Following a rousing rendition of I’ve Seen All Good People, Steve Howe tells the audience, “That was one of the first songs we did when I was the new boy in the band.”
Tempus fugit. The 69-year-old guitarist is now the old boy in a group that no longer features any founding members. To compound matters, Yes’ second tour since Chris Squire’s death suffered a last-minute setback: drummer Alan White dropped out because of back surgery. With the addition of substitute drummer Jay Schellen (Hurricane, Asia) to the ever-changing lineup, one imagines that Pete Frame’s Rock Family Tree for Yes has run out of branches.
Perhaps sensing they have a lot to prove, Yes bolt out of the gate at full gallop for Machine Messiah. Howe looks possessed. He kicks his leg forward as he plays notes as sharp as pinpricks. Alas, the remainder of the full album performance of Drama feels serviceable rather than inspired. Bassist Billy Sherwood and Schellen often peer at electronic tablets for musical cues. Howe glowers at the band when Into the Lens teeters at one point. The musicians look visibly relieved when they rally to finish the first set with a full-blooded Siberian Khatru.
It’s a risky gambit for Yes to anchor the second set with highlights from Tales From Topographic Oceans. Has any other album been so derided by critics of progressive rock?
Cobalt lighting and LED screen footage of bioluminescent underwater creatures set the mood for The Revealing Science Of God (Dance Of The Dawn). (The innovative video design by Andy Clark merits special commendation.) Excitement mounts as ever reliable singer Jon Davison locks into an effective three-part harmony with Howe and Sherwood. When Schellen enters with a powerful fill to accompany Geoff Downes’ flourishes of sci-fi keyboard, band and audience alike lift off.
The drummer uncannily replicates White’s grooves. Sherwood is even more impressive. With his frosted hair, gold medallion, long coat and tight trousers, he seems to embody Squire in more ways than one. His bass solo during Ritual… is thunderous. Near the climax, roadies wheel out percussion instruments so vocalist and bassist can join Schellen in a tribalistic drum off. Another highlight: Howe makes a compelling argument that Leaves Of Green is his most beautiful acoustic composition.
Yes in 2016 are a bit like a classic sports car whose key components have been replaced with aftermarket parts. Is it still roadworthy? Undoubtedly. But the vehicle’s market value has diminished. However, the band prove they still have plenty of torque under the hood, especially when they encore with a thrilling version of Starship Trooper.