Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Consider this recent review of a Fleetwood Mac show: "How heartwarming it is when a band of a certain vintage recognises that another new album would be about as welcome as rheumatism and heads out to play everyone’s favourite songs with no ulterior motive."
Sunday, 13 December 2009
I saw the band last year at the South Bank Centre and tonight's show was much the same. Everyone impressed me: the rhythm section of Mike Howlett on bass and Chris Taylor on drums was powerful and drove the music on. Allen was the same as ever, and in good voice. Gilli Smyth has slowed down a fair amount, as she glid across the stage, but her vocals are undiminished. Miquette Giraudy was clearly having lots of fun, dancing around, air-guitaring behind Hillage. They were having fun, and we were having fun in the audience. And I've not mentioned Theo Travis yet: another strong performance, covering Didier Malherbe's parts well as needed, more than capable of being the lead instrumentalist in places.
The big difference on last year was the inclusion of new material in the set. I quite like 2032 as a CD, and I thought the 2032 material worked very well in context. It was a thoughtfully constructed set, with plenty of classics later in the set, and a nice wind-down encore.
The Steve Hillage Band, i.e. 4/7s of Gong, opened with some classic Hillage solo tunes. I first saw Hillage and Giraudy live as System 7 at Glastonbury Festival, some time in the 1990s. To be honest, I preferred that set to this one. It was certainly well played tonight (and Howlett/Taylor impressed again) but I'm just not as much of a fan of early solo Hillage.
The main downside of the evening was the Kentish Town Forum. It's architecture and lack of seating downstairs tends to produce a very crowded area in front of the stage, and a terrible view further back. Maybe I wouldn't have minded that 10 years ago, but I'm getting old. I wanted a nice relaxing seat!
Age affects bands as well as audiences, and Gong make for an interesting comparison with Yes here. Yes fans regularly lament their band's age, with Howe, Squire and White all in their early 60s, yet Gong are performing with Smyth age 76 and Allen, 71. OK, the other band members are all under 60 (Hillage and Howlett are late 50s), but Gong show that prog rockers can perform into their eighth decade. Meanwhile, while some of the band members are older than Yes, many of the audience members are much younger than for Yes. While the Gong crowd had their share of middle-aged, there were youngsters too, far more than I saw at the recent Yes show. There's something about the Gong cult appeal that seems to keep bringing a steady trickle of new fans.
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
I've read hundreds of reviews of shows by the new band, hundreds of screens of online discussion about whether they should be called Yes, whether they should have taken this route, who's to blame for this or that… I've listened to a few boots too, but this was my first opportunity to actually judge for myself.
The last time I saw Yes, sort of, was a line-up with Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Alan White, Trevor Rabin and Geoff Downes at the Produced by Trevor Horn event. I very much enjoyed the performance, but what I was seeing did not feel like a real band. It came across as it was, a line-up assembled for a charity performance. This new line-up, with Benoît David and Oliver Wakeman, they felt like a real, viable band. I don't know quite how to describe it, but whatever the (many, many) arguments online, they convinced me that they are Yes. And they gave us a performance that is comparable to the Yes shows I've seen in the past (my first live Yes experience having been the Union tour).
Not only did they feel like a real band, but they looked happy. Like Howe on recent Asia and Trio shows, like Squire in The Syn at their 2005 London show, and unlike the 2004 Yes shows with Jon and Rick, the band at Hammersmith looked pleased to be there and to be there with each other.
I can, in theory, worry about the lack of new material (there was nothing played that was written since my girlfriend was born), or that for most of the set only two of them had played on the original recordings (for only three songs was the majority of the recording band now on stage), but we enjoyed a great night with great music. And the audience cheers were biggest for the much-played oldies.
On boots, David sometimes sounded quite like Anderson to me, yet oddly live he didn't sound at all like him. He was hitting the notes, but with a distinctive voice. And I just do not get the critiques that he looks or acts like Anderson on stage. His stage moves could be a little hokey at times, but they were all his own. That distinctive voice, there's a certain Quebecois squeaky quality that comes out on occasion, but he sang well and he shined on “Heart of the Sunrise”. My girlfriend argued he was closer to early '70s Jon Anderson than Jon Anderson is now.
The other new boy – if I call someone in his late 30s that! – was Oliver Wakeman. He impressed me, particularly after several negative reviews. Ignore the complaints you've heard about his stage presence. Oliver is not an ostentatious player, but he was mostly a good player, more so perhaps on material not originally played by his father. He brought Downes' parts on the Drama tracks to life, he was great with Kaye's part on “Astral Traveler”. And he's got better sounds than Rick. I'd reserve some criticisms: I felt he didn't get Kaye's feel on “Yours is No Disgrace” and the girlfriend complained he made mistakes on “South Side of the Sky”.
Again, ignore the negative reviews about Alan White. Maybe the band took several dates to get into their stride on this tour, but White's playing was fine in Hammersmith. Where you should listen to the reviews is with Steve Howe. Like they all say, he is on fire: passionate, inspired playing throughout. He is even enjoying “Owner of a Lonely Heart”; at the previous show in Birmingham, he described 90125 as “a great album”!
That leaves Chris Squire, who was... well, Chris Squire. He plays so many complex bass parts effortlessly, even the likes of “Machine Messiah”, a piece he's complained was difficult to re-learn. His singing was to the fore. That said, the biggest thing that would have improved the whole evening would have been a ban on alcohol! There was a bit of stumbling and slurring from Chris that I'm guessing was connected to whatever was in his cup. And no booze would have made for a better viewing experience without half the audience constantly getting up and down to buy more beer, or to piss away the previous batch!
Overall, this was comparable to other Yes shows I've seen. A friend at the show said this was the best he'd seen them play in 10 years. I wouldn't say that: I'm going to stick with Masterworks (2000) as my favourite tour. But I've seen weaker Yes shows than this. My occasional flatmate and I were sitting in almost the same spot in the Hammersmith Apollo on the Open Your Eyes tour (March 1998), and this was the better show. That might just be down to the mix, which was mostly good this tour, although I'd echo the common complaint that David and O. Wakeman could be a bit higher.
To be honest, yes, I would prefer Anderson's vocals. However, despite some comments Anderson has made in interviews, I just do not believe he is fit enough to sing at that volume, for that long, on this sort of tour schedule. Maybe some compromise arrangement would have been possible if the parties were getting on better, but the reality still appears to me that a tour like this just is not possible without a replacement singer. To be honest, I would prefer Igor Khoroshev's keys, but Oliver impressed me more than I expected. This is Yes; this show convinced me.
(But I can't see how they could lose Howe or Squire and keep going.)
Siberian Khatru: As always, and this is a perennial complaint, the band took a song or two to get going. The mix was still improving through “Siberian Khatru” with David far too quiet. The performance was so-so.
I've Seen All Good People: It feels like an odd position to be playing “I've Seen All Good People”, second on the set. “All Good People” works well as a closer or an encore, but as a way of introducing the band? And I still wasn't quite convinced by the new line-up at this point, worried my girlfriend would not enjoy her first Yes experience.
Tempus Fugit: here was the first “new” song, “new” only in the sense of not being a regular in the set and new to me, I've never heard it live before. By now, things had come together. The band were in good spirits and they played tightly.
Onward: “Onward” feels odd in this context; its balladry makes it quite unlike the other songs in the set. The Drama songs fit in very well with the Fragile material; even “Owner of a Lonely Heart” is not as different. Still, it was a good performance; Howe most of all.
Astral Traveller: A great performance, Howe and Wakeman both shone. However, the drum solo did nothing for me; it just seems pointless!
And You and I: The band were well in their stride by now: another strong performance.
Yours is No Disgrace: As ever, a good excuse for Howe to go crazy!
Steve Howe solo: A fantastic performance of “Corkscrew” began Howe's solo slot. I think of the piece as “Countryside” (released as a bonus track on Tormato) and Howe's performance made me wish for a full band version of this song. Next was “Sketches in the Sun”, another lovely performance.
Owner of a Lonely Heart: Howe introduced this tune explaining the band had done it “while I was away doing something else”. With his Trio and the cover versions in Asia's set, Howe is becoming a keen interpreter of other people's material, and he does it well, with gusto. Howe was having fun at being an 1980s guitar god with some great solos.
Machine Messiah: Another highlight, even if they had to extend the intro when Squire was late to come in.
South Side of the Sky: Those great songs, they just keep on coming. Oliver Wakeman was good on the piano section. However, as in the early '00s, I'm not convinced by the trading solos at the end and here Wakeman's work was disappointing.
Heart of the Sunrise: The opening remains effectively a Squire solo spot. Overall, another highlight.
Roundabout: A good performance, but forgive me if I find it too familiar.
Starship Trooper: A good closer and a rousing finale.
The show, as with most on this leg, is available to buy on MP3. I got it at the venue straight afterwards (with the last few songs available for download afterwards). It's a nice souvenir, if no Yessongs. Like the show, it suffers from an uneven mix at the beginning (Squire's vocals are almost louder than David's on “Tempus Fugit”), but it's good to have some of these performances preserved, like Howe's take on “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “Astral Traveller”.
Sunday, 25 October 2009
After about 70 votes, Steve Hackett's new album (on which Squire guests) was ahead, followed by Wakeman's Henry VIII - Live (which has now actually been released) and Yoso. The Steve Howe vote was split three ways, but the votes added up to be comparable to these other releases. However, by the time of the final tally, there had been a substantial surge for these Howe albums.
1. Steve Howe Trio live album: 59 (25%)
2. Steve Hackett: Out of the Tunnel's Mouth (w/ Squire): 46 (19%)
3. Steve Howe: Motif, Vol. 2: 42 (18%)
4. Steve Howe: Homebrew 4: 38 (16%)
5. Yoso: Yoso (w/ Kaye, Sherwood): 23 (10%)
6. Rick Wakeman: The Six Wives Of Henry VIII - Live At Hampton Court Palace [Eagle Rock release]: 19 (8%)
7. iCon: Urban Psalm (w/ Downes): 5 (2%)
8. Robbie Williams: Reality Killed the Video Star (w/ Horn): 3 (1%)
9. Billy Sherwood: Xmas songs tribute album (w/ Downes): 2 (1%)
10. Other answer: 2 (1%)
11. Kid Harpoon: Once (w/ Horn): 0 (0%)
So, that's a whopping 59% for Howe!
Note that this was the second release for Henry VIII - Live after the Concert Live edition earlier this year, which itself won the best release of the first half of 2009 poll. That prior release may have suppressed its performance here.
Thursday, 22 October 2009
Definitely buy it: 13 votes
Probably buy it: 12 votes
Be interested, but it would depend on how much of an appearance he made: 17 votes
Be interested, but it would depend on other factors, like what I thought of the act, what reviews said etc.: 21 votes
Would take a look at a news item, but probably wouldn't make any difference: 4 votes
Not interested at all: 2 votes
Other: 3 votes
So, that's 92% who would at least consider getting such an album. OK then, coverage will continue.
Friday, 25 September 2009
Anyway, what I wanted to talk about was the latest Rick Wakeman Communication Centre newsletter. It makes for interesting reading, including some damning criticism of the current Yes line-up. Wakeman also talks about plans for future live spectaculars after 6 Wives at Hampton Court, and it's here he says some revealing things about money.
To some extent, the commercial success of music is irrelevant to the listener. If I enjoy a piece of music, I enjoy a piece of music, regardless of whether only 10 or 10 million others share my view. Some of my favourite albums have sold in tiny numbers (e.g. Biota's Object Holder or Andrew Booker's Ahead) and I've seen great live music with single-figure audiences. However, generally speaking, some degree of commercial success is needed to fund musical projects. If too few people are buying, projects simply don't happen, and many interesting ideas have foundered through lack of investment (e.g. the proposed Steve Howe/Annie Haslam album and the proposed Rick Wakeman/Keith Emerson live shows).
And this isn't just about the musicians making a decent wage. Musical acts need a throughput of money, where the income from the last covers the up-front costs of the next. Or, as Wakeman explains in his case:
"Negotiations are quite far advanced as to putting on Journey to the Centre of the Earth and possibly Return to the Centre of the Earth as well at the O2 next May .
"To be brutally honest, a lot will depend on how well the DVD and CD of Hampton Court does as income from this would have to go straight into the production of the potential O2 show and also would hopefully help to attract investors and sponsors"
It's this cycle of money, one project paying for the next, that is often forgotten by fans.
PS: Watched 5 minutes of music television in Italy, and saw two videos for songs produced by Trevor Horn (from forthcoming albums by Robbie Williams and Kid Harpoon). He's one Yes alumnus with few money worries, I'd guess.
Sunday, 13 September 2009
By the way, I'm away on holiday in a few days so there won't be any updates to the Where Are They Now? site then for about a week. But keep sending me news for when I get back, and you can also leave comments here on the blog!
Monday, 31 August 2009
That was the question that motivated the latest WATN poll, what would you most like Asia to play live on their next tour? 80 of you voted. First off, 11 of you admitted to no interest in Asia (I presume others uninterested in the band didn't vote at all!).
So, out of the remaining 69... overwhelmingly (51%), you want new material to be played live, with 21 wanting more from Phoenix and 14 wanting the band to play material from their next album. The decision to play "legacy" material, songs from their previous bands, has gone down well and 15 (22%) of you want more.
Asia have something like 11.5 studio albums to their name, but the original line-up are only together on three of those, Asia, Alpha and Phoenix, and they've made clear they're not huge fans of Alpha. Even settling for just three of them together only adds Astra, half of Then & Now and bits of Aqua. This line-up has more band members in common with Drama or Wetton/Downes' iCon than it does with the many years John Payne was in the band. So, how should this Asia handle their back catalogue?
17% of you want later Wetton-era material played. That's 5 saying more from Alpha and 7, more from after Howe left the band (Astra, Then & Now). Just 3 (4%) wanted Payne-era material (and no-one selected the option saying they had no interest in this line-up and preferred the continuing Asia Featuring John Payne).
That leaves another 3 wanting the band to stick to the focus on Asia. And there was 1 vote for iCon material.
So, Asia, if you're listening, the people who read the Where Are They Now? site, who may be a bit more hardcore than much of the paying audience, but anyway... they'd like lots more new material live in 2010, but chuck in a few songs from Alpha, Astra and Then & Now too. (Me, I'd love "Rock and Roll Dream" and "Days Like These".)
The next poll is rather different. I report on the news page about all these guest appearances the Yes guys make, but does anyone care? Me, I'm liable to pick up all sorts of random stuff because Bill Bruford played on a track, or Trevor Horn produced it, but what about you?
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
The challenge for any tribute album is the inevitable comparison with the original work. When covering bands like Zeppelin or The Beatles, you not only have the originals but umpteen previous cover versions with which to compete. One approach is to stick close to the original form, but it can be hard to play the song better than the familiar original. At the other end of a spectrum, one can turn in a radical re-interpretation of the piece.
With much of Led Box, as with earlier Sherwood projects like Back Against the Wall (a tribute to Floyd's The Wall), Sherwood and guests mostly stick to faithful versions. I think that's a mistake. I like some tribute albums that are fairly close to the originals, like the Magna Carta Rush tribute Working Man, but by and large I prefer it when artists take songs in different directions. For example, Tales from Yesterday (Magna Carta's Yes tribute) has some strong, faithful covers, like Steve Howe and Annie Haslam doing "Turn of the Century", or Kevin Gilbert, Mike Keneally et al. doing "Siberian Khatru" (although the latter succeeds in part because of a fantastic twist in the middle). But many of the best tracks are radical reinterpretations ("Don't Kill the Whale", "Release, Release"). I'd recommend as a good model Encores Legends and Paradox, the 1999 Magna Carta tribute to ELP. (Lousy title, I know, but great album.) It's half arranged by Robert Berry and half by Trent Gardner, both working with various guests including Igor Khoroshev, Peter Banks, Geoff Downes, John Wetton, Pat Mastelotto and half of Dream Theater. Here is a project that really lets its guest musicians loose. Khoroshev and Mastelotto in particular shine. Similarly, in the realm of Led Zeppelin tributes I'd recommend Kashmir, the orchestral Zeppelin project by Jaz Coleman with Martin "Youth" Glover producing. Very different sound to Zeppelin, yet still distinctively Zeppelin. Perhaps it's that balance that's the secret: similar enough to evoke the original, different enough to stand on its own.
So that's a rather long preamble, but now back to Led Box. For me, the stand out track is "Black Dog" by Keith Emerson, with Sherwood and Alan White in support, and tribute band singer Michael White (no relation) on vocals. Given you can pick the album up fairly cheap, I'm tempted to say it's worth it for "Black Dog" alone. That's because it's distinctively Keith Emerson and distinctively "Black Dog". It's not a radically different reading of the song, but it's full of Emerson's personality. Likewise, it's Rick Wakeman's "Nobody Home" on Back Against the Wall that I return to because it's distinctively Wakeman. What's the point of having, say, Dweezil Zappa play "Stairway to Heaven" on Led Box if it doesn't sound like him?
Leave aside my difference of opinion over how to approach a tribute album, and there's perhaps a more fundamental problem for me with the Sherwood-led tracks here: the lacklustre performances. It's the Bob Kulick-led numbers on Led Box that work better. There's a spirited "Houses of the Holy" from Pat Travers, for example. In comparison, we've got three quarters of CIRCA: doing "All My Love" and it just sounds lifeless. This is Zeppelin: it's big, powerful, growling music and I hear no verve in most of the Sherwood-led renditions. I know these people can play with passion and emotion, but I'm not hearing it on these tracks.
Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Karnataka are a relatively recent prog band. On keyboards is Gonzalo Carrera, who also plays with Whimwise and dB-Infusion and may be known to Yes fans for working with Peter Banks. Unfortunately, Karnataka didn't get to play. Some never-entirely-explained problem saw the schedule for the main stage re-arranged to allow more setting-up time. While Simon McBride (3rd billing for the evening) got moved to a second stage, Karnataka (4th billing) were just dropped, through no fault of their own. I met the band who were still seemed shell-shocked by the experience. I hope to see them somewhere else soon.
No Karnataka left a long gap between up'n'coming prog band Touchstone and old favourites Focus on the main stage, so we bagged a sweet spot in front of the mixing desk and ate festival food. Despite all that extra setting up time, when they started, Focus were plagued by microphone/monitor problems, and a broken guitar string. Still, that didn't stop them or us having a good time.
Yes fans complain about a band with only three 'classic' members, but Focus is down to founder Thijs van Leer plus drummer, Pierre van der Linden, with two new members. Long gone is guitarist Jan Akkerman. The two new players are very competent and the two Focus fans I was with, my partner and her Mum, were happy enough to see van Leer. Perhaps because he's the other 'classic' member explains why van der Linden got three drums solos, which is about three too many.
As a band I don't know so well, I was happy for Focus to play their greatest hits with only a little new music, yet the next act I know so well that I don't want the greatest hits and would rather have new material. This is, of course, what bands have to deal with, an audience mix of some casual listeners and some hardcore fans.
That next act, headlining and closing, were Asia. Again, the extra setting-up time earlier seemed to no avail as they were over half an hour late, but a festival in a field out of town doesn't have to worry about a curfew so much and the band played their full allotted time.
Of course, Asia were coming off the back of 24 North American dates supporting Yes, and Steve "the hardest working man in rock" Howe was coming from 24 dates playing with both bands, but there was no sign of tiredness in their performance. The set, which was professionally recorded, concentrated on the debut album, although we got two Phoenix pieces and "Fanfare for the Common Man". I was sorry not to hear "In the Court of the Crimon King" and "Video Killed the Radio Star", which I thought would have gone down well with the festival crowd.
It was a good show, but it was a good show I've seen twice before and I was conscious that they will need to start varying the set more to keep audiences interested in 2010. See the poll on the Where Are They Now? front page for your thoughts on that.
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
The show was poorly advertised, possibly deliberately for what Riley described as an open rehearsal and Bruford as "under-rehearsed". The venue, upstairs at a private club, was swish. Yumi Hawa Cawkwell was taking photos. I keep bumping into Yumi at numerous Yes-related gigs around London, but she's also a great musician in her own right and has worked with pianocircus before, as well as Hugh Hopper and David Cross.
pianocircus did an opening set of a couple of minimalist pieces, before Bruford and Riley came on to a cramped stage. The music was... well, hard to describe, which isn't very helpful for you, dear reader! Fortunately, there are audio samples on both the collaboration's and the album's MySpace pages. The music was often marked by contrasts. Much seemed composed, but there were also clearly passages where Bruford could improvise. Parts were quite industrial, vaguely reminiscent of later King Crimson, but by and large the material was as far from, say, Yes or Earthworks as those two are from each other. This was Bruford coming into Riley's world rather than being much like anything he has done before. And not always doing so successfully: parts of the evening didn't work for me, and yet the whole was a fascinating experiment. Around the time of the show, Bruford (then aged 58) did an interview in which he asked, "Has anyone over 60, outside maybe of Picasso, really offered fresh directions?" Here was a fresh direction for his own career, in its early stages, but exciting. So I'm looking forward to hearing what happened next now the project has matured into an album release, and also saddened that the project has now been curtailed by Bruford's retirement.
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
1. The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Live at Hampton Court Palace (Rick Wakeman): 25 votes
2. HQ (CIRCA:, w/ Sherwood, Kaye): 20 votes
3. Live In Milwaukee, 23rd April 2008 (Asia, w/ Howe, Downes): 16 votes
4=. 3 (iCon, w/ Downes): 6 votes
4=. Race to Witch Mountain OST (Trevor Rabin) [digital only release]: 6 votes
6=. Change of Space (Patrick Moraz): 1 vote
6=. Live in Tokyo Japan 12th May 2008 (Asia): 1 vote
6=. Overflow (CIRCA:, w/ Sherwood, Kaye) [digital only release]: 1 vote
6=. From Brush and Stone (Rick Wakeman & Gordon Giltrap): 1 vote
6=. Escala (Escala, w/ Horn): 1 vote
6=. Abbey Road: A Tribute to the Beatles (w/ Sherwood, Kaye, White, Downes): 1 vote
12=. Live in Barcelona 19th May 2008 (Asia): 0 votes
12=. Live In Sao Paulo, 23rd March 2008 (Asia): 0 votes
Calls for new material are commonplace on fan forums, yet the albums in first and third place are mostly about playing the old stuff. Henry VIII - Live gets 25 votes but From Brush to Stone gets just one. Asia's Live in Milwaukee gets 16 votes, while iCon's 3 gets 6. Wakeman's approach with the Henry VIII show is almost like the live version of a remastered re-release, complete with bonus tracks: is that what people want? Asia's Live In Milwaukee is all old material, recorded before they started including material from new album Phoenix. (Why was Live in Milwaukee so much more popular than the others in their Official Bootleg series? Because it was the only one recorded in the US maybe?) Do most fans prefer re-exploring the old songs to new material, or is the problem that the new material just isn't as good?
New material in the form of CIRCA: HQ was in second place, and that was my own choice. Concert Live kindly sent me the Wakeman release and it's nicely done, well put together, but I've never been as much of a fan of his work. I'll do a proper review of HQ at some point: I think the second half is stronger than the first, but certainly worth hearing with some great work in particular from Tony Kaye.
Squire's been calling Howe the hardest-working man in rock, but look at Geoff Downes' output too. Apart from the four Asia Official Bootlegs, there was the iCon album with John Wetton, and time to appear on Billy Sherwood's Beatles tribute.
I was surprised the Moraz album didn't do better. But what did you all think? Meanwhile, next poll is going to be on what you'd like Asia to be playing live as they go forwards.
Sunday, 2 August 2009
Oh, and I've got the other blog, but that's for work stuff (work being health informatics).
Anyway, hope you enjoy what follows...