Although the absence of an ailing Chris Squire had been announced nearly three months earlier, now, at the first Yes show without him, six weeks after his death, a solitary spotlight shining on the characteristic Rickenbacker bass standing in his place at stage-left conveys a poignant finality.
Still, the show goes on. Cliché or not, music lives on. And the fans’ enthusiastic response when the band takes the stage with Don’t Kill The Whale, indicates a desire for Yes to carry on, even without their longtime member.
After several years performing various albums in their entirety, hearing a random Yes set such as this is satisfying. Steve Howe’s guitar-picking on Clap embodies Americana, while his aggressive plunge into America nudges the audience beyond prog moorings, in the process showcasing the huge range of this band’s musical vocabulary.
Howe, especially, seems intent on being a focal point, moving about quite a lot on stage, and even doing some leaping around. Perhaps it’s an effort to offset Squire’s absence, and take eyes off his replacement Billy Sherwood on the tour’s opening night. A Yes alumnus, Sherwood was the logical choice to understudy on bass, given his history with the band as player and producer. Nonetheless, trying to replicate the distinctive bass sound that has made Yes so identifiable for decades puts him in the brightest spotlight. Sherwood’s playing here has more thump and sometimes feels a bit obtrusive compared to the fullness and warmth of Squire’s style.
But, to be fair, cavernous acoustics in the auditorium create a hollowness that detracts from Sherwood’s playing. Still, he plays ably and loosens up with each song. By the time the set winds down with Roundabout, he’s slotting in as an acceptable fit. Nearly an hour into the show, frontman Jon Davison, himself starting to step out of the shadow of original singer Jon Anderson, suggests, “I think it’s time we acknowledged this bad-ass cat!”
Co-headliners Toto also honour Squire by dedicating Great Expectations from their new album, Toto XIV, to him. They also commemorate their own longtime bassist, Mike Porcaro, who died earlier this year, with guitarist Steve Lukather hoping the two of them are “up there hanging out”.
Pop hit-makers to casual fans, tonight Toto prove their lively musicality with a top-notch level of musicianship that is partly Baptist revival, with a glint of heavy metal. Their alchemy is captivating when all nine members take equal command of carrying the soulful Georgy Porgy. And when Jenny Douglas-Foote steps forward from background vocals to duet with Joseph Williams, it thoroughly invigorates the overly familiar Hold The Line.
Clearly, though, most of the attention is on Lukather. On Hydra, he crosses genres with his heavy fretwork, receiving a rousing response, despite being lost in the same acoustics which hinder Yes. That doesn’t seem to temper his soloing, though, especially when it anchors a fiery instrumental version of Little Wing.
On the opening date, Yes and Toto sidestep expectations of their respective categories, coming together for an impassioned night that recalls the musical adventurousness of a beloved icon.