Saturday, 24 March 2018

The Revealing Science of Teamwork

Out there in fandom two matters appear to drive how you judge a Yes concert. 

1) Whose in the band.

2) The setlist with includes material which at its youngest is 40 years old.

As  I spend most of my time listening to music which was composed anywhere between 100 to 400 years ago the latter is not important, and as to the former it is how it is played and most importantly what is the overall impact of the orchestra or ensemble playing the music.Without consciously approaching tonight in the same way that is indeed why it was a raging success because the age of the material wasn't of itself important and what was most important was how the ensemble came together to play it as a unit, not whom precisely was in the ensemble but how the ensemble worked as a unit. 

The first half from "Disgrace" to "And You and I" was in the main material played in recent years but this particular group of players presented it in a fresh and invigorating way. The music had a darker more communicative raw feel to it. In a nutshell it had more personality. 

There was more invention in the playing particularly from Steve on "Disgrace" and "Southside". "And You and I" benefited from a really focused reading from Jon whose diction meant the vocal narrative was weighted with more gravitas rather than sounding like a sound a like. I noted that Jay played this piece somewhere midway between Bruford and White and the fills in the crescendos gave the music more personality. 

A special mention for the vocal choir section in "Southside" I listened to this very critically and it sounded fine to me, no pitching issues I noted in other words Steve was good to go!!  

I preferred "Wondrous Stories" without Geoff's rather sugary intro and again with the cut and thrust of the rhythm section the piece rather than floating cut through more. 

The first half then was entertaining and benefited from a team that brought out the best in themselves collectively and individually. This is in part because the players are gracious and generous in their attitude to the music and each other, they are their to serve the music rather than the other way round. 

We dashed back for the second half and were seated for Jon's atmospheric and spirited reading of the opening piece which is crucial to get right. I always feel the record sounds a little like a run through in places and of course it lacks the architectural certainty of "Edge" but Billy and Jay make each section sound more certain and defined and Geoff makes everything count in away the originally keyboards, which often relied on rather anaemic mellotron washes did not. They did not play it to loud or aggressively so the meditative spiritual side of the music really emerged. The beauty of the guitar lines shone with a special luminescence as Steve played with an inventiveness and love of the original and that aided the sense of specialness of the piece. It is a profound piece asking questions of a spiritual nature and should evoke a sense of journey of spiritual musings on mankind's origins. Tonight they captured that sense perfectly and I found myself welling up with tears as the piece moved into its reprise. 

The only element which survives from the middle movements is the acoustic coda and song from "The Ancient". Once again Steve appears to play this in a manner which gives the cadenza more shape but the revelation is Jon's voice. He has really learned to expand the depth of his voice giving it a more rounded more musical feel and his reading of "Leaves Of Green" was exquisite tonight. He isn't just hitting the notes and avoiding going flat he is offering a rounded expressive three dimensional communicative performance. I also felt overall his unfussy understated but sharp image reflected in his singing more directly impassioned and less studied theatrical. 

And so to Ritual, Billy had been playing with attack all night with that dirty grinding sound which is part of the DNA of Yes, as well as providing a great vocal foil to Jon, a big improvement on his vocal performance in 2016. With "Ritual" and indeed like "Revealing" he grabbed the bass Lines by the scruff of the neck and owned them. Indeed Ritual is very much about the rhythm section making sense of the rather off the wall heavier sections and Jay and Billy did just that. Jay played with precision and attack and once again a piece that wanders on the original went from one certainty to another tonight. That meant the step offs for the song sections were utterly ravishing probably the first entrance of Nous Sommes Du Soleil was even more moving than the second, a real first and for me another moment of tears. 

As with the Revealing Geoff made everything count, he is a card carrying member on these pieces, to borrow from a 1976 review of Patrick Moraz by Dan Hedges. But the really transcendent moments come from Steve's utterly beautiful statements of the themes which lead into the song sections. They are both reprises and restatements giving the piece thematic cohesion and all one can say is he aimed a lot of love at his guitar in these sections.  

Jay takes the piece to the top of the manic rhythmic crescendo before the percussion movement which the magic hat comes on to perform. For Alan to hit the ground running with a percussion solo is the bravest of musical daring. He is starting cold and has to carry the other two percussionist and he does it bravo sir !!

And so a thundering ovation brings the formal concert to a close. Its London so Trevor comes on to sing Tempus Fugit, a song I personally do not like but he is much stronger than Oxford in 2016 and of course the final ubiquitous encores of .... well you know. 

However what this concert will be remembered for, indeed this tour, are the stellar performances of a fine Yes Group (of musicians) and their reading of Topographic Oceans. Bringing these pieces back, the most controversial of their long career, was a risk and making them the high point of their 50th anniversary is an achievement that this particular team can be very proud of.  




  1. Thank you for writing this piece. It seems more than just a review. It's a well considered reflection on a moment in time that draws together the now and the then. Interesting that you refer to the band as an ensemble and now given the years and the passing through of various members it is maybe wisest to see it as an ensemble. I use to produce graphic design for an ensemble called Icebreaker. This enables there to be founder members who carry the ensemble and for there to be musicians that join for various projects. It allows for a bit of continuity and change. I last saw Yes during their 35th anniversary tour. Things seemed a bit strained and there was the suggestion that things might not continue in the way they had. I haven't felt moved to attend concerts since or purchase any new material. I've observed from a distance. I touch base now and then and in this respect I appreciate you taking the time to write this piece, rather than just dashing off a set list with some comments. You didn't mention the Bill Bruford introduction. How was this received? Bill's approach to retiring is really interesting considering the lot of drummers. It has to be the most demanding of roles. Maybe I should have given this 50th anniversary concert a go, particularly for the Topographic pieces. Billy's bass paying and Jay's drumming seem to be bringing some new life to the mix. I saw a clip of Tempus Fugit and I agree, it wasn't my favourite from Drama. Trevor seems to be in good physical shape but his voice was straining a bit. I always thought Does It Really Happen? and Into The Lens to be stronger pieces from what was actually a really strong album (in my opinion) that answers some of the questions surrounding Tormato. I loved the return of the heavy bass wth that record. I'm glad that from your perspective the 50th anniversary seemed a return to form.

  2. Hi Tony, Thank you for taking the time to write a really considered response. What I should say is that in order to attend the entire weekend and the convention I had two matters driving me. One I knew I would be with people who are a crucial part of the experience and it was wonderful to catch up with these people who were all aware I had just come off an 66 day odyssey to New Zealand indeed most of them followed it. The second thing which put me in good spirits is I made a conscious decision a year ago to avoid any form of internet discussion about the band which is at best merely people including myself repeating the same points or a lot of factional politicking over the fiasco of two Yes bands.

    The review was written on the Saturday night after the first show whereas Tubs came on to introduce the band for the Sunday performance which was even more wired. Bill received a standing ovation and was articulate witty and deeply committed to the ensemble that were about to play. Trevor again came on for the encore and like the previous night and Oxford 2016 received a very warm welcome. It was a moment of warmth and thanks for his service to the band but that is quite separate from a more detailed view of the rather odd looking figure he cut (somewhere between Brains in Thunderbirds and a hip history teacher) and the performance itself which was ideal for an encore where people should not be dissecting but just enjoying. That Benoit when on form was a better singer than Trevor of Trevor music, including FFH, is a given and something which Trevor acknowledges but its been wonderful for him to sing the suite on the CD which is autobiographical and not about aeroplanes at all but hope, isolation, reflection, emotional turbulence and recovery.