August 24, 2014
Los Angeles, CA
Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Junkman
At this stage of the game (no pun intended, if you know what I mean), Yes really has little more to prove in their 45-year career. And yet, they continue to record and tour more than ever. Best of all, they’ve worked at keeping it fresh and unique. In 2013, they performed three classic Yes albums — Close To The Edge, Going For The One and The Yes Album — in their entirety. For 2014, the band recorded Heaven & Earth, their first new studio album in five years, and their first with singer Jon Davison. For the tour that followed, however, they stuck with playing albums in their entirety; in this case, two albums — Close To The Edge once again, and 1971’s Fragile. And, of course, they also threw in a couple of new ones in a concerted effort to remind everyone that they indeed had new music to share. The 35-date summer tour closed at the Greek, and I was there to take it all in.
Rarely do I enjoy a relatively unknown opener as I did Syd Arthur. The British four-piece’s brand of exploratory neo-prog made them a perfect fit on tonight’s bill, and their half-hour set made me want to dig a little deeper into their catalog. From what I understand, one of their members is the nephew of Kate Bush, so I can take comfort in knowing they come from good stock. I’ll keep a lookout the next time they swing through town.
When it was time for Yes to come on, an excitable mix of classically scented strings and horns (I couldn’t quite place the piece) accompanied a video documenting the Yes experience in full bloom. Its discography, archival live footage and band photos flew across the three-panel LED backdrop, working up the audience as the five band members stepped into position. Once Steve Howe strummed the familiar opening sequence of “Siberian Khatru,” everyone settled in for a broad stroke of Close To The Edge. The guitarist swept through the middle section on his walnut Gibson ES-175 with a flurry jazzy runs like he was Wes Montgomery reincarnated. With age, his playing has certainly broadened in delightfully unexpected ways.
During “And You And I,” I took interest in how singer Jon Davison has grown into his role as the band’s frontman. With his beard and a tapestry patterned shirt of red and green, he has taken on additional characteristics of Jon Anderson. He’s also playing more acoustic guitar, keys and other electronic enhancements than when I saw Him with Yes in 2013. Whether intentional or not, it does sort of make the band more like the Yes of old. It goes without saying, even though I'll say it, that Davison’s vocals are, of course, reminiscent of Anderson’s and likely responsible for why he’s in the band in the first place.
As for the title track, it’s ingrained in the Yes DNA. A little slower and lighter in the tempo; more thought out and premeditated in its execution — it is a piece that allows Chris Squire to step up his superlative skills, and keyboardist Geoff Downes to tap into his inner Rick Wakeman while simultaneously unfurling his own identity within the mix.
Instead of encoring with new songs as advertised, the band placed “Believe Again” and “The Game” (there’s that pun again) from Heaven & Earth. By all measures, the audience was receptive to the new material, if not entirely familiar with how the songs fit into the Yes paradigm. Davison certainly took proper ownership, as it was his turn to show what he brings to the table beyond the ability to perform the band’s classic repertoire.
Following up the newer tracks with “Roundabout” was key to keeping the audience engaged. The crowd got a chance to stand and clap for the first time of the night. The rest of Fragile illicited a similarly enthusiastic response. Downes did an admirable job on “Cans And Brahms,” and it was a real treat to see and hear the harmony-laden “We Have Heaven” come to life in a live setting.
“South Side Of The Sky,” which enjoyed a live revival when Squire, Howe, Anderson, Wakeman and Alan White made the rounds in the early 2000’s, was elegantly brushed off and polished up for resuscitation. It's a killer track no matter who plays it. “Five Per Cent For Nothing” segued quickly into “Long Distance Runaround” and “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus),” long staples in the Yes setlist and another platform for Squire's virtuosity . Howe dutifully picked out the stanzas on “Mood For A Day,” his command of the acoustic as profoundly solid as he is on electric and pedal steel. The always momentous “Heart Of The Sunrise” ended the main set.
For the encore, you could likely expect “I've Seen All Good People,” but hearing “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” which has had an on-again, off-again love affair with the Yes setlist since Howe rejoined in 1995, was intriguing. It’s only too bad that Trevor Rabin, who wrote the song and was in the house, didn’t join in as he did in 2010. Either way, as the band’s biggest hit, it was enough to bring Syd Arthur up for some on-stage reverie. At its conclusion, Yes thanked the supporting band and their entire crew for bringing the tour to rousing and successful close.