LIVE: Yes @ The Egg, 8/14/16

Review by Steven Stock

It wasn’t really the most promising premise for a Yes tour: playing all of 1980’s Drama and sides one and four of 1973’s Tales from Topographic Oceans, with just a handful of more accessible songs interspersed. The fact that drummer Alan White was a late scratch due to spinal surgery had to make things even more difficult. Somehow though the current five-piece version of Yes prevailed, delivering two-and-a-half hours of alternately challenging and exhilarating music to an appreciative audience at The Egg’s Hart Theatre.

Drama doesn’t rank particularly high in the Yes canon, but it did help the band stay relevant during a tempestuous period. 1978’s Tormato had been a muddled unappealing mess (a rare case when you can judge the book by the cover), and when subsequent studio sessions with longtime Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker in ’79 produced little of worth, singer Jon Anderson and keyboard player Rick Wakeman left the band.

Around the same time, singer Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes of the Buggles (two years later their “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the first clip aired on MTV) submitted one of their compositions for Yes’ consideration. Soon enough they were in the group, joining White, bassist Chris Squire and guitarist Steve Howe.

Downes and Howe anchor Yes’ current line-up, alongside singer Jon Davison, bassist Billy Sherwood and replacement drummer Jay Schellen. Davison’s singing was a little tentative in the opening moments of “Machine Messiah,” but he rapidly gained confidence. Sherwood’s bassline gave “Does It Really Happen?” an irresistible momentum, while Howe made the most of his limited solo space with some stinging lead lines on “Run Through the Light.” Live as on record though, Drama is primarily a showcase for Downes. He had no fewer than 10 keyboards in a compact U-shaped array, arranged so he could often play two of them simultaneously.

The hour-long first set closed with glorious versions of “I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Siberian Khatru,” and after a 20-minute intermission the band returned with the familiar strummed opening chords of “And You and I.” For me these three songs were the evening’s high point, and I can’t help but wonder how satisfying a conventional greatest hits set might have been.

The band, however, had more challenging ambitions, diving into the murky depths of Tales from Topographic Oceans. In the early ’70s, Jon Anderson had fallen under the spell of Paramahansa Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi,” and he transmuted the four key scriptures outlined therein into four side-long epics. The lyrics are frankly a little ponderous, but Davison navigated them beautifully. I was pleased he could just remember all of them, let alone sing with them such feeling and verve.

The lengthy arrangements left plenty of room for Downes and Howe to display their chops as well, but paradoxically the most affecting stretch was the acoustic interlude “Leaves of Grass” that featured just Howe and Davison. While the audience responded warmly at the conclusion of “Ritual (Nous Sommes De Soleil),” you had the sense that this segment of the performance was more impressive than it was entertaining.

Perhaps the band knew this as well, because they closed with crowd-pleasing renditions of early classics “Roundabout” and “Starship Trooper.” Yes didn’t make it easy for themselves or their audience on this tour, but ultimately they delivered a memorable evening.

Machine Messiah
White Car
Does It Really Happen?
Into The Lens
Run Through the Light
Tempus Fugit
I’ve Seen All Good People
Siberian Khatru
And You and I
The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)
Leaves of Grass (excerpted from The Ancient [Giants under the Sun])
Ritual (Nous Sommes De Soleil)
Starship Trooper

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