What does it sound like?:
Yes have had a hard time recently; difficulties when they wanted to tour and Jon was ill, bad feeling around the execution of the Rock n’Roll Hall of Fame entry performance, the death of Chris Squire, and the decline of Alan White, who was no longer able to keep up with the frenetic tempos and precision playing Yes’s best music requires. Steve Howe has worked hard to create a non-Fragile (hah!) version of the band which can meet their marks and give the music the seriousness and the syncopation it needs.
With Jon Davison on vocals they have a convincing new Jon without the grating “Lancastrian-Californian pixie” vibe, Billy Sherwood doing a great job on the bass; Geoff Downes getting into his role (as he should, given he has been doing this for 40 years, on and off) , and Jay Schellen doing the faster drumming work (Alan White still providing what he does), so it all sounds good. Better in fact than the last Yes live album I reviewed here (Yes 50 live, in July 2019).
I was disconcerted that there was no “FireBird Suite” to kick things off (has there ever been a better statement of intent, and more thrilling introductory music?), but as they break into the lovely and dynamic “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed”, we are on initially strong ground. “Tempus Fugit” is perky, as is “Going for the One”. “Onward” is it’s usual wetness, dignified by the association with Chris Squire, but only just. As ever, and throughout, Steve Howe is effortlessly brilliant and in full command of instrument. It’s all played well, and most best known tracks are represented (though no epic is performed (a relative matter – some people would think these tracks are epic if they were unfamiliar with “Topographic Oceans” or “The Gates of Delirium”). Doubtless as they will have those on the NEXT live album.
And that is the sad point. This is the 16th live Yes album. They occasionally change arrangements, but you need to be a fan to really hear it. On this album they do Paul Simon’s “America” (very good), but the toe-curling version of “Imagine” – did they HAVE to? OK, Alan played on it. It probably went down a storm in America, some pensioners waving lighters and telephone lights around. But I can’t but wonder if the typical British fan will cringe at it’s cruise-band hippie earnestness, and it simply reminds me that John Lennon was – blasphemy! – a bit of a creep, and the song is a bit platitudinous. The album ends on “Roundabout” and “Starship Trooper”. There’s a surprise.
What does it all *mean*?
Despite some sad losses and fallings-out, Yes have found a line-up that can play the music to the standard it needs. They are a little trapped in that the best 9 albums from 1970 to 1980 have been played and played again, the newer material often being weaker, and clearly recognised as such, given it’s omission from the set. The covers suggest a way forward, as there are a lot of songs that could be Yessified wonderfully. But please, not more cheesiness like “Imagine” (I suppose we should be glad it wasn’t “Woman”). The component members of the band know better, and should stretch each other to bring out their best, ditching the Vegasisms.
Goes well with…
This was a gig at “The Joint” at Las Vegas. If you’d had a real joint, security would have kicked you out and, if you were unlucky, called the cops. It was an audience of late boomers some of who doubtless went back to the slots later. There would have been overpriced weak beers, under-strength cocktails, and humongous portions of processed food. Please, not with our age and incipient metabolic syndromes. Steve Howe keeps looking fit despite his venerable years, and that’s because he looks after himself. We should, too.
October 30th, 2020
Might suit people who like…
Yes, Asia, Marillion, symphonic progressive rock, hippie-lite music