so there are clearly people who will pay to come and see them play.
So what’s the issue?
If people were walking out of the shows and demanding refunds because the shows were delivered at an unacceptable standard, that would be one thing.
But I saw almost 2,000 people give Yes a rousing standing ovation last night.
So, if you are one of those people who think Yes should have ended when Jon Anderson no longer wanted to be in the band, then fine. You are entitled to that opinion. Be happy with your memories and album collection.
But why go out of your way to spoil the enjoyment of those who want to enjoy what the band offers? What possible benefit do you get from raining on people’s parades like that?
Meanwhile, if you get the chance to catch the band at a venue near you, I think you’d have an enjoyable experience. Realistically, they won’t be around for that much longer — so catch them whilst you can.
Check out my “Then and Now” piece where I compare two Yes albums 50 years apart — the classic 1971 Fragile, with their most recent recording The Quest.