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Yes

Live in Birmingham, England, November, 2011

Review by Alison Reijman

There was something ominous about the date of this concert -11.11.11 so it was very much a case of going for the one on the night. And I hoped it was not going to be one of those concerts on the US tour earlier this year that turned up on YouTube footage in which this line-up looked shambolic and under-rehearsed. That’s coupled with the fact I am one of the naysayers completely underwhelmed by Fly From Here.

From the circle, the configuration of instruments on stage was dominated by Geoff Downes’ double bank of keyboards plus an expanse of carpet.

The overture chosen for some of the UK concerts was Benjamin Britten’s A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra as obviously, Jon Anderson will forever be associated with the “Firebird,” the Stravinsky fan that he is.

The new Yes boys on the block who then emerged comprised white haired men, a professorial-type and a younger buck in battle fatigues.

There was no mistaking those staccato guitar chords that opened “Yours Is No Disgrace” and suddenly, the two worlds of Yes, the classic and new, suddenly collided in a riot of delicious sound. Though not quite so swiftly played as in their heyday, the song still has a terrific resonance as Benoit David sang “Silly human race” – still as applicable now as when they were first heard 40 years ago on The Yes Album.

That was a stunning start to the show so where next would we be transported in the great Yes songbook? One clue was seeing Steve Howe strapping on a Strat, not his most oft-played axe and off we went back in time 31 years to Drama and “Tempus Fugit,” still a barnstormer of a song though played at three quarter of its original speed. It also proved the point that David is an absolute shoo-in sounding like Trevor Horn.

It was back to The Yes Album again for the perennial, evergreen favourite “I’ve Seen All Good People” which got the audience warmed up and clapping along.  So to the first of the Fly From Here collection and to all intents and purposes, “Life On a Film Set” sounded much better live than on the album. Benoit brought the song to life with his interpretive singing and Geoff Downes also shined leading the catching upbeat middle section.

Then came one of the highlights of the evening, the most sublime version of “And You And I,” which David dedicated to all our loved ones. It was a particularly outstanding performance by Steve Howe, excelling at slide, electric and acoustically programmed guitars during its most flowing moments.

Perched on a stool on top of the stretch of carpet, Maestro Howe showed once again why his rightful place is at the top of the prog firmament as one of the all-time great guitarists. However his solo acoustic slot also showed how so-so “Solitaire” from Fly From Here does not really match up to the timeless and utterly irresistible “The Clap,” now slightly modified but still a tour de force....and a real toe-tapper.

All were now primed and ready for the pivotal track of the evening, the whole of “Fly From Here.” Free from the restrictions of the album production, the suite certainly worked much better live, the extraordinary Chris Squire providing a focal point as he alternated between two bass guitars. One of them was a huge black bass fixed in an upright position which emitted some of the most basso basso profundo notes this reviewer has ever heard. The long instrumental passages provided David with a chance to bash away on some bongos. Again, he stepped up to the plate vocally for some of the suite’s most beautiful sequences including “We Can Fly” though I am still not convinced by the video made to accompany it which was flashed on the screen overhead. It still looks like it could have been produced to go with an A-Ha song from the 80s. However, the “Sailor beware” sequence with a flashing lighthouse visual to go with it quickly morphed into “Bumpy Ride,” one of the most ghastly prog tracks this reviewer has ever heard. It sounds as though it is sending up their triumphs of the past and I could only handle it with my hands over my ears.

“Wondrous Stories” still sounds as shimmery and fresh as always, David’s crystal clear voice going well with Geoff Downes recreating the gorgeous “waterfall” keyboard runs with a certain reverence.

It was back to the present with “Into The Storm,” which is the “nearly” track on Fly From Here, as it was so close to being something a bit special with those tight vocal harmonies but these give way to some instrumental fiddle faddle which never really go anywhere.

Putting it back to back with “Heart of the Sunrise was an interesting piece of strategic planning, too. Squire was on fire for this, prowling like a senior lion around the centre of the stage for those epic bass lines while David lurked behind him appearing to be in silent battle with an invisible cobweb as he interpreted the music.  Still, he delivered a masterful show while not quite hitting the money notes. That’s a shame because it was a terrific version of one of the Yes greats.

While everyone else was showing some terrific prowess up front, Alan White was a powerhouse throughout on drums. He could probably knock out most of those legendary rhythms in his sleep now.

“Starship Trooper” was the closing track which brought the show back down to earth again. Fortunately, the “Wurm” passage which had found its way on YouTube for all the wrong reasons was a real barnstormer as the four front men including Downes on the key-tar took centre stage and really rocked....and in time too.

By now, the band sensed triumph in the air and for the encore, it was a no holds barred and thoroughly engrossing run-out of the iconic “Roundabout” with some great new harmonies and a slightly different vibe.

As a Yes purist, I was not looking forward to this gig. I did not know what to expect so feared the worst. But having now put aside that my two favourite performers in the band are in an entirely new musical space now, theirs was absolutely no disgrace on the evening. It was a lively, happy and thoroughly enjoyable evening. At times, the sound especially around David’s vocals was slightly blurred and it was not note perfect but the Yes music still lives and breathes on. Amen to that.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

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