It’s pretty common for the band Yes to have changing members, but tragically this is the first time the lineup has changed due to a death. Long-time bass guitarist Chris Squire lost his battle to leukemia this summer and by his request, the band continued on for this tour. I’m glad they decided to carry-on because a Yes concert is always an opportunity to reunite with my college friend, Will. Will is one of the only other people I know in the Atlanta area who is as knowledgeable about the winding history of the band and also an aficionado of all of the phases of the band. We always have lively discussions about our favorite songs, favorite albums, but we don’t have any animosity towards any eras or band members. It’s also a great time for us to catch up on each others lives.
The set list was a nice mix of a couple lesser-known songs and standby hits. “Going For the One” was nice to hear in it’s original key as Jon Anderson preferred to sing it lower. I always love to hear “America” because it’s a Steve Howe showpiece as even in his sixties he bounces on the balls of his feet and duck walks through the solos. When Howe got his opportunity for his little acoustic guitar ditty “Clap” the sky started to light up with a thunderstorm in the area. We were under the shed of the ampitheater, but it never rained very hard. The show started to round into standards at this point, with “I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Siberian Khatru” and Howe even looked more interested than usual in playing the radio hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. After “Roundabout” we decided to skip out from the encore as we had coasted into the parking lot on empty and wanted to avoid the nightmare scenario of getting stuck in parking lot traffic and running out of gas. That’s too bad as the band was starting to heat up “Starship Trooper” but it was probably the right choice.
This particular lineup of band members had never played live together before this tour. Jon Davison has assumed the vocal duties and while he might not be a good as Jon Anderson in his prime, he is probably better than 2015 Jon Anderson. He was effortless in his vocals, having a natural high pitched voice that never struggled to hit any of the high notes. Billy Sherwood assumed Chris Squire’s bass guitar duties and while he might lack a little of Squire’s charisma, he was more than capable of handling the wandering, thundering bass lines and his pedigree with the band makes him a natural to succeed the centerpiece member. I thought he was a little low in the mix, but I was really pleased with his performance. Geoff Downes was on keyboards and but for a couple flourishes here and there, he was buried in the mix. Alan White has anchored the band at drums for decades and has been nothing if not consistent. Really though, the show was all about Steve Howe. He may appear thin and frail, but he still is full of energy and can make every run up and down the fretboard. In the last twenty years or so, he seems to have become increasingly dedicated to making his tone as clean and clear as possible, which I actually don’t like. I long for the days of the old Yes bootlegs where his guitar crackled, hummed, and buzzed through the amps but that’s for days past I guess. Nonetheless, it’s always a treat to see him play. I don’t who the best guitarist in the world is, but there is no guitar player out there that plays like him.
Toto opened the night. I was familiar with their big hits like “Rosanna” and “Africa” but their whole set sounded very good, even their new material was enjoyable. They had a big ensemble on stage and they were well mixed. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a show where the opener had a better mix than the headliner.
Will and I both left with a very positive impression of the show, we were both very happy. I hope the band continues on even without Squire and they have a year’s worth of shows lined up, so maybe the band still have some more music to bring us. It’s been a nice touchstone for Will and I to sync up. Will and I have had our ups and downs and a winding road through our friendship, but I don’t have many friends that I spend one-on-one time with anymore (and even less these days in the hectic parenting of young children) Will and I used to sneak off of Tech campus when class and girls became just too much and split a pizza and bemoan the state of things and solve every problem. Not much has changed there as we grabbed a late dinner after the show. Like anytime I get together with old college friends, we sometimes slip away and leave nothing mister but boring stories of “glory days” (daaa-da-da-da) but we also to catch up on what people are up to though, those we still keep in touch with as we disperse farther and farther away. We have rare moments like these Yes concerts together and they become more and more valuable. I think of Jon Anderson and Chris Squire how they split in the band around eight years ago and I hope even if they weren’t in the band together anymore they still kept in touch up to Squire’s death. I’m glad my friend and I didn’t go different paths either so that we can still enjoy these shows.