Tuesday, August 21, 2012

HearSay Live Review: Yes vs. Procol Harum Live at Gibson Amphitheatre, Universal City, (L.A.) 8.15.12

The headline: "Latest Tribute Band Member To Hit Rock & Roll Lottery."
In 2008, Benoît David joined Yes after Jon Anderson became too ill to tour before what was supposed to be the big Yes 40th anniversary tour. Jon Davison  then replaced David in February when he became sick. Even the guy's name has the same 3 beginning and ending letters as J.A....

Fortunately, Davison was able to convey the essence and even angelic tone of the one-of-a-kind original singer. He's able to match Anderson almost note for note in that inimitable, boyish style with soaring, graceful vocalizations that would convert the most hardened, skeptical Yes fan. Although the audience obviously missed Anderson immensely, truth be told, he was having trouble singing the higher parts in recent years.
The crowd seemed to have given the new guy a passing grade as he does bring some much needed youthful energy to the band. No, he's not Anderson-but an incredible simulation, and quite the natural, especially when you consider his previous experience: vocalist of local Yes tribute band Roundabout. One piece of advice to the new recruit: DON'T GET SICK!

Did I enjoy seeing Yes live? and Howe! Yes is arguably the ultimate progressive rock band. They've been at it on and off since 1968. They must surely have the world record for back and forth membership of a rock group. Seriously, they take "musical chairs" to a new level. Quite frankly, Steve Howe looks more like a mild-mannered retired physics professor than a living, breathing guitar god-though he still plays like a demon. His dexterous hands nimbly working their way up and down the neck of his ES-175, although not as nimbly as they once did. While the musicianship was of course top notch, and the sound mix was fine-although a little Howe-heavy & Squire-lite, the concert suffered from too much new stuff, and a few less than stellar classic period choices.

I estimate every serious rock-based musician within 300+ miles was at the Gibson Amphitheatre to pay tribute to some of the greatest virtuoso instrumentalists ever to step onstage. It seemed the guitarists in the crowd were clamoring to hear Howe's meticulously played signature leads and inventive rhythms. They were so anxious to show they're appreciation, they would have applauded his every move if they could.

The show started with "Yours Is No Disgrace," (albeit slower to accommodate Howe probably) which brought the house to their feet for the first of many times that evening. Featuring sparkling-yet slightly off guitar work from the master and Yes' signature  harmonies. Any worry that this incarnation would fall flat were quickly mollified by the veteran players and the neophyte front man. The one rear screen flashing back and forth between prepared video and closeups of the band while an annoying, continuous bolt of lightening was superimposed over the action.The frenetic "Tempus Fugit" soon followed with Chris Squire's rumbling Rickenbacker in perfect unison with Howe's lines.

The a Capella intro of  "I've Seen All Good People," was greeted by the audience like a long lost friend-although it would have sat better set-wise before "Tempus Fugit." 'Twas refreshing hearing a mandolin again as hardly anyone plays them live anymore. The so-so Simon and Garfunkel cover  "America" came next. The newbie's vocals meshed seamlessly with the band. Despite the clone factor, local boy Davison was more than adequate in his role, also pitching in on percussion, keys, and guitar throughout the evening.

                                                        Howe playing "Bach's Cantata #140"  & "Leaves Of  Green"

Steve Howe's solo acoustic bit was a lovely, tuneful piece. He played "Bach's Cantata #140" before being joined by Davison for "Leaves Of Green," which was quite beguiling. Alas, its at this point of the story where we begin to have issues. Feeling they have adequately sated the fans, they turn to the inevitable "hey, don't forget the new stuff we're flogging!" portion of the concert. This is the part of the show I always dread when watching lifelong idols live. I know the artists have to milk their wares as much as possible in the current marketplace, but  knowing how many incredible, older songs a band like Yes has, and especially how friggin' long some of them are-one would hope the group would take it easy on the crowd and limit the new stuff to 1 or 2 quick tunes. The rule of thumb should really be "Not to exceed two songs-or 15% of set time," Guess who was S.O.L. on this night...

Performing a piece that recalls the full grandeur of early Yes, (it partially dates back to the "Drama" era) the inclusion of the entire suite of  "Fly From Here" at 25+ minutes, left little time for the tunes the majority
of us were hoping to hear. I was distracted because mentally, I'm doing the math after every section:
(how many minutes left for the greats stuff NOW?)

Then a lovely version of  "Wondrous Stories" lands between our ears in front of a muscular sounding  "Heart of the Sunrise," which mercilessly assaults our senses! One of the group's most syncopated tracks, its Yes at its most powerful and a true wonder to behold live and easily the non-hit highlight of the show. Showcasing the beefy bass lines of Chris Squire, his Rick sounding like a sonic samurai, devouring everything in it's path as he stalked the stage, it was his all too brief spot to shine.

Choosing to close the show with "Awaken,"
another  not so awesome time-eater at 16+
minutes  from "Going For The One"  while 
ignoring  the great title track was not cool.

They encored with the requisite (though sluggish) "Roundabout" which launched 4000+ asses out of their seats. Geoff Downes came out rocking a handheld  "keytar" toward the end of the song. And with that, an entirely too short evening came to a close.

Preceding Yes was Procol Harum. Possibly the most under appreciated "British Invasion" group this side of Small Faces. The only original member being singer/keyboardist Gary Brooker. But he is the crown jewels of the lot, and in fine voice he was. Peppering the quick set early on with a few mediocre tracks, they really delivered with "Homburg," "Salty Dog," and "Simple Sister." Guitarist Geoff Whitehorn was adequate-but no match for Robin Trower's fiery solos, much like the rest of the band who were there to make Brooker's legacy shine, which they did without standing out. They got two very enthusiastic standing O's for every one's favorite "Whiter Shade of Pale," (when the crowd called out for more-we heeded the call!) and the finale, a great "Conquistador." Though a fine choice, they'd be a better fit  for a Jethro Tull/Moody Blues bill.

Forty-four years on, Yes is still a force to be reckoned with, slower, older, but still formidable whether or not Anderson, or any of the other members of the classic period return. Unfortunately, it seems age is catching up with Howe. I caught him missing/muting notes on a few of the faster songs. Downes' work is fine-and he doesn't miss a trick. Thankfully, he knows better than to mess too much with Rick Wakeman's arrangements.
Alan White  is still pretty solid, which is really saying something considering that cruelly, age takes its toll on drummers much faster than other musicians-but he's no Bruford . Squire is the rock of the band. Literally in a class by himself, he's the only member who's never vacated his post, dutifully weathering all the battles, personal, professional and legal, and getting royalties for every project!

My prog rock wet dream would be for Anderson/Bruford/Howe/Squire/Wakeman to do one last go around (before any of them go on to the great gig in the sky) and play three night stands. Each night would feature an LP from the '71-'73 period plus a 55 minute set of "best of" tracks. Would you be interested in that? And Howe right?

Missed opporTUNEites: What would have been a can't miss concert, was just a few killer cuts away: "Going For The One," "Starship Trooper," "Perpetual Change," "Does It Really Happen," "And You And I," "Long Distance Runaround," "Time And A Word."

Verdict: 3.5 out 5 stars.
I tracked down the best of the uploaded vids from the show (and supplanted "America" and "Heart Of The Sunrise" with superior versions from recent gigs) and sequenced them in show order, (plus bonus tracks). Enjoy a virtual Yes concert! Yes - Gibson Amphitheatre, Universal City (L.A.) 08.15.12 (+ Bonus Tracks).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your Yes at Gibson 8/15/12 review and sharing my vSpirit2 videos. For me, the highlight of the evening was The Ancient excerpt Leaves of Green from my favorite Yes album Tales from Topographics Oceans. I missed Yes' double album tour in 1974 with Rick Wakeman and finally got my wish to see a fraction, the end of side 3.


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