Yes, November 10th, 2001
Gewandhaus zu Leipzig, Germany


By
Andreas Vogel


Leipzig's Gewandhaus is a house of tradition. Built in 1884 to accommodate the famous Gewandhaus Orchestra, which had been founded more than a hundred years before, the building lasted until 1944, when it fell victim to the war. The new Gewandhaus, as we have it today, was completed in 1981 - an impressive construction that soon became the number one concert venue around, or even world-famous, as far as classical music was concerned. Kurt Masur, the house's long-standing musical director and principal conductor, had a formative influence in that respect.

In recent years, the Gewandhaus management found it increasingly difficult to fill their seats, so they put out their feelers for other ways to attract audiences. Still, it happened only seldom that more contemporary, non-classical artists were given the opportunity to perform their music in those venerable halls; Art Garfunkel was, as well as Buena Vista Social Club and Joe Jackson (but also Roger Whittaker…). And now: Yes.

I believe the Gewandhaus doors opened to the band for three reasons. First, they have long assumed a dinosaur status in the business, being around for some thirty years now. Second, their music stands out as consisting of rather demanding compositions that rarely aim at mass audience's taste. And thirdly, they brought along an orchestra this time, this classical ambition being probably the most convincing aspect in the eyes of the Gewandhaus officials. Still, I assume that the latter did not foresee what gigantic musical thunderstorm the band would unleash, shaking the house to its very foundations.

It is needless to say that the hall had long been sold out for this evening (although the orchestra and the glamorous venue had resulted in rather steep ticket prices). I was lucky to get hold of a seat in the nick of time; it was on the gallery at the left side of the stage. I had slight misgivings concerning the sound quality up there, as I actually sat *behind* the loudspeakers. But the Gewandhaus is renowned for its near-perfect acoustics, owing to the hall's elaborated architecture. Its unusual shape resembles that of an amphitheatre, the stage being encircled by galleries of seats at all sides. And as mentioned, each of them was occupied - which amounts to a total number of 1905 people. Many of them wore clothes and hairstyles surely seldom spotted in this house…

At 9 p.m. the members of the orchestra entered their part of the stage; roughly 35 musicians had to squeeze themselves into a somewhat cramped compartment. Most of them looked younger than the people in the audience (not to mention Anderson & company). They quickly tuned their instruments, and as the lights slowly dimmed, the tension in the audience grew palpable: the Yes experience was about to start! The part of the stage where the band was supposed to be lay still deserted when the orchestra started to play an overture. I recognized the intro to Give Love each Day from the 'Magnification' album, a track where the classical approach works real fine. So I got prepared for that song, but was soon set right: when the band had taken up their posts under cover of darkness and kicked in with fierce pressure amidst a flash of illumination, I suddenly found myself Close to the Edge! Now a thirty-year-old classic, this piece never fails to turn me spellbound. The 'I get up I get down' came across splendidly, and I was just wondering how amazing it would have been if the band had employed the 6638 pipes of the hall's big organ, when the rhythm came in again, rocking heavily. The orchestra had nothing to contribute at the moment, but they where not at all idle. In such instances, the musicians would take their instruments and hold them up, whirl them about to the rhythm; they'd cheer and nod their heads to the beat. Such activity seemed a bit awkward at first, but this impression subsided as the show went on.

When the song came to an end, the audience burst into applause. Steve Howe took the opportunity to take a look at his right side. He seemed surprised to find people sitting up there. And as he turned a little further he startled at the sight of yet another gallery at the back of the stage. From then on, he never forgot to bow down in these directions as well. But now, there was no more time to look around, and Howe went on to intonate the unmistakable beginning of Long Distance Runaround. This fine piece turned out to be the shortest song played this evening. When it had ended, Anderson greeted the crowd (and introduced the back gallery as 'the choir'). And he did it in his own peculiar way. Of course, Jon is a bit on the spiritual side, wearing wide, earth-coloured clothes and having put four burning candles before his little pedestal. He also keeps wandering dreamily about the stage, waving his hands in utter rapture over some beautiful vibes. His hippy-trippy lyrics speak the same language: it's all love and peace. But be that as it may, he definitely gets the vibes flowing on stage, and people don't mind being taken onto a somewhat unworldly (but very pleasant) level. Consequently, Anderson's introduction to Don't go, the next song, dealt predominantly with love and how powerful it is, but he also addressed Leipzig very much, the place where so important historic upheavals had started. The gratefulness he expressed surely won the hearts of those who were not yet captivated by his presence.

Don't go was the first track from the new album to be played, but it was also the penultimate one. This comes as a little surprise, if one takes into consideration that the band boasted to have closely involved the orchestra from the very beginning of the production of 'Magnification', creating genuine classical rock pieces - as opposed to other band's all-too-frequent habit to subsequently 'classicalize' their music. Well, on the other hand, I don't really mind the fact that so few 'Magnification' tracks were played. Don't get me wrong, the album isn't half bad, but I hold the Yes treasures from the seventies in much higher regard. Who doesn't…?

The band continued with In the Presence of, a fairly good piece from 'Magnification', and the second-longest one, too. Alan White made a rare performance on keyboards during the first chords of the song. And he even did it twice this evening, as Jon Anderson stopped the song just a minute after it had begun, for a reason I didn't fully understand - I think it had something to do with Jon's voice, for he apologized several times, pointing to his throat. The band started again, and the track went by flawlessly. Then Jon spoke again, and he ended with the utterance of three words that immediately sent shivers down my spine: Gates of Delirium. This massive masterpiece turned to be *the* highlight of the show. The house was shaking during the great frantic middle part, with keyboarder Tom Brislin nearly crushing his instruments and Jon banging away on his percussion stand under a shower of flashing lights. The music swelled unstoppably, the tension mounted and the pounding rose until, yes untiiiiil- the song finally climaxed, tipped over and released itself into a magnificent flow of sound. Its last third - the unparalleled, atmospheric part with Howe's singing slide guitar - belongs to the finest moments of music ever composed. Ravishing.

When the final notes of Gates of Delirium had died away, an enormous wave of applause broke loose that easily exceeded the band's peak volumes. Many people couldn't restrain themselves; they stood up and cheered and clapped and shouted approval - the applause did not subside for minutes. When it finally did, the orchestra left the stage, as well as Anderson, White, Squire and Brislin, leaving Mr. Steve Howe alone in the spotlight to deliver one of his superb solo performances. You had to look twice to make sure that there was really just one person playing. And it was amazing - this gifted man playing away on his acoustic guitar, surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of awestruck people. Needless to say that he earned thunderous applause as well.

Howe's band mates reappeared on stage, and after Anderson had said something about 'the higher self', they went on to perform Starship Trooper. The song conveyed a most cheerful mood with its merry and bouncy verses until Howe's guitar introduced the few notes that laid the foundations to one of the most thrilling crescendos of the evening. When it was Chris Squire's turn to join the upsurge, he made a great show out of it, stepping up front in his strutting way of walking, doing pirouettes and striking his chords with sweeping movements. What a treat! Squire's odd appearance (big black boots, white stockings, tight glossy pants, a wide black shirt), his way of performing (the famous pirouettes!), and of course his masterful playing constitute one of the most lasting impressions a bass player has ever made upon me. But back to the music. Halfway into the song, the orchestra had come back and joined the music. To what effect, I cannot tell. Come to that, I didn't always get the point of orchestral accompaniment. Besides the fact that the inclusion of a couple of additional voices in a five-piece band seems rather unnecessary, composition-wise, it turns out to be quite ridiculous as well: their contributions were not seldom doomed to be completely inaudible. You always saw those girls play their violins with great passion, but they were hopelessly drowned out by the band. Still, the orchestra added quite some charm to the show.

And you and I was next, yet another showpiece of good old Yes stuff. Howe's initial notes already kindled unflagging enthusiasm with the audience, and as the organ started to soar and Anderson floated about the stage with outstretched arms, the show reached another high spot. Howe operated three different guitars in that one; it was interesting to see him change hastily from one to the other. On one occasion, there was an acoustic guitar mounted on a stand behind him, and he was sitting playing the slide guitar. When he finished, he raised, turned, a technician quickly slung an electrical guitar over Steve's neck just before he started to play the acoustic for a little while, and then changed to the electric one. Great job.

As if Yes intended to numb their audience with an overdose of musical gems, they continued with Ritual, which was to clock in at nearly half an hour! Again, Anderson's perfectionism had him interrupt the song after a few seconds; he obviously disagreed with Squire's performance, but they all joked about the situation. Later, Squire again strutted across the stage theatrically, banging heavily on his bass. But the most impressive part of the track was still to come. While Alan White soloed a bit on his drum kit, technicians brought big drums in position for Anderson and Squire to beat down on. They all unleashed a big, thundering, mind-blowing drumming that had the hall come close to a collapse; the reverberation was enormous indeed.

After the equally enormous ovations had died down a bit, Jon took the opportunity to introduce the band members by name - and to announce their last song: I've seen all good people. He encouraged the people to celebrate the song, and they did. This piece was the first live-played song I ever experienced during which the audience started clapping their hands enthusiastically - and actually held out to the very end! But that was not all: the entire audience (me included, of course) rose to their feet and chanted and danced until the song had finished. I lack the words to adequately describe what was going on, but it was truly magnificent.

The boys said goodbye and vanished, but came back again for a Roundabout. During the encore, most of the people didn't give a damn about their seats anymore; the show had turned into a big celebration. The stage was surrounded by fans who had come down to be as close to their heroes as possible - some of them were lucky to shake hands with Jon during the song. But the inevitable end approached. After one hundred and sixty five minutes, the last few notes of the concert echoed through the hall, giving way to another round of boundless ovation. The group gathered in the middle of the stage and bowed to their audience - in all directions, and several times. They looked as if they felt tremendously happy about themselves and about the concert. Jon held his hands as if he were praying - his own way to express heartfelt appreciation. But finally, they left, and the applause slowly died down.

I'm sure that in the minds of all guests this evening the show had planted the firm belief that they had experienced a truly memorable concert. There'd been an impressive venue and a marvellous band, there'd been a great audience and a splendid atmosphere - everything had been in its right place. What was striking as well was that the great majority of the songs dated from the early seventies. I think this fact can only be attributable to one of the most significant qualities of these pieces: they're timeless. Well... sadly, Anderson & company are not. Who knows how long people will have the opportunity to share the Yes experience? But for the time being, however, the boys don't seem to lose strength. Isn't that a blessing? Oh Yes!


Set List

Close to the Edge
Long Distance Runaround
Don't go
In the Presence of
Gates of Delirium
Steve Howe Solo
Starship Trooper
And you and I
Ritual - Nous Sommes du Soleil
I've seen all good people

Roundabout
 

 

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