Yes Being Grandiose at the Intimate Magnolia Theater

Yes remain the poster band for grandiose progressive rock majesty in both visual and sonic presentation. At their height filling stadia (complete with an articulating hamburger bun housing the drummer) Yes offered an unmatched glimpse into a musical mythology.

Fans have for decades tracked the comings and goings of the personnel, always yearning for the golden age lineup of 1972’s Close to the Edge album: Jon Anderson (vocals, Steve Howe (guitars) Chris Squire (bass), Rick Wakeman (keyboards) and Bill Bruford (drums). On the cusp of touring that album, Bruford split for King Crimson and Alan White stepped in.

But mostly no one knew what the band looked like, by their fourth album they eschewed band photos. Instead, a logo and a fantastical brand image sufficed as the music soared in complexity and originality.

It is a very thin market for fine art prints of Yes members, but the other night Roger Dean was doing brisk business in the lobby selling his art. It was Dean to whom the band long ago handed the reins of visually representing what Yes was all about.

At the luxurious and intimate Magnolia Theatre the band presented one of the last dates on its “Classic Tales of Yes Tour.” The setlist dutifully was sprinkled with selections across its broad career. “Time and a Word” (the eponymous track from their second album) really wanted the lush harmonies offered in the truly grand studio version. “South Side of the Sky” from their breakthrough fourth album Fragile might have been better as an instrumental, although a couple of the evening’s latter day songs without vocals veered dangerously into Spinal Tap territory.

Howe is the only guy on stage who was there from the formative years, and his musicianship remains the band’s fulcrum. Keyboardist Geoff Downes joined for their tenth album and returned for the 20th. He is the answer when you want to win the bar bet of who was on keyboards for the first song ever aired on MTV: “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles, of course.

Bassist Billy Sherwood took over when founding member Chris Squire departed this mortal coil. Younger musicians Jay Schellen on drums and the conveniently named Jon Davison (taking over the patented lead vocals of Jon Anderson) made a commendable effort. Davison hits the high registers pretty well and consistently, but the projection of a younger Anderson is certainly missed.

“Roundabout” (yes, written about a traffic feature rare on the west coast) got the folks out of their seats, it was a seemingly ubiquitous radio hit when it hit the airwaves in the late autumn of 1971.

But what most of the audience was waiting for was the needle drop experience of the band assaying their artistic apogee, Close to the Edge. Released right after the commercial breakthrough of Fragile and before the meanderings and too-near-excess of subsequent double and triple albums, the three song album masterpiece album featured the classic lineup. No doubt the band will reproduce that album in its entirety on a subsequent tour; there are myriad former members who can assist.

They may not be filling stadia as in days of yore, but Yes are filling venues with passionate fans.

What’s not to like?



Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.