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Progressive Rock Concert Reviews

Yes

Live in Chicago, Illinois, August 2015

Review by Gary Hill

There seem to be some Yes fans deriding the recent incarnations of Yes. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Jon Anderson isn’t in the group. Now, more recently, I think some have become naysayers because the group have continued after Chris Squire’s death. The thing is, if one thing has been a trademark of Yes since the band first formed, it’s “perpetual change” in the lineup. Jon Anderson is at peace with the fact that he’s no longer part of Yes. The idea of going on after Squire came from the man himself because he didn’t want the band to end. So, I think that this whole line of thinking is out of line at this point. I know that isn’t directly part of the review of this concert, but in a very real way it is. It certainly needed to be addressed, too.

So, what about this recent show? Chris Squire’s memory loomed large over the stage – sometimes literally. There were several tributes to him during the show. At the start, Squire’s Rickenbacker bass sat alone on the stage. As the song “Onward” played, pictures of Squire over the years were displayed on the stage screen and the only spot light sat on that bass. I thought I would be brought to tears by this display, but instead it seemed more a celebration of Squire’s life and legacy than any kind of somber thing. During the show, Jon Davison dedicated the song “Time and a Word” to Squire. Finally, as the band ended the set and took their final bows, a picture of Squire in a pose I’ve seen so many times, doing his own bow, was on the screen. It seemed appropriate, really.


Gary Hill
 
Gary Hill
 
Gary Hill

I’ve seen Yes live many times. I’ve heard live concerts from them as audio recordings more times than that. I can tell you that no two Yes concerts are exactly the same. Yes music is a living, breathing entity. Each performance is magic in its own way. Of course, every Yes show is good, but some are just better than others. While this wasn’t the best Yes show I’ve seen, it was also far from the worst. I would love for it to have been longer, but on a two band bill and up against a curfew from the venue, you take what you can get.


Gary Hill
 
Gary Hill
 
Gary Hill

They opened the actual concert (after “Onward” and “Firebird Suite”) with “Don’t Kill the Whale.” That’s one song I’d never seen them play live before. I really enjoyed the performance. No, it wasn’t “just like the record.” Yes isn’t that kind of band. The music is always a little different, no matter the lineup. That’s the kind of nuance that makes seeing a Yes concert a different experience from listening to the album. Next they played “Tempus Fugit.” That’s another song I had not gotten to see them perform live before. It was quite stunning.


Gary Hill
 
Gary Hill
 
Gary Hill

From there they went through a wide range of Yes music – “America” to “Going for the One” to the aforementioned “Time and a Word.” From there “I’ve Seen All Good People” gave way to one of my all time favorite Yes songs, “Siberian Khatru.” I’m always enthralled by Steve Howe’s guitar soloing on the cut, and this time was no exception. They did a surprisingly faithful (until the jam at the end) version of “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and then closed the main set with “Roundabout.” “Starship Trooper” was the encore.


Gary Hill
 
Gary Hill
 
Gary Hill

I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get Howe’s solo piece, “Clap.” I’m sure it had to do with that curfew as they did it on most of the shows of the tour. In terms of things that didn’t work as well, Howe added some extra notes on the acoustic part of “Roundabout.” It’s not the first time I’ve heard him do it that way, but it doesn’t work as well to me. Also, the mix was a bit off at times. Particularly Geoff Downes’ keyboards were too high in the mix at quite a few points.


Gary Hill
 
Gary Hill
 
Gary Hill

There were definitely things that worked exceptionally well, though. I thought the version of “Time and a Word” was the best live performance of it I’ve ever heard from the band. The closing jam on “Starship Trooper” might well have been the best ever for me, too. I know a lot of people had doubts about Billy Sherwood taking over for Chris Squire. I knew he’d nail the bass parts. He’s an amazing musician. What I didn’t know was how well his voice would work on the backing vocals. The really shocking part is that Sherwood really seemed to channeling Squire a lot of the time. There were moments when I’d find myself thinking it was Squire up there, only to realize that it was Sherwood. He wasn’t mimicking Squire’s stage presence so much as he was assuming his own that echoed the old familiar one.

Jon Davison’s voice was in fine form. Geoff Downes also gave a great performance. Although, I don’t understand why he spends most of the show with his back to the audience. Alan White was, as always, rock solid as the beat of Yes. All in all, it was a very enjoyable show. Yes might not be the Yes of the 1970s. Times change. I think it’s fortunate that the band continues in one form or another. I’d have to say that, to my ears, Yes’ music and legacy are in good hands.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2015  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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