Yes don’t do ‘short’. Over a year after the Three Classic Albums world tour began Stateside, the marathon reaches the UK. Almost as soon as it finishes in June, a new one starts, featuring fresh material alongside vintage greats. Tonight, however, is all about honouring those three titans of their back catalogue: 1971’s The Yes Album, 1972’s Close To The Edge and 1977’s Going For The One.
So we know what we’re getting: only the order is, perhaps, surprising. Opening with Close To The Edge means no easing us in, no light-hearted take-your-seats introductory salvo. But then Yes fans are accustomed to harnessing their attention spans for 20 minutes and beyond.
If that album is the ‘difficult’ one, in context, then the brighter, crisper edges of Going For The One boost the energy levels and, after an interval, The Yes Album is practically a singalong party. It’s not as if everyone’s doing the conga, but a percentage of the hall rise from their seats and start throwing the kind of shapes you can only make to Yes music.
There’s always much debate about whether any existing line-up of Yes constitutes the ‘real’ Yes. The ‘No Jon, no Yes’ camp reckon that without Anderson, it’s halfway to a tribute band. Whatever your opinion on that, Jon Davison, with plenty of gigs under his belt now, is about as accurate a replacement as you could hope to find. Benoît David did a sterling job last time Yes graced London, but Davison – his voice impeccable – brings the added bonus of physically resembling Jon Anderson in his youth. (He even dresses like him, in a hippie shirt made from yer gran’s curtains.) He manages to gauge the mood perfectly, coming across as modest and unassuming while hitting every high note.
Squire, Howe and White surely count as ‘proper’ card-carrying Yessers. Squire’s been there since day one, and 99 per cent of your favourite Yes tracks star Howe. White played the first ever Close To The Edge concert (after learning it in three days) and has been in the saddle ever since. Geoff Downes may not be Rick Wakeman – that unique vacancy is already filled – but he has contributed hugely to the Yes story. So – like tonight’s audience – stop whining and enjoy! To hear these epochal albums performed so consummately is a treat.
The immovable running order may mean lulls during, say, Turn Of The Century, but Perpetual Change works well as a finale. There’s an enjoyable suspense to knowing that Awaken or Starship Trooper is up next.
Those two epics are the peaks of a night which, from Howe’s pedal steel guitar on Going For The One to Squire’s triple-neck bass slides, relishes a spirit of celebration. The encore of Roundabout sends us spinning out on a high. Long live Yes!