Yes, Live at 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 29, 2018
Intro: The Firebird Suite
Close To The Edge
Nine Voices (Longwalker)
Mood For A Day
Leaves Of Green
Fly From Here, Part 1: We Can Fly
Heart Of The Sunrise
Does It Really Happen?
Awaken (featuring Alan White)
Encore (featuring Alan White and Tony Kaye)
Yours Is No Disgrace
Players: Steve Howe (guitars), Geoff Downes (keyboards), Jon Davison (vocals, assorted instruments), Billy Sherwood (bass, backing vocals), Alan White (drums), Jay Schellen (drums), and special guest, Tony Kaye (keyboards)
Last night was my first time seeing Yes, and I got to see them with fellow Progarchist Rick Krueger and a couple of his friends. In the grand scheme of things, I’m a newcomer to Yes’ outstanding music, having started listening to them about five or six years ago. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to see Chris Squire live. Steve Howe was near the top of my list of people I wanted to see live, and I’m happy I had that opportunity last night. The show was amazing. The band was tight, and it was difficult to tell the difference between their live performance and the albums. The biggest difference was the bass actually boomed, unlike on the original recordings. Just looking at the setlist, you can tell this was a very long show. It started at 7:30pm and ended a few minutes shy of 10:30pm, with a 20 minute intermission. We got our money’s worth, to say the least.
The show started with Jay Schellen on drums, due to Alan White’s recent health issues with his back and joints. Schellen performed very well, keeping in step with the tempo throughout the show. Billy Sherwood does an amazing job. Not only does he tower over the band like Squire did, but he plays with the same tone and booming sound. His backing vocals match Squire’s better than I thought they would. Now I understand why Squire hand-picked Sherwood to play in his absence.
Close to the Edge was a great way to start the show, and Davison did a great job on vocals, as he did throughout the entire concert. Since the show was a fiftieth anniversary celebration, they didn’t play any particular albums all the way through, as they have been the past few years. The selection they chose represented the breadth of their career quite well. They chose something from just about every decade of Yes, and the setlist certainly represents the major eras of the band. The show obviously leaned heavily on the output from the 1970s, which was just fine with me and the crowd. I was especially glad that they didn’t play anything from 90125 or Big Generator. They know what their audience wants, and they’re leaving the mediocre songs to the other Yes (which I’ll be seeing in September).
I was pleasantly surprised to hear something from Fly From Here. Since they just released a new version of the album, I shouldn’t be surprised that they played something from it. Hearing it next to the classic Yes songs makes it abundantly clear how well it fits with that era of Yes, which makes sense since the song was written around the time of Drama. It sounds like it could have been on that album. The band did a good a job of mixing up the heavier/proggier pieces with quieter songs like “Mood For A Day,” “Nine Voices” and “Soon.”
Steve Howe amazed me throughout the show. I think he has gotten better with age. He certainly hasn’t lost any skill, and it was great to see him playing such a wide array of guitars. He was clearly enjoying himself, and he spent a fair amount of time talking to the audience. Jon Davison does a great job as frontman. He fills Anderson’s shoes very well. He even plays acoustic guitar occasionally, as well as a few other instruments strewn about the middle of the stage. I didn’t know that Geoff Downes’ toured with a keyboard setup comparable to Wakeman’s. He set it up so his back was to the audience a fair amount of the time, but that meant you could actually watch him play. He clearly didn’t want to hide behind his instruments. His keyboard solo during “Awaken” was fantastic.
Since Alan White has a few health issues, he couldn’t play the entire show. Instead, they brought him out for “Awaken,” and then he played for the entire encore. He played very well. I only noticed a couple seconds where he was off-tempo at the beginning of “Awaken,” but after he settled into the groove he was great for the rest of the show. You would have never noticed that he had any health problems. It was a seamless transition from Schellen to White. Schellen remained on stage in the back playing tambourine.
For the encores, the band brought original keyboardist Tony Kaye out to the center of the stage to play. Downes remained at his post and played, but he frequently stopped and pointed to Kaye as he soloed. Kaye did very well, especially on “Starship Trooper.” It was really cool to see an original member of the band – one who was there even before Howe – on stage with the group. He was having a blast, along with everyone else.
Musically, this version of Yes is excellent. Compared to some of the live recordings from the 70s, it may even be better than they were back then (heresy, I know). They were very tight, and their musicianship skills are astounding. When Squire died, I remember reading articles online from jerks saying the band should quit and that they weren’t going to be good without Squire. Those detractors clearly haven’t seen the band live since then. They are amazing, and I honestly have no complaints about their performance.
In addition to great musicianship, the band also had a wonderful light show and a really good setup of three screens at the back of the stage displaying various Roger Dean graphics. The combination of those two elements put the show over the top. I’d say it was certainly one of the better light and media shows that I’ve seen in person.
20 Monroe Live was a pretty good venue. Based upon the shape and layout of the room, I was wondering how the sound quality would be. It was actually quite good. The sound engineers did a great job mixing it, although it was very loud. Earplugs solved that problem, and even though it was loud, it wasn’t distorted as it often can be (*cough, Dream Theater, *cough). My only issue with the venue was it has a flat floor rather than an auditorium type setup where you are higher than the row in front of you. This made it a little difficult to see at some points during the show, but thankfully the crowd was mainly older, so they sat for most of the show. Other than that, the venue was great. It was big enough to not feel like a glorified bar, but it was small enough to still have good views from everywhere in the venue. There were probably over 1,000 people in attendance.
I was thoroughly impressed with the whole show. It was great to finally see Yes live, and I hope I get to see them again in the future. I’m looking forward to seeing the other Yes in September to compare the two groups. It’ll be interesting to see if the bands interpret the music differently.
Yes is only halfway through this US tour, so if they are playing near you, don’t hesitate to see them. It is well worth it. They are at the top of their game.
Check out Rick Krueger’s excellent review of this show: https://progarchy.com/2018/07/01/in-concert-yes50/