Saturday, 30th April 2016
O2 Apollo, Manchester, The UK
Article by John Wenlock-Smith
photos by Adam Kennedy, Anthony Firmin and Charlotte Wellings.
I'v e not seen Yes live for many years , the last time I saw them was the Anderson,
Wakeman, Bruford and Howe tour at the NEC in Birmingham back in 1989,
I have however been a follower of the band since the Yessongs
album in 1973 and generally like what I hear from Yes.
Although I kind of lost touch a bit after the Yes Symphonic DVD from the early 2000's.
Whilst I heard and enjoyed the Heaven and Earth album from 2013
I missed much of the trauma and drama around the deprarture of Jon Anderson
for health reasons the subsequent David Benoit / Jon Davidson saga
that was ongoing for a while thereafter.
Since then we have of course sadly lost Big Chris Squire to
cancer and Billly Sherwood is back on Bass
as is Geoff Downes on Keyboards and Jon Davidson (Glass Hammer) remains on vocals.
The Apollo is pretty full though not sold out but the
crowd that are there seem to be long time devotees of the band,
the sense of excitement in the air is palpable seems everyone is
wondering including me, What will this be like?
All these years on can Yes still cut it live bearing in mind the
aging status of various members now.
Lights go down the crowd cheers and events open to a simply lit
stage with a single spotlight shining on Chris Squire's trusty cream
Rickenbacker Bass guitar alongside a cosmic slideshow which
celebrates his life in pictures.. it is a lovingly crafted tribute,
understated but a marvellous tribute to a fallen giant,
who's influence and presence is missed but will never be forgotten.
Chris's presence lives on in the Bass playing of Billy Sherwood
to whom Chris was a mentor and major influence,
Billy learnt all his lines but more on that shortly.
After the tribute is concluded the full band shuffle onto the stage.
Steve Howe (stage left) Geoff Downes (rear left), Alan White (rear right)
and Billy Sherwood (right) with Jon Davidson occupying the Centre stage position.
Steve fires up the opening chords of Machine Messiah and its sounds
really meaty and full alongside Geoff's keyboards and the look to be enjoying
it too which bodes well, Drama is of course a difficult album for
many Yes fan because it was made without Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman
(again) and due to the presence of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes
from a "Pop" band (the Buggles) who despite being big Yes Fans
were not universally accepted by all Yes Fans. Plus Trevor's voice
was not of the same range as Jon's.
However that was some 36 years and a lot of water under the
bridge ago and seemingly that polarization has mellowed significantly
since then enough so that the album is to be played in full for the first time live.
Steve Howe is sounding particulary fine as he blazes the opening
riff on his Gibson 335, then Jon Davidson strums the opening melody
on an acoustic guitar before beginning to sing and when he does
it sound like a young Jon Anderson. the song is accompanied by
some background visuals but these any many other eyes are firmly
fixed on the band who sound enlivened and its simply marvellous to
see and hear as once again we are reminded of the sheer calibre and
musicalicality of this band and how years on the still deliver.
Sure one could pick minor flaws but that would be spurious to do
as here the sum is definitely greater than the parts. Machine Messiah
is a monstrous track full of light and shade, powerful and majestic
it's a triumph and I'm impressed by this and it's far far better than
I thought it would be.
Next is the brief but worthy White Car leading into Does it really happen?
Hinged over a frantic and liquid sounding Bass riff with
some stirring drum work from Alan White as a descending riff
from Steve and Geoff plays there is a lot going on in this song
and the vocal harmonies by all the band are spot on too and sound impressive.
Furthermore this song encapsulates why Billy Sherwood is a wise
choice to stand in Chris Squire's shoes, although he eschews Rickenbacker's
for a slew of hand crafted basses from the likes of Alembic,
but he certainly has Chris's sound and style down pat,
but he is no mere clone or copy but the influence is strong.
Into the lens and Run into the light follow swiftly and then
it's onto a personal fave – Tempus Fugit that will
bring the Drama segment to a close with steve Howe's muscular guitar
Cutting swarthes of sound, good harmonies on this one too,
Tempus fugit crystallizes all that is great about Yes,
constantly changing rhythms and tempoes, great instrumental
prowess and above all crafted songwriting allied with great performance
and Tempus Fugit is a stunning oft overlooked classic in the Yes Canon.
Then Steve Howe steps yup to talk about the next song,
Time and a Word and how it is so beautifully orchestrated and
how important the predecessor (Peter Banks) was in its creation,
Steve dedicates this song to his memory another fallen great in the Yes saga.
Time and a word is a beautiful song by any standard and
the render a sublime majestic version and it's a very emotive
song as well that is handled with grace by this line up then to
round out part one they close with Siberian Khatru which is
again astonishing in it's vision and sheer quality of the music
being delivered on stage. After which the lights come up for a
twenty minute break – surely enough for a cup of tea for the
band and a recharge before embarking on the entire Fragile album
complete with all the various solo segments.
The band return and kick off with those classic reverbarating
harmonics of Roundabout with Steve Howe hitting those on a hawaian
style guitar which playing the main parts on his Gibson byrdland
and it's another classic performance of a great song,
reproduced lovingly and wonderfully done with Steve's Guitar
and Geoff's Hammond organ bringing great texture to this superb song.
Then it's Geoff downes doing Cans and Braaams
a solo keyboard piece that doesn't outstay its welcome then onto
we have heaven, southside and 5% of nothing in quick succession
before the lengthier Long distance Runaround with its funky basslines
taking centre stage followed by Billy's solo spot of "The Fish" and
another chance to see his tribute to his old friend and mentor Chris Squire.
Then it's Steve Howe and a stunning rendition of Mood for a day,
a piece that shows that Steve is still master of his guitar.
The Fragile segment concludes with a wonderful version
of Heart of the sunrise and one is reminded afresh of how many
classic pieces of Progressive Rock this band have recorded
over the years and of how different and worthy each of these are.
No one wants to go home just yet so the band launch into
Don't kill the whale from Tormato again with visuals then straight
into Owner of a lonely heart and here Steve Howe plays a solo in the middle,
not a note for note reproduction of Trevor Rabin's but his own
weird take on it and it sounds good, really good.
And that's it until an encore is given of Starship Trooper
another great song from the early seventies it's great to see
Yes reconciling their past and facing the future with such
confidence and the evening is a triumph of great music from
seasoned professionals who still love this music and perform
it with splendour and pride.
A great sound throughout and great visuals and lighting too.
If you get the chance grab a ticket to this tour it's a cracker.
Yes official Website