Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Yes @ The Hammersmith Apollo, Tuesday 17 November 2009

It's been about 5 years since I last saw Yes... and this was my girlfriend's first Yes show. I've seen Steve Howe numerous times of late, with Asia and his Trio. I've seen Squire with The Syn. I've seen Jon Anderson solo and a show with Rick Wakeman. I've even seen Trevor Horn's band The Producers playing “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. But not Yes and not the controversial new line-up.

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 BenoƮt 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.)


  1. Nicely put Henry. Now, unlike that rather bitter, old, AMY trash recycler over in California who refused to go to a show, you can certainly feel qualified to discuss the merits (and otherwise) of this new lineup in a live context.

    Similarly to yourself I might [stylistically] prefer Koroshev's return on keys but then again this is Oliver's chance and we all know how Igor knobbled his.

    That Oliver has the backing of HSW is enough for me.

    What I find interesting in reading yours (and others) online reviews is the by far majority shift _away_ from the consideration of this as some sort of tribute Yes...which is a totally preposterous concept anyway... and toward an acceptance of this lineup as having credibility and validity in their own right. After the "classic" reunion failed to deliver new material and move forward many people felt they were being consumed by their own nostalgia. Now with new blood in the band, the band seem invigorated and 2010 promises the first new album since 2001's Magnification.

    About time


  2. I'm glad you enjoyed the concert, but after 30 years they've finally lost me. Too much drama (again). I may still see them if they come close, but I've lost the interest i had a decade ago. With only two original members, including a keys player notable more for his surname than his skills and a with an inferior replacement vocalist, why call it YES when it's not? Phil Lesh and Bob Weir have replaced the deceased Jerry Garcia with a cover band guitarist and have renamed their band Furthur.
    It's sad to see a band with such a legacy of great music come to this.
    By the way, Jon Anderson still alive and performing.

    Glad to hear that Dr. Henry has a girlfriend!


  3. Off topic but still... Lesh and Weir first replaced Garcia with Steve Kimock and called it The Other Ones (with Hornsby coming back as a full time member). The they replaced Garcia with Warren Haynes and called it The Dead. Furthur (with just two out of six ex-Grateful Dead "survivors") is just a watered down version of previous reincarnations.

  4. Hey Henry. This blog is a blast. Your review spot-on. Keep up the great work. We all owe you much. Onward with Yes.

    Rick Wakeman, Himself, asserted on that DVD... "there will always be a YES, and it will fall on the current members to carry that banner" (or somesuch..)

    Now he's somehow got a problem with it. Oh - OK then. His prophesy was correct, though.

    Yes should always exist, so long as there is a pulse in our beloved Chris & Steve & Alan.

    Wakey & Jon flatleft the band 30 years ago & yet YES still found a way to make GREAT Art & carry on.

    And so 2010 is a new canvas for this incarnation of YES. We give them our blessings.

    Can they now make valid music together?
    Hmm.. Thats a tough one. (Hope so) A failed YES album, at this late date, would ruin us all, and for good.

    But thats their next responsibility.

    Glad they're now making money again. But please please thrill us with a classic new album.

    Without that, we'll eventually lose interest.

    It can happen!

  5. Nice review, and kudos for having such a young girlfriend...

  6. I must agree with some of the comments here.

    Now at over 40 years in existence in some form or other Yes are a musical institution and with all due respect to all members past and present surely it is the music that matters most.

    Jon Anderson is of course synonymous with Yes but following his recent illness unfortunately he can no longer cope with such arduous tour schedules. And this after a five year wait.

    This is of course a sensitive position but let's not forget; Howe, Squire and White are no spring chickens therefore time is important.

    For me, someone who want's to see Yes continue performing live, even though Jon may not be in the band or in agreement with them, the recent european tour has shown that Yes will always have something to offer, whoever takes the stage.

  7. 19th Oct 2010 I am a Yes fan of 55 yrs of age. I seen the Yes tours, Close to the edge, Topographic, Relayer, Going for the one. Also seen the Ladder tour circa approx ,98 and the one after. Thought Magnification was a horrible recording. But I look forward to seeing this new line up record a new 70,s style album. would definately buy. Is this new album still definately on the books or has it already been recorded and released?

  8. Chas, they're recording a new album this month and next (Oct/Nov 2010). No release date has been announced, but some time in 2011 presumably.