Review by Craig Hammons
Photos by Ron Lyon
The legendary progressive rock band Yes refuses to say “no.” There have been several lineup changes over the last five decades, as well as the tragic loss of two key band members (drummer Alan White and bassist Chris Squire) in more recent years. But Yes still continues to tour and put out stellar work. Steve Howe has always been the foundation that Yes is built on and this is Steve Howe’s Yes. Howe says he is “absolutely resistant” to a Yes reunion with his former bandmates.
For the Fall 2023 Classic Tales of Yes Tour in North America, they are promoting their 22nd brilliant latest studio album Mirror To The Sky. As a fan of Yes since I first saw them live in 1974 at the Long Beach Arena to today, they still deliver their songs live with the soul and spirit of the classic lineup. Yes has always been committed to reproducing intricate and complex arrangements of their vast catalog of recordings in a live setting. Tonight, we would expect nothing less and are ready to take a mesmerizing journey into the world of progressive rock with our favorite prog rock band Yes.
The evening started out with a on stage presentation and slide show by the legendary artist Roger Dean. Dean’s artwork has graced the Yes album covers and promotional material since the beginning of their recording career. Dean is also responsible for the Yes logo. An art gallery was set up in the lobby highlighting his work. Afterwards Dean hung out signing posters, artwork and album covers for his fans.
After a brief intermission it was time for the show. Opening with a taped instrumental overture “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” they all casually walked on stage and Steve Howe launched into the opening riff of “Going For The One” on his Fender pedal steel guitar. They went right into “It Will Be a Good Day (The River),” a deep track off The Ladder. The song accents Jon Davison’s angelic voice shows how well he fits in to Jon Anderson’s shoes.
Next up was the 10-minute epic “Machine Messiah,” which allowed each member to display their musical excellence while taking us on a sonic journey of sight and sound. Just as we were all coming back to our senses, they played “I Have Seen All Good People.” A round of applause rang out, the audience rose to their feet to sing along to this fan favorite that has stood the test of time. Howe started the song playing a 12-string acoustic before switching over to his hollow body Gibson. They then slid effortlessly into an instrumental version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America.”
Yes stepped back to 1970 and unearthed “Time and Word,” the title track of their second album. It’s a deep cut that hasn’t been in their set since 2018. They ventured off to “South Side Of The Sky” from 1971’s Fragile. It opened with the sound of howling wind and burst into riff heavy rock song that mellowed out into a Geoff Downes piano solo with Howe, Davison and Sherwood engaging in a wordless three-part harmony. Howe’s epic dazzling guitar riffs floated in before fading back out to the wind. “Turn Of The Century,” another blast from the past, and “Don’t Kill the Whale” offered yet another live glimpse into their vast catalog of musical excellence.
It was now time for a new song — “Cut From The Stars” off Mirror To The Sky. This was bassist Billy Sherwood’s time to shine. The bass carries the song from beginning to end and had Sherwood dancing around the stage while laying down some solid lines.
Ending the night with excerpts from all four sides of their double-LP release from 1974, Tales From Topographic Oceans, they pulled out all the stops, pushing the boundaries of prog rock to the extremes in this grand closing masterpiece. Jon Davison’s vocals sounded mystical and mesmerizing. Jay Schellen’s drumming throughout was spot on with Sherwood’s solid bass playing. Howe and keyboardist Geoff Downes created the lush soundscapes that showed live this band’s musicianship is one of prog rock’s finest.
They came back out for the encore to play fan favorites “Roundabout” and “Starship Trooper,” which again had this audience of happy hippies and purveyors of fine prog rock on their feet having some heavy flashbacks to the day they first heard these songs on a vinyl record.
Tonight showed this is not Steve Howe’s band but a band of talented musicians that honor the legacy of Yes while paying homage to their past and bringing a fresh sound to the present. This evening’s live performance was a testament to their legacy in the world of progressive rock. Their passion and technical brilliance made tonight’s show an unforgettable journey, leaving us all so satisfied we were on our way.