The band that has always been the poster child for progressive rock is probably the longest lasting band, still touring to rapturous audiences. Releasing their first album right before the end of 1969, they hit their stride several albums later and parlayed that sound for the next four decades. 1971’s The Yes Album was the band’s first comprised of all original material, and it was one of three albums played in its entirety on the current tour. Astutely, it was the last of the three played at Humphrey’s, and left the crowd rather ecstatic. With precise instrumentation, songs like “Starship Trooper,” “Yours is No Disgrace,” “All Good People” and “Perpetual Change” have rarely been missing from a Yes setlist.
1972’s Close to the Edge opened the show at Humphreys, and was an immediate hit. The title track, which all fans know was one side long of the LP, shimmered over the bay as the sun set. The refrain “I get up/I get down” brought back fond memories of seeing the band at Rich Stadium in the mid 1970s. The more intimate Humphreys was an infinitely better venue.
By the time 1974’s Going For the One was released, I had fallen away from Yes, although a whole new posse of younger fans discovered their radio friendlier sound. I was hoping the three album concert format would be played chronologically, so that I could slip out if necessary. But this was the middle section of the show, and most folks seemed happy to hear it.
Bassist Chris Squire and guitarist Steve Howe are the remaining members from the band’s quintessential line up, and they anchored the stage admirably at Humphreys. Drummer Alan White held his own through the evening (he got his start recording with John Lennon and Yoko Ono). New vocalist Jon Davidson shares a pure high tenor and first name spelling with original vocalist Jon Anderson. Keyboardist Geoff Downes has fewer keyboards than his various predecessors, perhaps as a result of technological advances allowing for more performance in fewer pieces of hardware.
All in, the current iteration of Yes delivers as promised, and continues to fire on all cylinders. It is doubtful the band in the future could logically assemble a similar tour with three other albums from their catalog, partly because despite some level of chart success those albums don’t withstand the test of time (Tormato, anyone?) and partly because Fragile the other classic album from the essential era is so closely associated with members no longer in the band. Plus which, that album (much like The Beatles’ White Album) was recorded almost as a series of solo recordings and cobbled together as an album.
I suggest next time Yes go out on tour they recreate the massively satisfying sprawling three album Yessongs live collection.
The early 1970s had a prolific parcel of great British artists that headed to the countryside to record some music that resonates down the years. Think of Traffic, Yes, Led Zeppelin’s third album, Fleetwood Mac (pre Buckingham Nicks), Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Elton John, Brinsley Schwarz, Faces, Genesis, Steeleye Span, Jethro Tull.
Ultimately, how great it must be for a band that hit its stride so many decades ago to be able to fill venues with fervent fans. Yes continues to do so with music from exactly that era.