I became a big fan of the progressive rock band Yes by listening through my brother’s bedroom wall. I was into rap at the time, so the complex melodies, the sweeping lyrical landscapes, and classical-length compositions were a bit … too much for me at first, but it sowed the seeds, and eventually, I bought my own copies of THE YES ALBUM, FRAGILE, and CLOSE TO THE EDGE so I didn’t have to borrow Dave’s.
They were even my first major-label, arena concert when Dave took me to the then-Rosemont Horizon on May 6, 1991 to see a supergroup version of Yes with Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Bill Bruford, Tony Kaye, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, Alan White, and Trevor Rabin representing key eras in the group’s history. And I got to see a version of it again last night at the Copernicus Center in Chicago.
But the current version of Yes featured only Steve Howe (guitar) from the group I saw before. He was joined by Geoff Downes, keyboardist from DRAMA, which they played in full to open the set. (And I recently discovered this is a much better album than I gave it credit for.) Howe and Downes were in fine form … but I was kind of expecting that. Yes musicians have to be in fine form. But who were these other guys, tasked with the recreation of some of symphonic rock’s most difficult passages?
Alan White, who has been the band’s drummer since 1972, is recuperating from back surgery, so Jay Schellen more than ably manned the kit for him at last night’s show, nailing the most difficult parts of “Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil)”. Singer Jon Davison is Jon Anderson’s replacement’s replacement. Like Anderson, he is one of those rare natural alto tenors, and hit every soaring high note while waggling his long brown hair like a latter-day traveling minstrel. If Bluto Blutarski had been there, guitars would have been smashed, I’m sure. But this was the music we were there to see.
Still, how would Chris Squire’s replacement replace probably the greatest bassist of all time? Squire was the last remaining original member of Yes when he died of cancer last summer. How could anyone ever take his place? His trebly tone and hummingbird quick plucking were matched only by his inventiveness. In comes Billy Sherwood … and made me think I was seeing a ghost. Hearing one, too, which is probably more important when you’re at a concert.
Listening to Yes music is an investment. By-and-large, it is not catchy. Hardly ever poppy. But as I find when I return to their music every couple of years, it surprises me how the passages come back, like reading a really good book that you haven’t cracked in years. The last revisit I made to Yes was in 2012 when I was writing LOSING TOUCH, and their music makes several cameo appearances, including “The Revealing Science of God”, which they played last night with note-for-note perfection.
Morgan Dunsmore would have been proud.