Flashback Review: Yes Live in 2011

I wrote this review as a Facebook note in 2011 — my first online year of “too many concerts” (but not my last), when I heard Yellow Matter Custard, Yes, Bob Seger, Rush, Jeff Beck, Robin Trower, U2 and Paul McCartney live.  The following is unedited, except for a couple of cosmetic fixes (the occasional snark is still intact).  I think of it as an appropriate appetizer for my next Yes show, coming at the end of June! — Rick Krueger

Yes, The Orbit Room, Grand Rapids Michigan, March 20, 2011

Over the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that rockers should rock as long as they want to rock. Maybe it’s because I’m pushing 50, but I have fewer & fewer problems with icons from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, etc. touring endlessly. In fact, my favorite moment on the Crossroads 2010 DVD is a shot of Hubert Sumlin (guitarist for Chicago blues legend Howlin’ Wolf) sitting in a chair, an oxygen tube in his nostrils, jamming away & happy as a clam. Let it rock, I say.

The opening of Yes’ show at the Orbit Room, however, was a severe test of that credo. When Chris Squire trundles onstage and has to strap his bass guitar higher than ever before so his stomach isn’t in the way; when Alan White stiffly totters onto his drum riser; when the first two songs (“Parallels” & “Tempus Fugit”) feature wildly fluctuating tempos, slowing down not just from section to section, but from riff to riff — well, you have to wonder, however briefly, if some reunions should be left undone. Add a new lead singer who specializes in slo-mo interpretive movement, jazz hands a-plenty, and Riverdance spins during instrumental sections (on top of a salt-and-pepper crew cut), and the night seemed even less promising.

Fortunately, the music prevailed and the players whipped themselves into shape by the third number, “Yours Is No Disgrace.” Squire & White pounded out a revivified backbeat, Steve Howe unleashed his patented Chuck Berry-meets-country-meets-psychedelia guitar magic, and Oliver Wakeman not only proved a nimble & able replacement for his dad on keyboards, but also won the “longest hair in the band” award. As for Benoit David, that new lead singer — despite a few shaky high notes at the start, he quickly proved able to navigate Jon Anderson’s stratospheric vocal lines with confidence & joy, soaring on his own & locking into tight harmonies with Squire and Howe.

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From then on, the night was pretty much an unalloyed treat. “Soon” (from the album Relayer) was a gorgeous ballad interlude, with lush lap steel playing by Howe and David nailing the stirring vocal. “Close to the Edge” had the last attack of shaky tempos for the night, but also sported solid ensemble playing, Squire shaking the room with his bass pedals, and Wakeman rocking out on all eight on his keyboards. “I’ve Seen All Good People” shone despite a dead mike on Howe’s lute (!) at the beginning, culminating in David-led handclaps & audience vocals. Howe’s solo spot (featuring an unaccompanied version of “To Be Over,” another Relayer track) was mind-meltingly good, both technical & tasty. The heavy “Machine Messiah,” an extended piece from the Drama album, served as a slam-bang intro to Yes’ heavy hitters. “Owner of A Lonely Heart,” “Long Distance Runaround” (with the least extended bass solo I’ve ever heard from Squire), “Starship Trooper” and the inevitable encore “Roundabout” got the all-ages crowd dancing, rushing the stage, singing at the top of their lungs, and motivating Howe to thank everyone for “being such a rowdy, crazy, great audience.”

Have the mighty fallen? To think of Yes (who did their last US arena tour 7 years ago) playing a 1500 seat club is more than a little sad. On the other hand, if they can overcome the obstacles of age, lineup changes, indifferent disc sales, and unpredictable sound systems to play shows with this much intensity and fire, I’d say it’s a good trade-off!

 

 

 

1969: A Blast from the Past

“Well it’s 1969 OK all across the USA
It’s another year for me and you
                                      Another year with nothing to do”  — 1969, The Stooges

I was 7 going on 8 in 1969.  But my brother was ten years older — and Detroit was a prime location to explore rock as it turned psychedelic, then progressive, still with plenty of punk attitude.  Our cousin from Lansing was about the same age as my brother — so they did a fair amount of concertgoing together.

The other day, out of the blue I got a letter from our cousin, reproduced below with my random thoughts interspersed:

Dear Cousin Rick,

I’m sending along a copy of the program from the festival I attended in the south of England summer of 1969.  I thought you might it interesting.

plumpton festival program(Hmmm … The 9th National Jazz and Blues Festival.  Waitaminute: Pink Floyd?  King Crimson?  Peter Hammill performing solo before the first Van Der Graaf Generator album? Yes?  The Who?  Keith Emerson with The Nice?  Not to mention Soft Machine and Pentangle?  And he was there? Doggone straight I find it interesting.  Please continue, cousin!)

I’d seen both The Who and The Nice at the Grande Ballroom in the spring before.  The Who played the entire Tommy opera both times.  The Nice as I remember had some kind of revolving organ at the Grande.  At the Plumpton fest they closed the show on Sunday backed by a large orchestra.  At the final song the stage opened and a regiment of bagpipers marched off the stage and into the crowd.  Those were heady times.

isle of wight 1969There’s also a copy of the Isle of Wight festival flier which I missed as it was the weekend which we were heading home.  Such fond memories.

(Bob Dylan & The Band?  The Moody Blues?  More from King Crimson, The Who and Pentangle?  Stop torturing me, cousin!!!  Actually, no — please continue as I wrestle with envy and wish Doctor Who’s TARDIS was real.)

The day we arrived in London the Rolling Stones played in Hyde Park celebrating the life of Brian Jones who had just passed.  Couldn’t quite get there but almost.  (Another King Crimson show!!)

I’d like to hear more about your music blogging/reviews.    P.S.  We didn’t arrive at the fest until Saturday so we missed all the Friday acts.  Booo!

Fortunately, the sounds of the Plumpton Festival aren’t completely lost in the mists of time; I plan to direct my cousin to Soft Machine’s and Pink Floyd’s sets online, and send him a copy of King Crimson’s set.

detroit rr revival 1969And talking with my brother later, I heard the story of how he and my cousin somehow got permission to go to the 1969 Detroit Rock’n’Roll Revival (with the MC5, Chuck Berry, Dr. John, The “Psychedelic” Stooges and many more acts) the night before my sister’s wedding.  Maybe I should rethink missing Yes’ 50th Anniversary Tour when it hits Grand Rapids.  Not to mention Wayne Kramer’s MC50 Kick Out the Jams 50th Anniversary Tour and Soft Machine’s world tour coming to Progtoberfest IV

— Rick Krueger

“Close to the Edge” by YES (Second Spring 9)

close to the edge yes
1972.

“The shape of it is perfect,” Bill Bruford once said of the title track of the 1972 Yes album, CLOSE TO THE EDGE.  It’s hard to dispute Bruford on this.  If Yes wrote a perfect track, it is certainly “Close to the Edge.”  Other songs might be more innovative, more melodic, more complex, or quirkier, but no other Yes song matches the intensity of “Close to the Edge.”

In his own recollections of writing the song, Jon Anderson claims to have been influenced by a dream, and the dreamlike imagery is rather strong.  He also believed it to be a comment on the various Christian churches all vying for superiority, with the song actually introducing a “majestic church organ” with a Moog, itself replaced once again by “another organ solo rejoicing in the fact that you can turn your back on churches and find within yourself to be your own church.”

Continue reading ““Close to the Edge” by YES (Second Spring 9)”

Trevor Horn’s Glorious Re-Emergence in Yes: FLY FROM HERE: RETURN TRIP

Yes fly from here return trip
Trevor Horn brings, as always, love and excellence to this rerelease.

Review of Yes, FLY FROM HERE: RETURN TRIP (Pledgemusic, 2018). Tracks: Fly From Here, Parts 0-V; The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be; Life on a Film Set; Hour of Need; Solitaire; Don’t Take No For an Answer; and Into the Storm.

Standout tracks: Madman at the Screen; Into the Storm.

Sailor, sailor beware.  There are storm clouds.  You must take care.

When I first saw the notice that Yes would be re-releasing its 2011 album, FLY FROM HERE, with a remaster and remix by Trevor Horn and with all main vocals provided by  the very same Trevor Horn, I was surprised and a bit skeptical.  Fake news?  Well, there seems to be a lot of that going around these days in the western world.

And, it turned out. . . it was real news.  After I realized this thing was real, I immediately jumped onto Pledgemusic and, well, pledged.

Continue reading “Trevor Horn’s Glorious Re-Emergence in Yes: FLY FROM HERE: RETURN TRIP”

Bill Bruford Tours Again! (Academia, That Is.)

From Bill Bruford’s website:

Further dates have been added to Bill’s series of talks on creativity in music performance … The trip ends appropriately enough in Cleveland, OH, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for this recent inductee. Just to clarify: excepting the R&R HoF, these talks are gently academic in nature and not about Bill or his career per se. He will not be performing, but he is happy to autograph a book and one other item only, should that be requested.

Dates are as follows:

  • March 5th: 5.00-6.30 pm. Rhythmic Music Conservatory, Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • March 8th. 7.00-9.00 pm. Rockheim National Museum of Popular Music, Trondheim, Norway.
  • April 10th: 2.45 pm. University at Albany, NY (uptown campus), Performing Arts Center (PAC) B-78. Visitors should park at one of the two visitor lots. Free admission.
  • April 11th: 3.00 pm. SUNY Oneonta, Oneonta, NY. Fine Arts Center M201, Ravine Parkway, Oneonta. Free admission.
  • April 13th: 4.00 pm. Onondaga Community College, 4585, W Seneca Turnpike, Syracuse NY. Classroom (P110) in the Academic II building. Free admission.
  • April 16th: 4.00 pm. University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY. Baird Recital Hall. Free admission.
  • April 17th: 7.00 pm. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. Watkins Hall, School of Music, Theater & Dance. Free admission.
  • April 18th: 11.30 am. Kelvin & Eleanor Smith Foundation Ballroom C, Tinkham Veale University Center, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland OH. Free admission.
  • April 18th: 7.00 pm. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland OH. Admission $10.

Continue reading “Bill Bruford Tours Again! (Academia, That Is.)”

PROG Should Always Be About DRAMA

drama
1980.  The ultimate New Wave Prog album.

Following in the footsteps of the mighty Sean Tonar and magnificent James Turner, I want to continue the DRAMA.

DRAMA is one of the finest albums ever produced by Yes, and, by this claim, I certainly mean no disrespect to my heroes, Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman.

DRAMA is, however, exactly what the band needed and exactly what the prog world needed in 1980.

DRAMA fits into a very narrow category of prog rock.  As such, it is, at least to my mind, one of a few exceptional New Wave Prog albums that appeared between 1980 and 1982.  I would also include Rush’s MOVING PICTURES and SIGNALS; The Fixx’s REACH THE BEACH; and maybe a few others such as GHOST IN THE MACHINE by the Police.

Continue reading “PROG Should Always Be About DRAMA”

Life shouldn’t be about the Drama

220px-Yes_-_Topographic_Drama_-_Live_Across_America_cover

Yes: Topographic Drama – Live Across America

Now does the world really need another Yes album? The past few years have seen the current incarnation of the band tour, bringing to life full album shows, and the albums that have been played in their entirety have been Fragile, Close to the Edge, The Yes Album, Going for the One and on their latest jaunt Drama and excerpts from Tales from Topographic Oceans, and with the shows have come several double disc sets Likie it is Bristol Colston hall & Like it is at the Meza Arts Centre.

I have to admit some bias here, as I saw this incarnation of Yes (The Howe, White, Downes, Davison, Sherwood) at Colston Hall on their UK leg, where they played Drama in it’s entirety on stage and thoroughly enjoyed it.

So, before I get into the nitty gritty and I certainly don’t want to stir up a hornets nest but…..I will broker no arguments as to whether or not this is Yes, it says Yes on the tin, it has Steve Howe and Alan White who have been mainstays longer than they haven’t, Geoff Downes credentials are beyond reproach, and Billy Sherwood and Yes have had intertwining careers for over 20 years, and he was handpicked by Chris Squire to stand in (and sadly replace) him in Yes, with Jon Davison fitting in perfectly, this to me is Yes in spirit, and even though there’s no original members left, does that matter? No, no it doesn’t. I am sure some people miss Jon Anderson, but as he’s concurrently touring with Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman, then brilliant news. Two bands playing Yes music, fantastic for the fans and it means different songs get an airing.

The music is spiritually uplifting and moving, (and Yes have a special place in my heart being the first prog band I really got into) and so I don’t really think that we should sully the music and the memories by getting into petty discussions as to whether a band is a band or not. This is Yes, and that’s my final word on that subject.

Now this album is a game of two halves for me, containing as it does my favourite Yes album, and one of my least favourite of the 70’s Yes albums.

Drama, is the definitive Yes album for me, it is so sharp, so crisp, everything is so right about this record, that hearing it live is a dream come true for a Yes fan.

From the opening Machine Messiah, the brilliant Man in a White Car, the pounding Does it Really Happen with the thundering bass of Billy Sherwood more than deftly stepping into the great mans shows, and with Into the Lens and the stunning Tempur Fugit, this line up Yes (3/5ths of the band that made Drama BTW) have picked up where it left off and given it the rebirth and reinvigoration it needs. Geoff Downes is all over those keyboard sounds, whilst Steve Howe plays like a man half his age, Alan White is still the mainstay on the drums. Drama is like a neglected jewel in the attic, and this line up have polished it and brought it back to where it should be, at the heart of the bands set.

Topographic Oceans meanwhile, left me under whelmed when I first heard it, and sadly nothing has changed, the band do their best, and there is nothing at all wrong with the bands performance and again Billy Sherwood comes in for huge praise as to how he steps into the band, his bass rumbling and thundering, you get distracted and listen and think it’s the great man himself. (Having seen him live Billy really does own the stage, and seems genuinely overwhelmed by the positive reaction his performance gets).

I enjoyed it enough to listen to once, but then, that’s why there are skip buttons on the CD player.

The additional tracks from other albums including a rousing Heart of the Sunrise, a brilliant Roundabout and then, the old warhorse itself Starship Trooper, dusted off and brought out for its umpteenth live release.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the song, I think this version is as good as any of the other live ones, I just think maybe they could throw something into the mix from albums like The Ladder, Fly From Here or Subway Walls from Heaven and Earth to truly reflect the bands history. I especially think anything from Fly From Here would be perfect due to its close relationship with the Drama material.

In other words, to answer my original question, does the world need another Yes live album? As it’s got Drama on, performed in it’s entirety, or course it does, you’d be mad not to want to listen to Drama live.