The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world



5th APRIL 2012 








1. Yours Is No Disgrace
2. Tempus Fugit
3. Your Move/I've Seen All Good People
4. Life on a Film Set
5. And You and I
6. Steve Howe Solo
7. Fly From Here - Overture
8.  Fly From Here - Pt I - We Can Fly
9.  Fly From Here - Pt II - Sad Night at the Airfield
10. Fly From Here - Pt III - Madman at the Screens
11. Fly From Here - Pt IV - Bumpy Ride
12.  Fly From Here - Pt V - We Can Fly (Reprise)
13. Wonderous Stories
14. Into the Storm
15. Heart of the Sunrise
16. Owner of a Lonely Heart
17. Starship Trooper


18. Roundabout









Yes, of course, is a band famous for their unique progressive art/symphonic style of rock music. You could even argue that they were the forerunners of the entire ‘Prog-rock’ genre. There is no doubt as to their influence, and even if like me, you find them a little stodgy and at times indecipherable, in the live arena they are known for their great and rather lengthy performances. 




Jo from the Rockpit is a huge fan and had her ticket the day they were released, I’m here because I’m curious and also because I always wanted to photograph the greatest guitarists on the planet, and am slowly working my way through my list! There is no doubt after all, whatever you take on Yes, that Steve Howe is one of the greats. 




So here we have the Yes 2012 vintage: with only the ever-present Chris Squire from their genesis in 1968 still aboard the ship, though I guess Howe’s arrival in 1970 and Alan Whites in 1972 certainly qualifies this as an almost vintage line-up less the mighty Jon Anderson. 




Tonight we have Jon Davison on vocals; who replaces previous (and short-lived) front-man Benoit David. David sang on Yes’ latest release Fly from Here in 2011 and left after becoming ill. The big topic of conversation in the foyer, as you can probably imagine, is how he will fare tonight?  




My biggest concern tonight in all honesty is if I will last the distance…




My second biggest concern is if Yes fans have senses of humour and if you carry on reading you’ll know why, with a paid-up Prog sceptic in the review seat, this might be an interesting read. One final thing before we set off – if the setlist is wrong I read it off a photograph – so there!








I have to admit to not being particularly familiar with Yes: sure I’ve heard them, have memories of them from my youth that all centre around my friends who liked them all having duffle-coats and bicycles in common. I also remember someone trying to force ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’ upon me once, and being scarred by the experience. If there is one thing I pride myself on though it’s having an open mind…. Sure I can do some Prog… as long as it doesn’t lead to a habit.




As far as openings go ‘Yours is No Disgrace’ is as good a place as any to start, one of Yes’ formative songs and a discourse on war (at the time in Vietnam) it’s still a powerful song and a frightening number of people as I look around are mouthing the words. The crowd here tonight is pretty much of a similar age-range from 40-60 but it’s good to see a few kids in; and even to odd local musician with kids in tow!




If you’re not particularly into Prog though, for every highpoint there will always be a low and ‘Tempus Fugit’ from 1980’s ‘Drama’ album is not something that grabs me, aside from it possessing a stunning bass-line. One thing you have to remember about Yes is that they were left pretty intact after punk hit. And in both the UK and the US from 1977-1980 each album release bothered the upper end of the charts: so when you actually hear songs like this and recall the musical context of the times it is almost incomprehensible.









‘Your Move/All Good People’ sees the balalaika come out (at least I think that’s what it was) and we get all folky and laid back. Jon Davison is doing a pretty good facsimile of his namesake on vocals and whilst he may look like seventies schoolkid to Howe’s school professor and Squire and Downes ‘aged rock warhorses’ on Rickenbacker bass and keys respectively, he’s a little less spritely than a very animated Howe.




One of the interesting things about seeing a band like Yes is finding the words to describe songs like this: sure there’s folk in there, and the sound is pretty archaic; and then of course there’s the big Proggy build to precipitous highs and chasm-like lows. But there are also the drums that ate percussion, and time signatures to drive you to sobriety…. Well that’s one way of looking at it; another might be that Prog at its very essence to me is still very much all about different songs struck together to form an odd-looking vessel by a quite possibly elfin blacksmith…




And amidst all the folk-rock ponderings I see that everyone but the drummer is singing in a higher register than would be comfortable for most men…




After a brief pause our singer finds his voice to introduce a new number ‘Life on a Film Set’: which cannot be described as anachronistic as that would suggests it did have a time and place... I guess at the end of the day it's alternative rather than progressive as this template has been around so long now progressive as an adjective seems to have lost any real meaning. It is also during the song that Squire first picks up his green squiggly hooked bass of green with black filigree that looks like one of Matisse’s nightmares.




And yes, there are lyrics about running tigers that I thought were the intellectual property of trad jazz musos and we are only four songs in...









‘You and I’ is dedicated to all those near and dear and begins with keys and sparse guitar against a video screen of half animated Roger Dean images. There’s some nice Fender lap steel which builds into an ocean of sound that even a ‘dyed in the wool’ Prog sceptic like me got caught up in. Then just when I think they have started a new song (as they stopped and we were several minutes in and the bassist started up a harmonica) I realise were still in the same song which OK I’ll admit is kind of cool in a Rush meets ELP sort of way. And at the climax I’m left with the image of Davison tickling some miniature chimes relentlessly and inaudibly against a heavy bass and guitar crescendo…




And somewhere in the weave of the song there is something shoe-horned in there about twee ships in the morning that could be an 1840’s jig or canticle, but I presume that might be a story in itself.




At this point the band simply wanders off the stage leaving us all in the capable hands of a seated Steve Howe. To me this ill be the highlight of the night as we settle in for a guitar solo like one I’ve not heard the like of before.




We start off with a jaunty little number on acoustic that gets all classical; then almost Spanish; then Baroque. Then subsides into a simple melody repeated; and expanded: before it grows into something that sounds like the introduction to Tesla’s ‘Love Song’ (excuse the blasphemy)…




Then we are jaunty again; then movie-soundtrack light and shade before a pause for applause and a seated bow from Howe…




And then we’re off again with a finger-picked almost ‘Bugsy Malone’ style interlude and more picking, in fact enough to almost constitute a song.




I find myself getting carried away and you do feel Mr Howe does this a lot at home, maybe in his study: you know after a small port and a game of billiards?




It’s very nice.









As the band rejoins Howe on stage we are advised that next up is the entire ‘Fly From Here’ Suite, which at 25 minutes long is a significant portion of what is already becoming an epic set. Snakes lost in mushroom shaped mountains overtake the video screens along with some gentle tambourine from Davison, before the suite kicks in with a backing video of a Mark Walberg look-alike reading about a Howard Hughes era plane crash whilst seated in a modern day airport. He understandably looks rather shocked as he then boards a plane full of 1930’s attired passengers.




It does get odder though musically, with a strangely Carmen Miranda meets Wagner interlude. Ok not Wagner then, maybe some slightly less epic German composer... However I do keep humming ‘Fly me to the moon’ and it’s all a little too uncomfortably twee, before Howe saves the day and gets a little wild, before we end Part one back at the low key start.




I confess to being more bemused at this point that any other and mourn the complete disregard of using the voice to provide melody, but instead to supply either simple spoken words or act as an almost undertow to the music; or even highlight, depending on the requirement. It’s as if the voice is just simply colour in the palette and very much just a (minor) instrument. On the plus side it’s not too often you see someone play a bass on half mike stand upright…




And while we’re still in the suite (I think, at this point I wasn’t sure where I was) we get another fine Fender lap-steel crescendo. I have a drink of water to calm the nerves.




In truth there are some golden moments of jumpy awkwardness in the ‘sailor beware’ section; and to be honest it’s those jazz-addled moments that turn me off Prog most of all. That and the almost schoolboy willingness to accept awkwardness and label it art.




After an inexplicable section of mamba-funk: yes, it's all in here! I’m completely at sea in what sound like completely unrelated songs played at random deliberately to confuse me:  it's like punctuating a long German paragraph with Chinese characters, perhaps...




But thankfully the video is back and it's that seventies ‘Pan Am’ TV ad sound-alike interlude that again has me flashing back to ‘Fly Me to the Moon’; and with that the Suite (and my discomfort) ends… and to think it all stems from a Trevor Horn demo from 1980- that and ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ surely make him a marked man?  









It’s hard to believe that Wondrous Stories reached the Top Ten in 1977 the summer of Punk or that the album it came from ‘Going For the One’ topped the album charts.  The mandolin is out again for a folky walk beside a river that is... pretty much all rocked out Fairport Convention and swirling keys by Downes. There is a smattering of polite applause when it starts and more forceful applause when it subsides.




For a band with twenty studio albums it’s a little surprising to me at least that next we have another song from the latest album: ‘Into the Storm’ and in truth I’m not a big fan. I imagine an up-tempo pub band at Christmas with Roy Wood conducting something else whilst the band tries to play TV quiz show theme tunes...




‘Heart of the Sunrise’ which follows is clearly another of many people’s favourites here and we’re back in heavy folk eats ELP sung by high elves territory with lyrics about ‘armies of angels’. It reminds me a little of a song from West Side Story with its lively bass driven composition. It’s a great song full of melody that transports you, especially during the extended solo, surely one of the highlights of the night? 




‘Into the Storm’ starts as heady, drifting folky stuff, studded with dynamics which are a little uncomfortable – like they have been added as punctuation by someone who hears music as a native speaker hears a foreign language. After an inexplicable pause a keyboard stutters in before we are back to that fat bass and guitar riff. It’s almost like two wholly separate entities captured on celluloid and I have honestly no idea if any of this is ad-libbed and feel adrift like all five on stage are playing entirely different songs, to me it’s deeply disturbing, but to the crowd it’s wonderful!




At this point I realise we are only two hours into the show and the band look like they are just warming up.









‘Now to delve into another era of Yes’ says Howe letting us know they are about to play something from the eighties when certain members of the band were off doing something else! They do of course break into ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ which I always presumed at the time was Yes’ repost to the commercial singles chart success the re-vamped Genesis were having at the time. And of course a Yes composition that is pretty traditionally structured. The mad green bass is out again and I love the part where the electronic drum crashed come in and Alan White mimes it with a broad grin on his face (which I think is the only time he smiles except whilst taking a bow at the end).




Starship Trooper takes us all the way back to the Yes album and as Howe reminds us the band has only been on stage a little over two hours and it’s time to go but they are ‘negotiable’. This one has the entire crowd is clapping along at the beckoning of Howe who has now assumed the stature of a wizard rather than a professor, and with the bassist centre stage, and the keyboardist out front with his keytar...they finally do get up a monster groove. And as the band dissolves into flowers on the video screen we finish the set proper with a standing ovation at by my watch about 2 hours and ten minutes in.




And Yes, they do encores: ‘Roundabout’ is pretty funky and back in the day was a US number 13 single! As one of their best know songs and second highest charting US single it’s a fitting way to end. And then at two hours twenty five minutes they are gone.




It’s been a clearly magical night in the company of Yes for the throng gathered here and certainly an interesting night and something very different for me.  Jo tells me it’s been one of the best concerts she’s seen and I think a good few here may agree with her.




Words and Images by Mark Diggins