Tuesday, 8th November, 2011
Corn Exchange, Cambridge, the UK
What begins with Yours Is No Disgrace, has The Clap somewhere in the middle and ends with Starship Trooper?
No, I'm not talking about Side One of that beloved album.
I'm talking about Yes's setlist for their new tour!
There's a first time for everything, and I'm pleased to say that this is my first time seeing Yes. Being a student at Cambridge,
I was astonished when I saw that Yes would be playing in the Corn Exchange, a venue right in the centre of town not ten minutes walk from my door.
Coincidentally enough, just over a year ago I went to see the Anderson/Wakeman tour at this very venue,
meaning that I've now essentially seen the whole (original) band in the same place.
When I reach the venue, a queue is forming outside the doors. 'Good,' I think to myself, 'I've got here early.'
Having been to see bands like ELP and Van Der Graaf Generator,
I'm not surprised when I don't see a single young face in the audience who isn't accompanied by a parent or grandparent.
I still don't understand why people my age don't appreciate the genre!
Having seen many videos of Yes live, I know that they are one of the many bands of the 70s who like elaborate stage designs.
My heart falls slightly when I see no such designs here, but instead a 2m × 6m screen behind the stage, for videos to be projected onto.
Everyone files in to the great hall, beers in hands.
I overhear fans trying to count the number of times they've seen Yes before, and comparing their extensive vinyl collections.
Finally, the lights dim, and a classical theme begins. Oddly enough, it isn't Stravinsky's Firebird suite that we hear, but a theme from Purcell's Abdelazer.
Already, I begin to feel like I'm not seeing a real Yes gig, but that's all about to change.
The band enter and take their places, and before I know it, they've started playing the rhythmic opening to Yours Is No Disgrace.
Immediately I feel at home. This is the Yes that I know and love. Or are they?
I scan the line-up. On the far left I see Steve Howe, the guitar legend who has been with Yes for decades.
It seems apt that he is playing the song that the band introduced him with.
Taking up centre stage is newcomer Benoît David, a huge grin on his face betraying the fact that he still can't believe his luck at getting to front his favourite band.
Behind him is drumming veteran Alan White, whose face seems to be constantly scowling. Cheer up! Further to the right is bassist Chris Squire,
the only member who has never been out of the band.
He's directly in front of me and can't be further than 4 metres away. Finally on the far right... wait who is that? Goodness!
I can't believe it! It's Geoff Downes!
Obviously I hadn't been paying close enough attention to who'd actually be playing at this gig beforehand,
but I could have sworn that the Corn Exchange website told me Oliver Wakeman would be minding the keys this evening.
No matter, I'm honoured to see the familiar face.
One of the first things I notice while they play is that they're keeping it slow.
I'm presuming this is because it would be hard for them to try and keep up the breakneck speed without running into difficulty.
With speed, they also lose some of the tightness of the classic songs, with the more intricate parts not sounding quite right.
Given that they have an average age closer to 60 years than 50, it's amazing that they're able to play these songs at all!
Whilst watching, I'm not thinking about the stuff they're getting wrong, but the stuff they are getting right.
It's absolutely mesmerising to watch this legendary band play songs that are twice as old as I am.
The show is also something of a technical monstrosity; with so many instrument changes, different projections as well as intricate music,
it's incredible that the evening went so smoothly.
Next up on the setlist is Tempus Fugit, and it seems natural that the band would choose to play a song from the Drama album,
given the presence of Mr. Downes (however, I wish it was Machine Messiah!)
Afterwards, the band present yet another classic; I've Seen All Good People really gets the audience singing, some even doing the backing during Your Move.
I know it's been coming, and when David mentions the band's latest release, I let out a small sigh.
Given my recent thoughts on this years' Fly From Here, I've always known that there going to be parts of this set that I won't enjoy as much,
but I've decided to grin and bear it. This evening, the band decide to play four tunes from the album, including the 24 minute titular suite.
This particular track does seem to drag on, and I begin to fantasise about how the band could be playing some of their better 20 minute songs.
Fortunately the other tracks are mercifully short, leaving more time for some classic Yes.
In the middle of the show, the band decide to take a break, leaving the stage to Howe with an acoustic guitar.
He performs for us two of his solo tracks, Solitaire from the new album, shortly followed by the classic Clap so named after the effect it has on the audience,
as I discover this evening. You have to marvel at the guy. He looks like a zany scientist with his wiry hair and large spectacles,
and jerks as if being electrocuted whenever he does something eccentric with his guitar. That being said, the man is also a genius.
I'll admit that I've never properly listened to his solo tracks on the albums, but having them presented to you live makes you realise just how intricate and enjoyable they are.
He looks incredibly pleased with the audiences fanatic applause when he finishes.
I've learned not to jinx a concert by thinking to myself beforehand which tracks I'd like to hear.
This is why I fought hard with myself not to think of Close to the Edge (which it seems the band have actually played this year)
or Awaken (which they havent) before going to the concert.
While neither of these songs appear, they do play what I consider to be a very special song.
A track they don't always play at concerts, but is certainly a true classic. In my opinion, it's one of the most perfect pieces of prog rock ever created,
along with The Musical Box. I am of course talking about Heart Of The Sunrise.
The band perform the ten minute masterpiece in it's entirity, exploring every wonderful facet and giving a lot of power to the track.
Chris Squire comes to centre stage during the bass solo in the beginning of the song.
He's certainly been the man of the evening.
To watch the man finger the bass guitar in that truly unique way is mind blowing, and his heavy sound boosts the music to a whole new dimension.
He may have had years to learn these songs,
but I still find it incredible how he knows all his alternate lyrics and bass patterns and performs them without fault!
During And You And I, he even produces a harmonica, giving a more folky feel to the third section of the song.
Benoît David is also on top form too.
He certainly brings a very different presence to the stage to the presence that Jon Anderson had.
While Anderson seemed to generally be guiding the audience spiritually through the songs, David seems more like he's having fun singing his favourite tunes.
Good on him! While having a different presence, his voice is spectacularly similar to Jon's, although I could never mistake Mr. Anderson's voice with anybody else's.
After belting out a steaming rendition of Starship Trooper, it's time for the band to leave, and they wave goodbye and quickly head off.
The audience aren't fooled. They know that there's something that's been forgotten. For two minutes,
the hall is filled with cheers and claps, egging the band back on stage.
Finally they comply, and they return now to play the classic Roundabout, giving the audience one last chance to sing along.
After that, it's really all over, and everyone leaves the venue promptly.
On the way home, I apologise to my plus-one for the absence of Owner Of A Lonely Heart,
the only song he's ever heard by the band, but I personally feel priveleged to have experienced yet another classic prog band from the 70s.
P.S. Benoît, don't think I didn't notice you coming in at the wrong time on Roundabout!
Yours is No Disgrace
I've Seen All Good People
Life on a Film Set
And You and I
Fly from Here
Into the Storm
Heart of the Sunrise
Yes Official Website
DPRP's Review of "Fly From Here"