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.