Iconic prog rock band Yes played a 'dress rehearsal' show at Mickey's Black Box; here are takeaways from the show
Kevin Stairiker October 7, 2022
For nearly half a century, the English prog rock icons in Yes have been coming to Lititz to rehearse for upcoming tours. Usually these are private affairs, opportunities for the band to fine tune anything that needs work before unveiling it to the public.
That was the case until Thursday night, when the band played a “dress rehearsal” concert for friends and family of TAIT employees at Mickey’s Black Box a night before the tour officially kicks off at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, just north of Philadelphia. The show was also advertised to the Yes fan club. According to Mickey's Black Box general manager Margaret Cooper, roughly 400 people attended.
Michael Tait, whose history with the band dates back to 1968 when a chance bar encounter led to his 13-year tenure as the band's tour manager, sound engineer and lighting designer, introduced the band.
“I was there when the magic got made,” Tait said onstage, describing Yes as the “foundation” of TAIT. “What Frankie Valli was to the Clair brothers, Yes was for TAIT.”
Here are some takeaways from the show:
White looms large
After Tait’s introduction, a short dedication to Yes’ drummer, Alan White, who died in May of this year, played on the three video screens behind the stage. This marked both Yes’ first official show in the United States in three years and the first with drummer Jay Schellen as a member of the touring band.
Schellen has subbed for White at various Yes shows dating back to 2016, and it shows – for a band whose music is often regarded as highly complex, a drummer can’t just show up and play along, hoping not to stick out, and Schellen does not. Guitarist Steve Howe, currently the longest tenured member of the band, also gave White a shoutout between songs.
Though Tait gave a warning at the beginning that the band might stop and start due to the rehearsal nature of the performance, that never ended up happening. Other than perhaps the size of the venue, there was little indication that the band wasn't firing on all cylinders in time for the “Close to the Edge 50th Anniversary” tour.
Howe, ever nimble at 75, shredded vociferously on several guitars, rarely missing a step. It was hard not to keep an eye on keyboardist Geoff Downes and his – count ‘em - nine keyboards, stacked and ready to pump out some of the iconic riffs from “Yours is No Disgrace” and “Heart of the Sunrise.”
"I get up, I get down"
After a first set sampling of cuts from albums including “Relayer,” “Tormato” and “Going for the One,” Yes took a quick intermission before returning for the main event – the 1972 classic “Close to the Edge,” in full.
It’s difficult to fathom an album like “Close to the Edge” ever reaching #3 on the Billboard Top 200, and yet, the challenging-but-deeply-satisfying set of three long songs did just that back in the day. Current Yes vocalist Jon Davison really shone during this part of the set, channeling the album’s original vocalist and fellow Jon, Jon Anderson, to a tee.
Whenever a band starts to lose members and continue on with the original name, it’s easy to feed into the ever-contentious debate of whether the new guys “sound like” or even “feel like” the originals. Yes is a perfect example of a musical Ship of Theseus – how much can be taken away or replaced before you’re left with something completely different?
I’m happy to report that the current incarnation of Yes, rounded out by Billy Sherwood on bass, absolutely did the trick, straddling the line between trying to play note for note but not sounding exactly like the studio versions. Judging by the reactions from the crowd – fists pumping, no less than 10 standing ovations, including for all three parts of “Close to the Edge,” - it was a common feeling.
Near the end of the set, Howe mentioned that the band considers Lititz its U.S. base, and that they would be back soon. Whether or not that is at Mickey’s Black Box or elsewhere, we’ll just have to wait and see.