Steve Howe live in Manchester - review

Yes' guitar maestro gives a solo performance in Manchester

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Surprisingly, the first track of the night is a cover – Mason Williams’ Classical Gas, which Howe has been playing live for some time. This is followed by an arrangement of The Ancient (Giants Under The Sun) from Tales From Topographic Oceans, which gets the audience fully onside, several Yes-shirted fans cheering its introduction. J’s Theme is also an early treat, emphasising just how special it is to be able to hear some of the stories behind the iconic music from a lifer like Howe.

Throughout, Howe’s stage banter is eccentric and warm. He makes a joke about the cost of nice guitars and how dear his signature Martin is, though he stresses that the profit is given to charity. “I have a charity,” he adds. “It’s called my family.” After chuckling at his joke, he continues, “Well, you can’t take it with you, so pay your taxes… Can you imagine me in prison? It wouldn’t be like Johnny Cash in Folsom Prison – Steve Howe in Pentonville.” He shakes his head.

Intersection Blues shows off his blues chops, and his acrobatic, modal guitar playing reveals itself as still mould-breaking after all these years.

Though most of the audience are spellbound, 40 minutes into the first set, after a rousing rendition of The Golden Mean, there’s a small disruption caused by people at the back talking loudly, and Prog has to set them straight.

Kicking off the second half, Howe goes for a more upbeat, almost rockabilly tune in Cactus Boogie. It’s often been remarked how his lead style in Yes set them apart by leaning as much on rockabilly and country picking techniques as blues, but his song choices and solo compositions tonight make it more apparent than ever.

The end of the second set is a tribute to Chris Squire, Howe explaining that he’s going to play some songs written by the late bassist. The first of these is an effervescent performance of Disillusion, the second passage from Starship Trooper. This is followed by Onward and I’ve Seen All Good People. For the latter, there’s even a mini-audience singalong before he leaves the stage.

Returning for a brief encore, it can only be Clap, and after stomping his way through the song, Howe thanks the audience warmly. What’s emphasised tonight is that he’s still frighteningly dexterous on the guitar, as well as remarkably youthful in his performance.

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