Since the passing of founding bassist Chris Squire, the debate has raged on about what constitutes Yes. Other than Squire, there has not been an original member in the band since 2008. The lineup of this Hall of Fame band since 2015 has been anchored by classic-era guitarist Steve Howe, who first joined the band for their third release, The Yes Album, and currently features keyboardist Geoff Downes, bassist Billy Sherwood, vocalist Jon Davison, and drummer Jay Schellen, and they have recently embarked on an all-new tour.
Yes tends to have a theme for each tour, this run is being billed as The Classic Tales of Yes. Considering the breadth of their catalog, the set could include any number of beloved songs. Before we could learn what tales were in store for us, however, legendary cover artist Roger Dean took the stage for a 30-minute presentation. There was also a display of Dean’s artwork, unfortunately, it was on the upper level of the theater and not many seated in the lower section were able to make it up to see it.
The band finally took the stage, with Howe behind a slide guitar, and launched into the 1977 track “Going For The One”. As the band begins, all those earlier questions melt away. The rhythm section of Sherwood and Schellen, both hand-picked by the members they replaced (Chris Squire and Alan White) are locked in, Downes, who was briefly in the band for the Drama era and has manned the keys since 2011, does an admirable job of filling Rick Wakeman’s shoes, and Davison not only has the voice and range for these songs but has an undeniable stage presence that is really the glue of the band.
It was the second song when you first realized that these “classic tales” aren’t the same, overplayed songs from the band’s history. “It Will Be A Good Day (The River)”, a standout track from 2000’s The Ladder, was played for the first time since that tour more than two decades ago. That was far from the only rarity of the evening, songs like “Machine Messiah”, a nod to the Downes-Trever Horn lineup for Drama, the exquisite “Time and a Word” and “South Side of the Sky” were all played for the first time in over 5 years. The big surprise was yet to come (we’ll get to that later).
About halfway through the set, Howe sat with his trusty acoustic guitar as Davison remembered late Yes drummer Alan White. White replaced Bill Bruford in 1972 and was with the band until his death in 2022. As a tribute, the band played “Turn of the Century”, a track White helped compose. The stage was sparse throughout the night, just the band and lights, no video, no effects or production. It would have been great to have seen photos of White and Squire in the background as the song played.
This past May, Yes released their 23rd studio album, a very strong work called Mirror To The Sky. While this wasn’t exactly a tour to promote that release, the band did play the song “Cut From The Stars”, featuring monster bass work from Sherwood. The new song fit right in with the classics and really provided a link between the old and the new.
I mentioned earlier the biggest surprise of the night…to close the main set, Yes dipped into 1973’s Tales From Topographic Oceans for an absolutely monster, 20+ minute medley touching on “The Revealing Science of God (Dance of The Dawn)”/”The Remembering (High The Memory)”/”Leaves of Green”/”Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil)”. This tour is the first time since 1974 that “The Remembering” has been played live. The band excelled with this material, the crowd rose to its feet as the last notes drifted off, knowing we all just witnessed something very special. A stellar encore of “Roundabout” and “Starship Trooper” closed the night out.
Classic bands, such as Foreigner and Yes, will always face the issue of no original members (oddly enough, both of those bands are helped out by former members of 80s rockers Hurricane, Kelly Hansen on vocals and Jay Schellen on drums). The current Yes features classic-era guitarist Howe and past member Downes surrounded by a strong core of younger musicians who take their role in this legendary band seriously. The songs sound just as a fan hopes they would, the setlist is deep and varied, and if you want to relive The Classic Tales of Yes, this is your chance. No one else is out there playing this music. This lineup of Yes may not be the members of Close To The Edge or even 90125, but they honor the legacy and do the music proud.