Class of '72 (10/5/14)
By ProgBlog, May 10 2014 01:22PM
Is it the familiarity with the material that made me enjoy the Yes performance at the Royal Albert Hall on Thursday (8/5/14) so much? I accept that four of the members of the band do have the right, to a greater or lesser degree, to call themselves ‘Yes’ but I’ve previously expressed the opinion that a Jon Anderson-less Yes is less than Yes; I’ve also said that I’ve enjoyed a live show by a Yes without Anderson but I was still in two minds whether or not to see this latest line-up, Squire, White, Howe, Downes and vocalist Jon Davison. The performance of three classic albums in their entirety, in correct track sequence, eventually proved too tempting and I managed to get tickets.
My second visit to the RAH in less than two weeks was inevitably going to draw comparisons between the two shows. Rick Wakeman T-shirts and shoulder bags were clearly visible so I wasn’t the only one who had witnessed Journey to the Centre of the Earth at the end of April. When I took my seat I could only hope that Yes wouldn’t disappoint me as much as the Wakeman gig but I relaxed the moment the birdsong that heralds Close to the Edge began and the spotlights played over the crowd giving the illusion that the floor of the auditorium was covered by ocean.
I was slightly surprised that the first track was Close to the Edge because I’d imagined that the show would proceed in album order. The show actually started in traditional manner with Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite which accompanied images and mementos of Yes from the time of The Yes Album, Close to the Edge and Going for the One. Some of these images had been photoshopped so that the only two band members appearing were Howe and Squire. I’d always thought that the problem with history was that it was revisionist...
I’ve written that Close to the Edge was the first piece of progressive rock music I’d ever heard and how I was struck by how different from rock ‘n’ roll it sounded. The thoughts and feelings I expressed then, about the ‘green language’, the sense of spirituality and acknowledgement of femininity (as opposed to ‘cock rock’) were not only reaffirmed by the projected images which included a woman seated in the lotus position, but by the presence of two women immediately in front of me who seemed very familiar with all the material and were very open in their expression of appreciation of the music.
The images were both very fitting and simultaneously naff, as though a GSCE student had been asked to put together a video using Windows Live Movie Maker. There weren’t any song introductions (not that it mattered); each song was announced using basic animation of a basic font on the projection. I preferred the back projections from the Fly from Here tour. But that didn’t matter. The music stuck close to the original recordings, with some extra notes somehow crammed in by Steve Howe and though Geoff Downes committed the unforgivable sin of using an inappropriate sound patch for what should have been the piano chords on I Get Up, I Get Down, the sonic palette was a fairly faithful reproduction. I’d also like to plead with someone to tell Chris Squire not to use a harmonica. It’s not a prog instrument.
The biggest surprise was the performance of Jon Davison, the unknown factor. His voice was very reminiscent of a young Jon Anderson, a much closer match than that of Benoit David. Not only did he sing really well, he also mimicked, possibly unconsciously, some of Anderson’s gestures and style of clothing. His movements added to the sense of a kind of universal inclusiveness, whether he was pointing up to space or indicating a more personal relationship with the audience. This portrayal of the music was easily enough to convince me that the whole band fully understood the cosmic legacy of their 70s output and though progressive rock in general has once more become an accepted genre, they were showcasing the acme of prog, especially in the two long form pieces Close to the Edge and Awaken.
I think that Squire has a greater bond to The Yes Album than the other albums and that’s possibly why it was the album that was played last. The only real solo spot of the entire evening, Steve Howe’s Clap and the inclusion of the concise A Venture, incorporated for possibly the first time in a Yes live set, were tracks that would hint at what Yes were about to produce as much as the four long songs. It was fitting that the encore should also be of that era, the redoubtable Roundabout, a classic end to a really enjoyable performance.
This isn’t intended to be an in-depth review of the gig – it’s more how it made me feel - the review will appear on the Gig Review pages in the near future. It’s almost unfair to compare the last two shows I’ve seen at the Albert Hall. Wakeman and his Journey was disappointing because it wasn’t really a rock gig; Yes, for all their line-up permutations, were still at the top of their game. However, I don’t think it was down to familiarity that made me enjoy the Yes show more than Rick Wakeman. There’s a gulf in the quality of the written music. Wakeman was a very important part of the line-up that produced Fragile, Close to the Edge and Going for the One and though Journey is considered to epitomise prog it’s not necessarily for the music, it’s more the scope, the battle against the odds to get it produced and the excess. This demonstrates that the whole can be better than the sum of its individual parts. There may be some great moments in Journey but I find it a trifle embarrassing because there are some very weak passages. I’m equally au fait with the Yes canon and Wakeman’s albums from the 70s and it was simply the standard of original music, well performed on the night, which made the Yes concert so enjoyable.