21 March 2018

Review: Yes -Symphony Hall, B’ham 20th March 2018 – 50th Anniversary Tour

Review: Yes – Symphony Hall, Birmingham. 50th Anniversary Tour 2018

How do you sum up the career of a band that’s been in existence (in one form or another) since 1968 ?? What music would you choose from a VERY extensive and diverse back catalogue ???

The life of this band could be turned into a soap opera with its multifarious twists, turns and turmoil and even at the time of writing there are TWO versions of the band still out there, bringing us a wonderful set-list of classics that will live FOREVER in one form or another and the fact that virtually every gig is sold out, the audience reaction mesmerising and healthy merch sales – this is one successful franchise !!

With a great number of tribute bands out there (Fragile, Seyes – who play at the Yes convention on 25th March at London Paladium, Yesshows, Yes Please, the list goes on !!) plus two incarnations of the band, this is music for the ages and rest assured, from young to old, there will always be “Yes Music” !!

If you’re a fan of Prog (or to give it its full title PROGRESSIVE ROCK, which in itself has attracted more definitions, misconceptions and connotations than a bag of scratchings at a bar-mitzvah !!), then I think it’s safe to say you will be WAY more than familiar with Yes and if you’re not, you’ve either been living in a locked coal bunker for the past 50 years or maybe just like wearing un-cool tour t-shirts.

The line-up tonight: Jon Davison (ex-Glass Hammer) – Lead Vocals and acoustic guitar, Steve Howe – Guitars (and my god there are many !!) and backing vocals, Billy (don’t touch my perm) Sherwood – a very brave man, stepping into the shoes of a, literally, Bass Giant – Chris Squire, Geoff Downes (Buggles, Downes Braide Association, Asia) – Keyboards and backing vocals and on the drum stool Jay Schellen (Asia, GPS, Dukes Of The Orient), standing (or should I say sitting !!) in for the legendary Alan White – who did make an appearance during the awesome drum section of “Ritual”.

On my show last week, to preview the current tour, I played the live version of “Yours Is No Disgrace” from the classic “Yessongs” saying – “There’s a high possibility they will include this”, little did I know that they would open the show with it !!!!!!!!! Complete with extended guitar solo from The Professor Steve Howe, it was like stepping back in time and tonight, we actually had four tracks from this standout classic Yes album – suitably titled “The Yes Album”.
The show was split into two halves with a 20 minute break for us “slightly more mature” fans to relieve the Woolworths balder we were all fitted with back in the 50s/60s and much needed liquid refreshment from the well-stocked, but pricey Symphony Hall bar – thank fuck for the local Wetherspoons across the road !!

In the first half (approx 1 hour in length) we had a whistle stop tour of classic Yes tunes – The Clap (impeccable as ever), Sweet Dreams (from the very first Yes album), Parallels and Wonderous Stories from “Going For The One”, South Side Of The Sky from “Fragile”, a nice tribute to the aforementioned Mr Squire from Billy Sherwood followed by Onward from “Tormato”, I’ve Seen All Good People from “The Yes Album” and to close the first half And You And I from “Close To The Edge”.

So to sum up the first half – what can I say ??

The musicianship superb (as you’d expect – these tunes have been played many thousands of times over the years so one would want and expect nothing less tbh), Jon’s voice – close your eyes and you really would be hard pushed to know you were listening to a different Jon (!!), three awesome video panels behind the band which featured stunning visuals that totally added to the look and feel of the evening (in fact, I thought I was on the set of Dr Who at times !!), a stand-in drummer (Jay Schellen, who has way more than enough credentials to take on a role established by one of the classic Prog drummers of all-time, Alan White) and a set which, although maybe a little 70s orientated, represented a band at its creative peak, what more could any well-established Prog fan want or need (and don’t start going down the “well, it ain’t really Yes” route FFS !! That is a total and unnecessary line of debate that is going nowhere folks, so pack it in)

After the break, we kicked off with what would have been side 1 of the original vinyl release of “Tales From Topographic Oceans” – the mighty “The Revealing Science Of God” which, for me at least, features PROBABLY one of THE greatest mini-moog solos of ALL TIME. I have to admit, I SO freak out to that even now – over 40 years since I first heard the album back in 1973 (…and yes folks, I was there, in Birmingham Hippodrome on Dec 4th 1973 when they toured the album in its ENTIRETY even though none of us had heard it at the time !! )

4 tracks, each taking up one side of the original double vinyl, “Tales” has since become a much loved classic Prog album, up there with “Lamb Lies Down” and tonight we had two and a bit tracks to savour during the second set. Constantly changing direction and packing SO much music into two (in excess of) 20 minute tracks is a mighty deed in itself and as the drum heavy section of “Ritual” kicked in, our old friend Alan White made an appearance as Jay and Jon looked to him for timing nods as they pounded away on their respective “mini” kits to help big-up the mighty rhythms of such an EPIC section, with garish red strobe like patterns blazing away on the backdrops accompanied by frenetic spotlight work, it was truly mesmerising. In between the two lengthy tracks, we had a nice acoustic interlude “Leaves Of Green” taken, again, from “Tales and featuring Jon accompanying Mr Howe, beautiful…

The fact so much of the set was dedicated to this amazing album must tell you how important it is in the Yes canon, even though it was derided critically at the time, it has gone on to become an all-time Yes classic and was VERY well performed tonight from the entire band.

As for encores, what d’ya reckon ?? It just HAD to be – Roundabout from “Fragile” and yet another classic from the mighty “Yes Album” – Starship Trooper !!! The entire venue was standing, clapping and singing along, they certainly know what gets the fans on their feet and so, after nearly 2 1/2 hours the guys left the stage to a VERY happy bunch of hardened Yes fans and if the queues at the merch stand were anything to go by, a very profitable evening too…… ( I just had to buy the tour hoodie and book, which at £65 for the two – weeeeeell, it’s only once you get to celebrate 50 years with one of your fave bands of all time eh ?? )

Summary – In some respects, I was maybe expecting music from some of the later albums ( The Ladder, Open Your Eyes, Union, 90125, Big Generator etc etc), especially as this was a celebration of 50 years of Yes music, but ultimately, I’m not complaining because, just for once, I knew EVERY track, note for note, some, not all, of the words, but most of all, it took me back to a time when Prog ruled and after tonight – always will !! Do yourself a favour and get yo’ asses to the next Yes gig on the current tour and roll back the years.

The Progmeister

Full credit to Mark Busby Burrows for the pics…..