Review: Yes @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – 6th May 2016
The Progmeister (on behalf of Midlands Metalheads)
I was probably 14 when I was first introduced to Yes and that was a fair few years ago to be honest. At the time I was a big follower of The Beach Boys (and still love their vocal harmonies today, timeless), one of my classmates said “If you like the Beach Boys, you’ll love these…” Famous last words or what ??? The album he lent me was “Fragile”, he also lent me ELP – “Pictures At An Exhibition” and so it was my journey into Prog began !!
Now, over the years (and there have been way too many of these I can assure you), my love of Prog has never died to the point now, where I think I can honestly say, I’m somewhat of a specialist in this field, having accrued a vast amount of music (in various forms), plus a list of bands viewed live probably in the hundreds (with a couple of scrapbooks full of ticket stubs to prove it).
I have seen Yes many times over the years, in fact I think the first time I saw them was on the “Topographic” tour back in 1974, when they played Birmingham Hippodrome, the ticket, if I recall, cost me £4.00 and not a hint of any bloody booking charge !!
On 6th May, I got to see the current line-up of the band – Steve Howe, Alan White, Geoff Downes, Jon Davison and Chris Squire’s (now permanent) replacement – Billy Sherwood perform not only the ENTIRE “Fragile” album, but also “Drama” and a few surprises. So, let’s take a detailed look at the evening. I’d like to look at the band and their overall performance, the content and finally the audience.
Yes have a very chequered history with regard to band members and line-up and up until his very untimely death last year, Chris Squire was the only original, remaining member who had been in every incarnation of the band since the offset, a bit like Steve Lukather from Toto. In fact, I think it’s safe to say, he held the band together on many occasions, so without him, I do wonder if the band would exist today….. Tonight’s line-up, although far from the “classic” line up featured band members new and not so new, which I feel gave a very balanced performance as we had the youth, vitality and enthusiasm of Billy Sherwood and Jon Davison with seasoned, mature and ultra-cool Steve Howe and Alan White providing a link to the past, with ol’ Geoff Downes somewhere in the middle, having joined the band for “Drama”, which he helped create all those years ago. So, as a band, did it work – FUCK YEAH, the guys SOOOO nailed it. Despite the fact the “Fragile” album is just over 40 years old, it sounded as fresh and innovative as it did all those years ago and with JD from Glass Hammer on lead vocals, you close your eyes and it was Jon Anderson, the man is AMAZING. These are very experienced musicians who successfully make complex music look simple and now, with Jon Davison and Billy Sherwood along for the ride, I really can’t see any end for the band, they will achieve their 50th Anniversary in style and with a wealth of past members to draw on, could continue for many years after that, long may they reign.
Regarding Billy Sherwood, I don’t know if he’s studied Chris Squire or whether he has similar mannerisms, but watching him on stage was like watching his predecessor, he has fitted in like a glove – plus he plays a mean Bass !! This line-up of the band is the strongest it’s been for a while, brilliant.
As for the content, before the band took to the stage, we had a very moving tribute to Chris Squire in the form of a single white spotlight focussed on his Bass, which stood in his place to the right of the stage, whilst a collage of images were projected on the huge screen at the rear of the stage and “Onward” played over the PA, a lovely tribute to a lovely guy, a very sad loss.
The set consisted of both “Fragile” and “Drama” in their entirety (and even though this reviewer has experienced the band playing tracks from both albums live, on record and in person, I have never heard both albums played thru’ from start to finish, in track order, which was both memorable and novel), plus “Going For The One”, “Siberian Khatru” (what the fuck is a “Khatru”, we’ll probably never know), “Time And A Word” (a tribute to the original Yes Guitarist – Peter Banks), “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” (this was a surprise, I must admit), plus the encore “Starship Trooper”. A very mixed bag of old and new which kept the set interesting and judging by the reaction from the crowd, it hit the spot in many ways.
On the subject of the “the crowd”, I was curious to know how many of the audience have followed the band as long as I have. Judging by the average age, I suspect I was among friends and the band were preaching to the converted….. What was nice to see (and believe me, I’ve been to literally hundreds of Prog gigs), there was a good number of ladies in attendance and certainly the ones in our immediate vicinity, were strutting their stuff virtually throughout the set, they certainly got involved and applauded each song vigorously, which is a far cry from the vast majority of gigs I attend where the overall view across the audience is a veritable sea of slap-heads and grey pony-tails. Well done girls, we need more of you to inspire us old fucks to get more involved and, maybe, have a dance. John Young from Lifesigns has gone on record saying “We need more dancing at prog gigs”, so maybe a Prog Mosh-Pit will soon be akin to a group of ladies dancing round their handbags at the disco, bring it on, that’s what I say….
I must be honest, I was a bit concerned about the couple in front of me , they were virtually bloody comatose, I do wonder if they’d been shipped in from the local morgue to fill seats !! C’mon guys, get the ol’ heart beating and show some genuine enthusiasm and support for one of the longest enduring and still ass-kicking Prog bands on the planet – YES. Tonight, you guys were DEFINITELY going for the one, absolutely superb.
One last note: I was quite alarmed to see a number of security bods literally singling people out who’d maybe snuck a crafty picture with their phones only to be “escorted” out of the gig, but return minutes later, I presume having been asked to delete said photo(s). Maybe this is the start of a renewed clamping down on use of mobiles while the band is performing, only time will tell eh ??