News Column

Yes show brings standing O's

July 21, 2014

By Scott Tady, Beaver County Times, Pa.

July 21--MUNHALL -- Pittsburgh progressive-rock fans enjoyed a special treat Sunday when one of the genre's standard-bearers performed two of its classic albums.

It was the first time locally that British band Yes played its breakthrough 1971 album "Fragile" from start-to-finish. The two-hour concert, at the Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead, began with Yes performing its 1972 "Close to the Edge" album in reverse order -- another local first.

Fans in the sweaty 1,000-seat sold-out hall showered Yes with eight or so standing ovations, recognizing the band's virtuosity and historical significance.

Plus it felt good regularly getting up from those hard, wooden seats built in an era when comfort wasn't an issue.

Yes launched with the nearly-nine minute "Siberian Khatru," a prototypical prog-rock song with plenty of space for complex solos by keyboardist Geoff Downes and fellow Asia alum Steve Howe, the 1976 to 1981 "Best Overall Guitarist" winner as chosen by Guitar Player magazine readers.

Three decades later, Howe is still a master, eliciting guitar strokes and strums that enchanted without getting self-indulgent, as evidenced on the night's next selections, "And You and I" and the full-album side "Close to the Edge" title track, where he alternated between one guitar mounted on a stand and another still strapped around his neck. Peering out from his thick glasses, looking part Ivy League professor and part 19th century composer, Howe also shined on pedal steel for a few passages, and prompted fans to risk the admonishment of security guards to shoot video of his elegant "Mood for a Day" solo during the "Fragile" segment.

Downes did a nice job replicating while adding his own touches on flashy "Fragile" pieces composed by former keyboard ace Rick Wakeman.

Chris Squire, the only constant band member since Yes' 1968 founding, showed why he's made his share of "best of" lists, too, with that one-of-a-kind warm, buzzing sound he somehow pulls from his bass. He robustly strummed his bass like a lead guitar during his "Fragile" solo bit on the song "The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)."

Though I recall Yes playing faster and harder in its 2009 Station Square amphitheater show.

In particular, drummer Alan White didn't supply any standout moments Sunday, even on lengthy songs like the "Fragile"-finishing "Heart of the Sunrise" that begs for creative fills and flourishes. If White's not feeling it, maybe Yes needs to talk original drummer Bill Bruford out of retirement.

Having grown into a collective with more lineup changes than a pro sports team, the one essential component to Yes is a high-voiced singer with pinpoint control. They've got their man in 43-year-old Jon Davison, a Yes member since 2012, whose pure and towering vocals were marvelous, often delivered with a theatrical wave of the arms toward fans in the upper balcony.

It was the best concert crowd I've seen all summer. Nobody gabbed during songs; they sat in rapt attention until it was time to rise in unison for a cheering ovation. Proudly wearing old Yes concert shirts, the mostly male and middle-aged crowd -- you'll get that with prog-rock -- responded favorably to two new songs tucked into the middle of the set. Both songs fit in well, especially "The Game," which was a fine vehicle for Davison's voice.

And while classic-rock staple "Roundabout" sounded splendid, a bigger treat was hearing deeper "Fragile" cuts like the heavy riffed, ambitiously arranged "South Side of the Sky" (with the album's footstep sound effects included.)

The encore brought the classic "I've Seen All Good People," with more stellar Howe strumming, and then Yes' lone chart-topper, the decisively more poppy "Owner of a Lonely Heart."

I'll bet most fans would have voted instead for the epic "Starship Trooper," which has been the show closer on prior tour stops.

Overall, a job well done, though, by one of prog-rock's all-time best.


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