Todd Rundgren
Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy

August 29, 2017
Microsoft Theater
Los Angeles, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Ron Lyon

In order to keep things fresh and relevant, Yes has gone the extra mile when it comes to touring. They’ve tackled many of their 70s albums in their entirety. Legions of fans and progressive rock bands have joined them aboard their annual Cruise To The Edge And they created Yestival.

The first Yestival was staged on August 2, 2013, as a one-time event in Camden, New Jersey. Aside from Yes performing The Yes Album and Close To The Edge, the show also included The Musical Box (who played Genesis’ Foxtrot in its entirety), Renaissance, Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy, Volto! and Sound of Contact.

For 2017, Yestival is back. This time, Yes invited Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy and the ever-eclectic Todd Rundgren for a full-on North American tour. Instead of trotting out whole albums, the group has decided to mix it up with songs from the first 10 Yes studio albums. This provides fans the opportunity to hear songs the band hasn’t played live in years, if at all. By the reaction of the 5,000 or so fans that filled the Microsoft Theater’s main floor, it proved to be a winning formula.

The nearly four-hour show began with Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy. As the last surviving member of the iconic Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the drummer has made it his mission to carry on playing the music he made with the late Keith Emerson and Greg Lake. The 67-year-old musician, accompanied by guitarist Paul Bielatowicz and bassist Simon Fitzpatrick, still attacks his instrument with the same velocity, finesse and deftness he did back in the 70s, even commenting early on that he’s “built for speed, not comfort.”

During their 30-minute set, the trio blazed through five songs, book-ended by two Aaron Copland pieces — “Hoedown” and “Fanfare For The Common Man” — that Emerson, Lake & Palmer shot through the stratosphere in their prime. Bielatowicz strummed the melodies on “Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Part 2” (aka “Welcome Back”) and “Knife-Edge,” while Palmer and Fitzpatrick anchored the wily rhythm. “Lucky Man” was dedicated to Greg Lake, and after a pre-recorded sermon covered the song’s first verse, Todd Rundgren came out to sing the remaining verses and chorus, while Fitzpatrick adeptly played Emerson’s famous synth solo on a Chapman Stick.

Palmer promised the audience they’d be back later in the year for a longer set, although his touring schedule has him finishing up 2017 in the UK. Nevertheless, it was an excellent start for a night of highly sophisticated music with an array of sharp lefts and sudden twists and turns to keep everyone on their edge of their seat.

Having Rundgren sandwiched in between two progressive rock acts might seem odd to the untrained ear, maybe even a dirty trick to some. Perhaps that’s what sets Yestival apart. At 8:20, the singer hit the stage with a four-piece band and two female back-up singers who doubled as dancers. Yes, you read that right: dancers.

Much of Rundgren’s set was filled with a style of pop-flavored material he’s known for. Songs like “Truth,” “Rise,” “Party Liquor” and “Buy My T,” from the 2017 release White Knight, had him and the Global Girls jumping and jiving for an audience that was at once bemused and enticed. In the middle of all this unseemly chaos, Rundgren switched gears, strapped on his green Strat and played Utopia’s “The Ikon,” which likely soothed the proggers’ sensibility for off-kilter tempos. Whatever direction he chose, the audience stayed entranced.

One indisputable point is that Rundgren’s vocals are as sharp and on par as ever. And having players like Utopia bassist Kasim Sulton and drummer Prairie Prince in his ranks justifies a place on the bill. Most surprising of all was seeing audience members on their feet, likely drawn to the visual movements and tight arrangements. By the time Rundgren headed down the home stretch with Utopia’s “One World” and “Hello It’s Me,” it was obvious he could have probably extended his 60-minute set by another hour without any complaints.

It was almost 10:00 before Yes came on. Without any original members and another version of Yes featuring original singer Jon Anderson, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and guitarist Trevor Rabin, who was instrumental in reviving the band in the 80s, also on the road, the challenge for Steve Howe, Alan White, Jon Davison, Geoff Downes and Billy Sherwood was to show everyone it really comes down to the songs. That is actually the whole idea behind Yestival.

Ironically, they opened with “Survival,” a song from The Yes Album penned by Jon Anderson. The real treat here is that this is a number the band has rarely played live, so by virtue of bringing in something virtually unknown to anyone but the diehards was a dare no one with the spirit of adventure could ignore. Sherwood squeaked out a Chris Squire-like bass line, and the song was instantly transported by the addition of Dylan Howe (Steve’s son) on a second set of drums. Throughout the night, he and White, who has grappled with health issues in recent years, would play together and separately.

As they pulled songs from each album chronologically, the comfort level increased, especially in the case of Davison. When he first joined up in 2012, the singer maintained a low-key profile, similar to his predecessors. Tonight, however, he was far more animated and mobile, scaling the parameters of the stage, playing acoustic guitar, joining both drummers for a crash here and there, and even proudly announcing he was from Orange County. He clearly felt at home on the Los Angeles stage.

“Yours Is No Disgrace” charged forward with a little more thump thanks to Dylan Howe, while “South Side Of The Sky,” despite the absence of Anderson and Wakeman’s unmistakable blend of voice and piano, was another delicacy for longtime Yes fanatics. Steve Howe played three different guitars on “And You And I,” and he and Davison elevated “Leaves Of Green” to new heights. The guitarist returned to his pedal steel and sliced and diced the “Soon” segment from Relayer’s “The Gates Of Delirium” with enough verve and soul to make the hairs on your arm stand up and take notice.

“Going For The One” had the whole band redlining the energy level before “Don't Kill The Whale” more or less killed the momentum. “Machine Messiah,” the only song of the night to feature three original players, added a nice touch to the finale. “Madrigal,” from the much-maligned Tormato album, was a strange choice to begin the encore, but it segued nicely into “Roundabout,” a song Yes will likely never abandon, no matter the format. Ending the show at a tad after 11:30 exceeded everyone’s expectations for a full evening of music. You can’t deny the value Yestival gives its audiences. Now, if only something could be worked out to bring the other Yes into the fold, another stadium-bound Union tour would be the next logical step. Just don’t hold your breath for that one.

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