As the opening strains of Stravinski’s Firebird Suite filtered through Sheffield’s City Hall, in March, the years just fell away and transported the predominantly ageing audience back to their youth, back to the classic Yes of the early seventies, the most prolific and most creative period of their long and glorious history.
In celebrating their 50th anniversary, Yes have concentrated on the first ten years and the Firebird Suite intro leads straight into Yours Is No Disgrace and I’ve Seen All Good People, tracks from the classic Yes Album that that kick-started Yes’s career and became the standard by which other prog albums would be measured.
Whilst only guitarist Steve Howe remains from that classic line-up, Yes have a long history of integrating other great musicians seamlessly into the band, and the current line-up is no less proficient and polished as one would expect from the Kings of Prog.
Arguably the most challenging role to fill is that of Jon Anderson whose shrill tones became a trademark for the band. Now in his sixth year as Yes front man, Jon Davison’s high-pitched vocals fit the bill perfectly and the joy of performing such great songs clearly shines through.
He pauses for a moment to reflect on the great legacy created by Yes over the past 50 years and the sad loss of bass guitarist Chris Squire in 2015. “A large part of those 50 years was the late Chris Squire. He told me, himself, how dear this next song (Squire’s composition Onward) was to him.”
Guitarist Billy Sherwood has switched to bass since Squire’s death and he reminds us of just what a huge contribution Squire made to the band, both writing and that extraordinary bass sound. With golden locks and long black coat, Sherwood’s recreation of Squire’s distinctive bass riffs was uncanny, looking for all the world like the great man himself.
Think of a Yes album cover and images of Roger Dean’s artwork spring vividly top life. It also provided the backdrop to the show, displayed across three screens behind the band and adding to the sense of history and occasion.
Steve Howe took centre stage for his beautiful acoustic guitar piece Mood For A Day, crisp, clean and precise as ever before Wondrous Stories, Parallels and And You And I completed a magnificent first set.
There was much reminiscing, during the interval, of Yes shows and tours of days gone by and first Yes gigs still etched into the memory. Many witnessed Yes back in the 70s, some came with sons and daughters who have grown up listening to Yes’s wonderful catalogue of music. It mattered little that the line up has changed and evolved over the years, it was the music that the fans had come to enjoy. All of the current members of Yes have a long history with the band and have stamped their place within that heritage.
Tracks from the majestic Tales From Topographic Oceans filled out the second half of the set. Revealing Science Of God (Dance Of The Dawn), side 1 Yes’s first chart-topping album, is a stunning piece and was performed in it’s entirety. Geoff Downes’ keyboard work was superb all evening, here it soars and swoops holding together the typically intricate and complex web that Yes spin, delicate in detail yet strong in structure.
Howe and Davison joined for a beautiful duet of Leaves Of Green, an extract from side 3, The Ancients (Giants Under The Sun), with Sherwood joining the pair to harmonise on vocals.
Ritual (side 4 of TFTO) was also given a full airing. Jay Schellen is standing in, for the bulk of the tour, for drummer Alan White whose health has not been good of late. Following another bass master class from Billy Sherwood, applause filled the hall as Alan White appeared behind the drums for the closing part of Ritual, wonderful to see him able to share the occasion having been part of this great band since 1972. This was a great set closer and Davison’s voice soared into the beautiful ballad from Ritual, Nous Sommes Du Soleil.
With the hall on their feet Yes returned for an encore of all-time favourites from the early years, Roundabout and the magnificent Starship Trooper, great end to a great evening.
Introduction – Excerpt from the Firebird Suite (Stravinsky)
Yours Is No Disgrace
I’ve Seen All Good People
South Side Of The Sky
Mood For A Day
And You And I
Revealing Science Of God (Dance Of The Dawn)
Leaves Of Green
Ritual (Nous Sommes Du Solieil)