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Yes @ Symphony Hall Birmingham, Friday 11th November 2011

Another review for Birmingham Live, if a tad contentious! See the full review here– with Pics by Katja Orgin!

Last night I saw full on punk! Tonight it’s something entirely different, in a very refined environment, here at The Symphony Hall to see legendary stalwarts of prog rock YES.

Yes were formed over 40 years ago, way back in 1968, by Chris Squire and Jon Anderson. And their journey has had more twists and turns and turmoil than you would believe. Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe joined the party and success came with their ‘The Yes Album’ and ‘Fragile’ albums followed by ‘Close to the Edge’ and ‘Tales of Topographic Oceans’, and in the late ’70s with ‘Relayer’ (the later without Wakeman). All albums featured classic album art by Roger Dean to accompany their iconic logo, as does their new one, all are which high collectible as originals or limited edition prints – you will pay thousands.

By ’80 both Anderson and Wakeman left due to ‘musical differences’ and Yes were joined by Trevor Horn (legendary musical producer and one time member of The Buggles). Yes split, and reformed with a pop rock sound – album ’90125′ became their best-selling album, featuring the massive hit ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart.’

Then there were the legal battles over the name, two versions of the band were touring, but by 2002, for their 35th anniversary some of the differences were put aside and Rick Wakeman joined them on tour. Then another hiatus from touring, predominantly due to illness of different band members, before starting up again in 2008 with Rick Wakeman’s son Oliver, joining the parade.

Roll on 2011, with new album in tow ‘Fly from Here’ (produced by Horn) they’re back on the road again, although Oliver Wakeman has now been replaced with Geoff Downes (Asia), joining original member Squire and Howe, Alan White and Benoit David taking on vocal duties. With an average age of 62, beside the youthful David at 45, tonight will be interesting to see if they can still deliver after all these years.

On stage at 8pm, to a rapturous cheers and standing ovation, tonight’s set starts off with ‘Yours Is No Disgrace’ which rolled on for 20 minutes, at one point David leaving the stage so the main players could showcase their excellent musical talents. Even though they no longer tour with the vocal sounds of Anderson, David gives it his best, vocals harmonised to give that unique ‘Yes’ sound.

Then into ‘Tempus Fugit’ where two small screens behind the band showcase Dean’s artwork. The audience is appreciative – and Squire acknowledges the Birmingham crowd, the great turnout and introduces Downes, who stands surrounded by a bank of nine keyboards. Then into new track ‘You’re More – I’ve Seen All Good People’ – as a band they seem far tighter playing new stuff than the old.

Just under an hour in and we are treated to a Steve Howe solo – showcasing what he can achieve on a guitar. I’m no aficionado on the guitar – but what he performed was indeed impressive. Howe: “He’s really helped me out tonight…” referring to a roadie who, like a little squirrel, regularly pops on and of stage swapping out his guitars.

And now to the lead track from the new album; ‘Fly From Home’ rambles on for 25 minutes. Footage on the screens showing a guy walking into a modern airport, getting on a plane that is set in the 50’s, where we discover he’s a pilot. He then discovers there’s no pilot on the plane and must take over and stop it from crashing. The track didn’t really need to go on that long, like a two-hour drama, where everything is said in an hour and a half.
Then it’s into a track that was a hit (difficult to have many hits when 20 minutes opus’s don’t really fit into 3 minutes)  ‘Wonderous Stories.’ Unfortunately it didn’t really work, David’s vocals didn’t quite match Anderson’s and Wakeman on keyboards was truly missed. Couple of further tracks – nearly two hours in – David“You guys are fantastic, thank you for coming along, it’s very nearly time for us to go…” and they’re into ‘Starship Trooper’ – even Downes picks up a mobile / guitar like keyboard and we get into a ‘Status Quo’ moment with all members bar the drummer, rocking down in a row.

Great response from the audience and we’re into the encore – ‘Roundabout.’  Again, great response from the audience, the band line up and take a bow in acknowledgment.

For me tonight, Yes appeared to be a shadow of their former selves. They were performing in one of the best venues in the UK for sound and quality, and maybe in some respects, it showed their flaws. There is no doubt that each member a has huge and impressive talent, but it felt like there was five individuals on stage tonight, it took to the last couple of songs for them to engage with each other and then the crowd. There are so many bands touring on nostalgia, but for me, Yes seemed stuck in the past, they hadn’t moved with the times, and sorely missed Anderson and Wakeman. The limited on-screen graphics could have really benefited by using simulated fly throughs taking us into worlds created by Dean and Yes. The crowd was appreciative for a multitude of reasons – delivering prog rock is not a bad thing, it should take you into a trance, a world of escapism. Unfortunately, I just felt that the Yes on stage tonight didn’t deliver what they once had. Rather a shame. In lots of ways.

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Setlist:
1. Yours is No Disgrace
2. Tempus Fugit
3. You’re More – I’ve Seen All Good People
4. Life on a Film Set
5. And You and I
6. Steve (Solo)
7. Fly from Home
8. Wonderous Stories
9. Into the Storm
10. Heart of the Sunrise
11. Starship Trooper

Encore:
12. Roundabout

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Listening:
The Yes Album (1971)
Fragile (1971)
Relayer (1974)
90125 (1983)
Fly From Here (2011)

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