Friday, 18 November 2011

Yes, 17 November 2011, Hammersmith Apollo

This isn't a full review, because mostly everything I said about the band's first UK date in Cambridge (see last blog post) applies here, their last UK date.

Overall, I think it was a slightly better performance, although with seats in the circle to the sides rather than being at the front, not quite as fun an experience! The new material in the set seemed to have benefitted from having had longer to bed-in. The slight tentativeness I described in Cambridge was gone, with "Life on a Film Set" and "Into the Storm", in particular, that little bit tighter. This was the best "Into the Storm" I've heard across these two shows and several boots.

This was a longer set than in Cambridge, a 2.75 hour run time (including an interval, at the venue's request). They played all of the rehearsed songs except "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and re-arranged the order to suit playing two sets (although in a different way to in Brighton): intro music: "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra", "Yours is No Disgrace", "Tempus Fugit", "I've Seen All Good People", "Life on a Film Set", "And You and I", Howe solo ("Solitaire", "Trambone"), "Heart of the Sunrise", interval, "Fly from Here", "Wonderous Stories", "Into the Storm", "Machine Messiah", "Starship Trooper", encore: "Roundabout". This gave the first set a big ending in "Heart of the Sunrise", but required the courage to open the second set with the full "Fly from Here" suite. It paid off with a positive audience reaction, although the biggest response was for "Wonderous Stories" and I was also chuffed at the very strong support for "Machine Messiah".

"Machine Messiah" was the one song we hadn't heard in Cambridge and a personal favourite, so I was very happy to hear it. That said, I wonder whether it has suffered from not being played every night, because there were a few flubs earlier on in the piece, due to Downes I think. Otherwise, performances were strong all round, with "Roundabout" (and Downes' playing on it) an unexpected highpoint. Squire was clear, focused and in good voice (and had his mum in the audience). White, full of energy. Howe, reliable as ever. David was better than in Cambridge, although still the occasional weak spot. The long note in the transition in the middle of "Life on a Film Set" still eludes him. And I still don't like how the band use "Starship Trooper: Würm" like "All Good People", as a place to set indvidual solos. I don't mind individual solos; I'm just a purist about how they should approach "Würm"!

So, great set, great performances, band are confident and appear to be still improving. I look forward to seeing reviews of the rest of the tour as it travels eastwards through Europe.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Yes, 8 Nov 2011, Cambridge Corn Exchange

Toe carefully strapped (see last blog post), I attended the first date on the British leg of Yes's European tour in Cambridge. (Squire introduced it as the first date on their English leg, only for Howe to offer a friendly correction of 'British'.)

Their first UK date, and only the fourth date of the whole tour, revealed a Yes totally different from the shambolic beginnings to their US summer tour, or even from their last visit to the UK two years ago. Tonight was a band firing on all cylinders, happy with each other, and hungry to perform. They were tight, well rehearsed, and all five delivered.

Whereas Howe had been the focal point in 2009, now the whole band were working as a unit. Squire was more focused and his singing was great. White didn't tire and the live environment showed off his drumming on the new material. Downes was comfortable, bringing his own style to the old material. David was in great voice: there were a couple of high notes he didn't quite reach, but ironically all on the new material. But I'm going to start talking about the set list, so look away now if you're avoiding spoilers...

While collecting the tickets for the evening, the venue's poor sound insulation meant I could hear the soundcheck. The piece they were playing set the scene for the show later that evening: "Into the Storm". Compared to 2008-10 and accusations of being a tribute band, when they were playing sets where often only two of the band had played on the original songs, the current line-up now are putting their own material out there, and more broadly breaking away from only the pattern of selections from The Yes Album/Fragile/Close to the Edge + "Owner of a Lonely Heart". They are also doing something many fans have long asked for: they are changing the set from night to night. Having played everything at their extra long debut show, each show since has seen different songs rotated in and out, and a willingness to sometimes omit the old warhorses that seemed permanently glued on. "Into the Storm" had been omitted at the previous show in Spain, and I took its soundcheck appearance as a good sign it would be played that evening. The soundcheck continued with the overture and first two parts of "Fly from Here", before rounding off with "Yours is No Disgrace". But what of the actual show?

Set: "Yours is No Disgrace", "Tempus Fugit", "I've Seen All Good People", "Life on a Film Set", "And You and I", Howe solo ("Solitaire", "Clap"), "Fly from Here" (whole suite), "Wonderous Stories", "Into the Storm", "Heart of the Sunrise", "Starship Trooper"; encore: "Roundabout". In other words, that's most of the new album, all except "The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be" and "Hour of Need". Compared to the opening European night, we had no "Machine Messiah" or "Owner of a Lonely Heart".

The new material worked and met a good audience reaction. The Cambridge Corn Exchange is a cosy venue (capacity 1800, sold out tonight) with most of the audience standing, and there was a good atmosphere. Some tentativeness by the band was apparent: for example, I could see Howe counting down the changes in "Life on a Film Set". But the full "Fly from Here", in particular, blossomed live. "Into the Storm" was less successful for me: it got too loud, a problem with "Würm" as well, although being right at the front, that may have been a problem with my location rather than the playing. (I could feel the air displaced by the bass notes, we were that close to the speakers.) "Solitaire" also came alive, and Howe's solo spot also delivered a vigorous rendition of "Clap", Howe's happiness apparent.

The new songs were placed in the middle of the set, with standards as bookends. "Yours is No Disgrace" worked well as an opener. I've seen Yes so often warm up over their first song, but the band were up to speed from the beginning tonight. "Wonderous Stories" was a pleasant return to the set and Downes, who has a short solo at the beginning, was able to express his style of playing. He was also hot on "Roundabout". "Roundabout" and particularly "Heart of the Sunrise" at the end of the set had seemed tempting songs to skip if my toe began throbbing, but I was glad I stayed, with great performances of both. "Heart of the Sunrise" shone despite its familiarity.

Less successful was "Starship Trooper". While "Disillusion" was strong, I could do without Squire's posturing in "Würm", although should anyone accuse me of being a killjoy, I enjoyed Downes' keytar excursion! Some reviewers have also criticised David's 'Dad dancing', but I liked it: he was enjoying the music, and conveying that enjoyment to the audience.

Met many other fans at the show, familiar faces like Brian, TB, Yumi and Malcolm, as well as new souls like Joey. Big hello to all.

In all, this is Yes back playing how they can. I know London at the end of the UK leg is already sold out, so if you haven't already got tickets, act soon.

Monday, 7 November 2011

The curse returns

February 2000: Yes were touring in support of The Ladder and played two shows at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I had tickets for both. After the first show, I went on to a friend's party and got mugged while waiting for a train. So, if you search around on Facebook, you can see a picture of me at the second show with a huge black eye.

Ah, well. These things happen, I thought.

The next Yes tour, the Masterworks tour, wasn't coming to Europe, so I and a friend decided to fly out to the US east coast. We were planning to see three shows and meet up with some friends we'd made online, like the infamous Steven Sullivan and Jeff Hunnicutt.We began with the 23 July Nissan Pavilion show, then the fantastic and infamous 25 July Virginia Beach show. Down the coast for Raleigh on 27 July, then it was on a train to get to Charlotte for the next day. We met some other fans on the train and we were offered a list to the venue that evening.

There we are, five of us in the car, just leaving the motel, when BANG. Another car had slammed into us as we were turning. Everyone staggered out of the car, checking to see how everyone else was. Lots of calls of "I'm OK", lots of consequent relief... except for me, who was still sitting there, too winded to say anything. I eventually climb out and it's obvious I'm not OK. Fortunately, we were one block from an emergency room and I was soon patched up, but we missed the show! And, unfortunately, my shoulder was in pieces and that took four years of pain and two operations to be repaired.

So, one misfortunate on the way from a Yes show. Then another misfortune on the way to a Yes show. Come December 2001 and the Magnification tour and I was a bit worried that something would happen during the show, maybe a lighting rig falling on me or something. But nothing untoward happened; the curse appeared broken.

Further happy shows followed: 2003, 2004, 2009.

And now it's 2011. I've got tickets for Cambridge tomorrow and London later in the tour. Both were nearly sold out. I could only get a standing ticket for Cambridge. But that's fine. It's not like I can't stand for two and a half hours.

Except, guess what? I broke my toe yesterday. I tripped going upstairs. A hairline crack of the proximal phalange of the right toe. A pretty trivial bone to break. It's not going to stop me working or anything. Except, you know, if I was planning to stand for two and a half hours in a crowded concert hall 48 hours later. That might not be a good idea.

The curse returns.