Progressive rock band Yes stopped at the Warner Theatre Wednesday night, taking the very crowded hall on a journey through mystical rock symphonies that usually ended with a roaring standing ovation from their admirers.
Seriously, there was so much energy among the audience, which largely behaved and listened attentively while Yes revisited three classic albums — Close to the Edge, Going for the One and The Yes Album (in that order). But particularly toward the end of the show for the classic “I’ve Seen All Good People,” the audience could no longer contain itself and broke out into dancing in the aisles.
I’m new to Yes, so bear in mind my perspective as someone who never got to see the band previously. Let me first float my canary in a coalmine: If you won’t accept a band without its classic lead singer, then we may have a difference of opinion.
Understandably, we want to see the entire classic lineups of bands that have long and storied histories together. And I’ve no doubt it would have been preferable to see Jon Anderson fronting the band and singing the songs he helped write. That said, new singer Jon Davison was a revelation to the assembled fans of Yes. He was, at turns, humble, wistful, or pleading. He seemed genuinely grateful to be on stage and be a part of the Yes experience. And he has a good presence that works well with the rest of the band, despite being at least 20 years younger than his bandmates. Most importantly, Davison sounds good. He gets the material, and he respects it. The music, in return, drifts onto his shoulders like a fine cloak.
Perhaps the band member I was most excited to see was guitarist Steve Howe. Growing up listening to the radio as a young kid, I developed a deep respect for the innovation of progressive guitars like Howe, Steve Hackett, and Robert Fripp. Without these guys to move rock music forward, it was going to stagnate. And as an entertainer and an innovator, Howe didn’t disappoint. During “And You and I” on Close to the Edge, the man often turned to two different guitars — one strapped around his shoulders and the other on a stand before him. I never saw anything quite like it before when Howe leaned over to play the guitar on the stand then returned to the guitar he carried. Although not a frenetic man by any stretch of the imagination, Howe whipped the audience into a frenzy during fan-favorite “Clap,” an engaging interlude on The Yes Album that really showcases Howe’s skill.
Drummer Alan White kept time behind a massive drum set, appropriately elevated to give the audience a clear line of sight. My standard for large and meticulously kept drum sets previously had been Blondie’s Clem Burke, but White’s sprawling circle of drums rivals anything set up by my man Clem. Set on a platform opposite White, keyboardist Geoff Downes looked mysterious and slightly crazy. The slightly crazy part came from the amazing bank of keyboards and synthesizers that created a circle around him. Although Downes had his back turned to the audience for much of his performance as he played and watched two monitors keeping track of everything for him, doing so provided a rare opportunity to actually see a master keyboardist at work as he switched from one instrument to another.
Throughout the show, bassist Chris Squire, the band’s remaining founder, looked quite like a proud father as he paced through the ebb and flow of each song, impressing particularly with his three-neck bass guitar on the epic “Awaken” from Going for the One. Squire introduced each album with jovial authority, which really helped newcomers like myself “get” it.
Will Jon Anderson return to the band he co-founded? A guy chatting with me during the 20-minute intermission swore that it would happen while everyone was still drawing breath. Regardless, the reconstituted Yes has an ambitious tour schedule along the east coast and into the Midwest over the next couple of weeks. From this newbie’s seat, it would be well worth catching up with them and their new singer when they come around.