Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Time and Some Words About the Band Yes

On Monday night I went to see the band Yes.  Sort of.
It had been twenty five years since I first saw this band.  In fact, the Yes show at The Worcester Centrum for the 90125 tour was my first rock concert ever.  I was already a big fan at that time and I can remember pretty clearly a few distinct details of that show.  I remember the crazy vertiginous feeling of first walking out into the balcony of that stadium, the vast hugeness of the place and the throngs of fans around me.  It was disorienting because up until that point I had pretty much thought that Yes belonged to me and my brothers and my friends.
I can still see the crazy roundish stage and the smoke rising all around it.  I can hear the open giant sound of the murmurs and noises all around before the show.  Their opening act on that night was two Warner Brothers cartoons projected on a giant screen that was lowered from the ceiling.  I remember hearing a thousand people say "gull-a-bull" along with Bugs in the bullfighter episode.
I remember seeing lead singer Jon Anderson accidentally fall into a gaping hole in the stage.  The lights flashed and in that instant I saw his body plummet out of site.  The band vamped for ten minutes or so until he returned.
I remember Chris Squire's lowest bass note in The Fish shaking my seat and settling in my chest.
I remember the entire round light-rack above the stage slowly lowering down over the band at the end of Starship Troopers.
That's pretty good recall for something that happened so long ago.  Obviously, it had an impact on me.
I was a huge fan of that band for many years. I still am, though, I pull out their albums less than I used to.  But once in a while I will play one and I'll sing along with every note, every guitar lick, every weird part.  I'm quite aware of the pomposity of this band.  I'm not oblivious to their goofy new age mystical leanings.  I like it.  I like drum solos.  I like crazy out-there jams.  Or at least I like them when these guys do them.  They'd be a guilty pleasure if I in anyway felt guilty about it.
So, on Monday I went to see them with Lesa and Ken.  They were playing in the theater right in my little town.  It's a fifteen minute walk from my house.  I can actually see the place from where I am sitting right now typing this.  The Calvin Theater is no Worcester Centrum.  It seats around 800 I think.  If that's the case, then on Monday it seated 800 of the biggest Yes fans you've ever seen.
After ever single song there was a standing ovation (slightly less so after Owner of a Lonely Heart their one number post 1980).  The crowd seemed thrilled to have these idols in such a small local place.
I'm still not quite sure how I felt about the show.  I'm having a hard time being unbiased.  See, these guys are kind of like old friends to me.  I was rooting for them.  I wanted them to be awesome.
The band was a slightly strange line-up.  Yes has changed their line-up often over their forty year career.  This one featured three old timers: Steve Howe (guitar), Chris Squire (bass), and Aln White (drums), and two new-timers Oliver Wakemen (Yes keyboardist Chris Wakeman's son on keyboards), and Benoit David (on vocals).  The strangest factor was Benoit David singing in place of longtime Yes singer Jon Anderson.  David had been the lead singer of a Yes tribute band and he was adopted by the band when Anderson's throat started giving him trouble.
Chris Squire seemed to take charge of the show.  If there was a leader, he was it.  But I felt like Steve Howe was the one who still had it together musically the most.  Squire was great but Steve was still stunning with his crazy guitar playing.  I felt bad for Alan White when he had a few sketchy moments on the drums.  All of the songs were slower than they used to be, but the guys just seemed to be having so much fun playing, that I felt like I sort of became part of the band.  I was pulling for them from my seat.  "Come on, Alan, you can do it!"
We are in a strange age with all these aging rockstars.  The Who just played at the Super Bowl the night before this Yes concert.  I enjoyed the Who set, but I'm not convinced that the original members actually had much to do with what I heard. 
And that was the thing with the Yes show.  They didn't play everything as perfectly, or as fast as they used to, but it was them doing it.  If you are gonna keep your career going at that age, I feel like it's only worth-while if you are actually sharing where you're at with the audience.  These guys weren't props in front of a younger band with backing tracks like the Who seemed to be.  These guys were just themselves doing the best that they could to, as Steve Howe said, spread the word on the local level.
And let me tell you, these guys, not playing as amazingly as they used to, still out-played anyone I can think of.  I am glad I went to the show.  I enjoyed it for its great music, its nostalgia, its room full of music lovers, and even its slight sadness.
Here are the boys now:
Here they are in 1968:

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