AND YES AND I

yes logo 2

Dateline Wilton Connecticut. Around 1975 or 6. They were one of those bands that if you heard them at a party, or maybe driving around in the car, they’d make you  stop and think, “Wow, that’s some wild s–t.” Whatever song of theirs that you heard, it was this “new music” with a “new sound” that was a constant staple at parties and everywhere else in our midst back in the mid-late 70’s. It was music that rocked hard but had this different thought and depth to it. Plus they had this wild logo that was all connected. The music…the art…the feel…it was all…Yes.

Yes would become more a part of my life with their 1977 Going For The One record, the first ‘new’ Yes album I ever bought, one of my all time headphone faves, it would become a staple of my burgeoning early prog rock fandom. The songs Wondrous Stories and Awaken from that record were masterpieces to me, and they would end up being standard throw-on-the-headphones-after-coming-home-from-a-party songs that to this day still make me feel a bit “elevated” when I hear them. Yep, hearing Yes meant something grand, it meant discovery, wonder, and oh yeah, it meant another way to enjoy some really kick ass rock and roll.

Yes was different enough to stand out from the other rock music that I had become so enamored with in the 70’s and early 80’s, including the full blitz of Southern rock bands plus the Dead, the Eagles, Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin & Aerosmith, and then of course in 1978, Springsteen and then soon after, U2.  But I really found this thing called “progressive rock” pretty cool, pretty exciting, new, and even fascinating. I kinda liked the deeper more fantasy-invoking orchestral arrangements and elaborate compositions, the cosmic lyrics, the almost interplanetary feel, not to mention the jaw-dropping musical virtuosity. Because even though their music was something that felt a bit more complicated than what I was used to, it was still firmly steeped in the rock and roll stew. Same happened with fellow prog-rock leviathans Genesis and Peter Gabriel, my dear friend Todd Jones would be instrumental (pun intended!) in converting me into an educated fan of all of these incredible proggers that I just hadn’t been exposed to yet. Though I never gave up the harder rock foothold, I was able to allow this progressive stuff in just far enough to let it seep into my psyche where this music still resides.

yestival-logo

So attending the first annual Yestival right outside of Philadelphia this past weekend (with that same Todd Jones) was not only a great chance to see Yes live and harken back to those formative years with an old friend, but to also experience the music of some of progressive rock’s other legends, whether done by the artists themselves or by worthy imitators. And a bountiful feast it was: we gleefully dined on a sumptuous endless prog rock buffet and came away belly full, soul satisfied and ultimately elated, thanks to both expected treats and mindblowing surprises.

Captivating drummer Danny Carey (formerly of Tool) rocks with Volto.  (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 www. LiveshotsPhotography.com)

Captivating drummer Danny Carey (formerly of Tool) rocks with Volto. (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 www. LiveshotsPhotography.com)

The first band we would imbibe at our prog rock repast was Volto, the LA based power proggers featuring drummer Danny Carey from alternative metal band Tool. Guitarist John Ziegler carved a wide presence, not only due to his seated Victor Buono-esque bulk but much moreso for his tasty prog rock licks and high-end technique that were a joy to watch. Surprise #1?

Exceptional Volto guitarist John Ziegler tears into a solo (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

Exceptional Volto guitarist John Ziegler tears into a solo (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 http://www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

The absolute highlight of Volto’s set, and a major highlight of the entire day, was an almost twenty minute version  of Led Zeppelin’s epic No Quarter which started, oh, five or ten seconds after we sat down. The keyboards were vintage John Paul Jones, and their version featured a mesmerizing wafting middle section that went far away…and then ultimately returned as No Quarter’s main melody. Just a stunning and unexpected cover, and I told Ziegler just that when I met him (surprise #2!) by chance out on the concourse afterwards. “Was it OK?” he asked humbly.  “OK???” I said, “Dude, we happened to be listening to Zeppelin’s version from Celebration Day on the way here, and you you…just killed it!”  “Thanks so much, that means alot”, Ziegler said smiling. What a nice way to start this concert experience, with one of my very favorite live tunes and then a band member hello.

Carl Palmer drumming away at the Yestival with his ELP Legacy Band (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

Carl Palmer drumming away at the Yestival with his ELP Legacy Band (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 http://www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

Next up was legendary ELP drummer Carl Palmer along with his stellar ELP Legacy band, playing a short set high on classical music melodies and seemingly perfect for the good amount of ELP fans in attendance.  There was obviously no Lucky Man or From the Beginning, two ELP vocal standards sung by Greg Lake, but on his formidable drum set with “Carl” on one drum and “Palmer” on the other in big red letters, Palmer brought forth over and over a thundering instrumental blitz punctuated by his still powerful playing and a superb band, featuring guitarist Paul Bielatowicz and bassist Simon Fitzpatrick. Karn Evil 9 Pt 2 was the major bone thrown to the ELP crowd, yet the overtly classical music overtones of Pictures At An Exhibition and Fanfare For The Common Man reminded the crowd that ELP’s high place in the annals of this genre was one part hard rock and one part classical music, a feeling Palmer evoked throughout his strong set.

Renaissance's Annie Haslam soars at the 2013 Yestival  (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

Renaissance’s Annie Haslam soars at the 2013 Yestival (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 http://www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

After a walk back for a pit stop and a truly obscenely priced beer (shocker), it was time for Annie’s Song. Annie Haslam has always been a beloved figure in prog rock circles and she brought the most recent version of her 70’s band Renaissance to the Yestival and received a warm and sustained response. Haslam has had to go it alone after the 2012 death of her longtime bandmate and fellow Renaissance rejuvenator Michael Hunsford (whom I interviewed the year before his death, true gentleman), yet this current machination does justice to the sweeping melodies accompanied by Haslam’s capable if not a bit shrill vocals (time will sometimes do that). But judging by the adoring response from the AnnieHeads in the audience,  Ms. Haslam did the Renaissance canon — and the memory of dear friend Hunsford —  just right. Sad smiley face here: They didn’t play the only Renaissance song I know — a beautiful Haslam tour de force called Carpet Of The Sun that college friend Ron Swirson seemed to play every time I came to his dorm room — but it was still a sweet satisfying foray into Annie’s World, and her own renaissance of sorts.

The Musical Box' Peter Gabriel doppelganger at the Yestival (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

The Musical Box’ Peter Gabriel doppelganger at the Yestival (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 http://www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

“Good evening” was what we next heard out of the dark, and this simmering cauldron of a prog rock crowd was then magically transported back to the formative years of progressive rock giants Genesis, courtesy of a band many call the best Genesis tribute band on the planet, the French ensemble The Musical Box. This band is successful for several reasons — they totally nail the costumes, the set design, the feel of early Genesis as well as the complicated musical compositions the early band was so well known for. But they are resoundingly who they are thanks to exquisite Gabriel doppelganger Denis Gagne who stunningly and perfectly conjures up the notoriously strange and cosmic lead singer with an exactness and flair that many Genesis fans feel is frighteningly dead on to the original Gabriel, even replete with that Hitchcockesque intro: “Good evening.”

The Musical Box performs classic Genesis at the 2013 Yestival (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 www.LiveShotProductions.com)

The Musical Box performs classic Genesis at the 2013 Yestival (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 http://www.LiveShotProductions.com)

On a stage that die hard fans knew was made to almost exactly resemble the stage setup from the 1973 “Foxtrot” tour, down to the white curtained backdrop, the white covering on the keyboards, down to the seated position of the band’s “Steve Hackett” guitarist Francois Gagnon, the band began with Foxtrot’s opening number Watcher Of The Skies and immediately recreated the band so perfectly that you really did feel like you were somehow back there seeing the real thing. But in a night that would be full of surprises (here’s #3!), instead of covering the entire “Foxtrot” record as advertised, The Musical Box then launched into, fittingly, The Musical Box from 1971’s “Nursery Cryme.” Gagne continued to replicate Gabriel’s every gesture, every note and every move as the band roared back into the “Foxtrot” album with Get ‘Em Out By Friday and then one of Genesis’ most epic creations, the phenomenal Supper’s Ready. Replete with painted white face and black clothes, Gagne alternately donned a full orange flower headdress and then later a geometric box mask & cape as the band soared through these tunes, ending with “Nursery Cryme’s” The Return of the Giant Hogweed. By the time this magnificent retro Genesis set was over, you had forgotten this was a cover band, you felt like you were back in the days of Rael, dancing with the moonlight knight on the firth of fifth, all the while selling England by the pound. Well done, gentlemen.

Roger Dean's Yes 'Relayer' cover.

Roger Dean’s Yes ‘Relayer’ cover.

Artistic interlude: Quick run to the concourse and who’s sitting out there but brilliant artist Roger Dean, signing copies of his works. I stood and just watched him sign his name, knowing that hand had drawn some of the most exquisite album art of all time including so many stunning Yes covers. Nice sighting.

yes-close-to-the-edge

OK, we ‘re back just in time. as Yes triumphantly takes the stage, arguably the most successful progressive rock band in history (if you take away the stratospheric later years of the Phil Collins’ driven Genesis) ready to embark on an advertised set list that would cover two of Yes’ earliest and most classic records in their entireties: first, “Close To The Edge” (1973) followed by “The Yes Album” (1971). The band surged into the 18 minute title cut with all engines at full speed, and you knew that after about 6 hours of hearing other glimpses of the genre, the real kings had arrived. There are only three songs on “Close To The Edge” and all three were flawless, with the gorgeous (and yes, tear invoking, I admit it) And You And I coming next, opening with the incredible Steve Howe’s plaintive acoustic notes, then the 6 plunks of  Chris Squires’ bass, the one note tinkle of the triangle, and you’re in for the song’s 10 minutes of heaven. It was amazing, a letter perfect version. “Close To The Edge” finished with the churning and soaring Siberian Khatru, the album’s shortest tune at almost nine minutes but not coming up short in any other way. band members traded licks and reminded this tired but elated crowd why this was called the Yestival.

Steve Howe showing his genius at the 2013 Yestival (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 www.LiveShotProductions.com)

Steve Howe showing his genius at the 2013 Yestival (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 http://www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

Next was the evening’s most incredible and truly unexpected surprise (#4!): After a brief greeting by Squire, he passed the night’s big secret on to Howe to reveal, and the 66 year old guitar man promptly announced that tonight the band would be playing THREE albums in their entirety, not just the aforementioned two. Whaattt? Are you kidding me? Just then the band launched into the gloriously manic opening guitar strains of…yep, that first album I bought in 1977 – Going For The One. We were totally floored, not only would we get the entire two hugely influential early Yes records, but sandwiched in the middle would be that album from our truly formative years, the one that shouts Wilton youth, from over three decades ago. “I’ve never heard them…do this…live”, Todd muttered as the band blasted through the title cut. Turn Of The Century would be next, another concert rarity, followed by the churchlike organ strains and bass riffs of the powerful Squire-penned Parallels, which ends abruptly and knocks the breath out of you.

yes going

Picking ourselves off the floor, the show would take an intimate turn with the gorgeous Wondrous Stories, perhaps Yes’ most beautiful song if you could isolate one out of so many of their other beautiful songs. It is necessary to mention that here, as he did all night, lead singer Jon Davison was truly masterful at recreating Jon Anderson’s soaring vocals, reaching the highest highs and really nailing the necessary notes from beginning to end.  But especially on an Anderson gem like Wondrous Stories, Davison joyfully gave Yes fans that unforgettable voice that is so necessary in order to carry on the Yes mantel.

Next up is that song I mentioned earlier that was my high school post party headphones crash song extraordinaire, Awaken. A song as engrained into my brain than almost any other.  I had seen Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman do the song live a couple years ago in their solo tour together and that was an amazing surprise too, but this full band version would be beyond belief, starting with the familiar cascading piano of (Rick Wakeman via) Geoff Downes, and off we went, 15 exquisite minutes of Awaken. My favorite and most nostalgic moment of the entire day. It was so dead on to the LP version I had heard so many times in those clunky headphones up in my room falling asleep, that I swear I could smell the fireplace in Wilton which would always pervade my room with the scent of its smoky embers. No, I was in New Jersey 35 years later with 10 thousand other people, but I was also home again, it was a feeling music never fails to provide.

The Yes Album

As if that wasn’t enough — I mean we were speechless — the band then catapulted into the unmistakable power chords of Yours Is No Disgrace, and wham, we were in to the third Yes album of the night, “The Yes Album.” After Disgrace’s ten minute barnburner, with the always great refrain “silly human, silly human race”, Steve Howe would take a solo turn on the album’s second cut Clap, the acoustic guitar ode he wrote many moons ago when his son Dylan was born. From there, a Yes tour de force, as they steamed through the incredible Starship Trooper (the song that the DJ before me on my shift at the University of Hartford’s rock station would play as his last song every time), then FM radio staple I’ve Seen All Good People, followed by the concert rarity The Venture, and then wrapping up this unprecedented three album tornado (or Tormato) with the thundering Perpetual Change. It was an unbelievable cross section of Yes’ masterful music all performed exceptionally live in front of a captive and adoring prog lovers crowd. Balloons fell from the ceiling as the band churned through the encore, their most recognizable and most popular tune, Roundabout from 1971’s “Fragile.”  The band was clearly elated at this very special three-album plus Roundabout night, joyously kicking the balloons back out to the crowd and smiling their big 70 year old grins.

Epilogue: In almost poetic perfection, on a small side stage outside between acts, we were able to catch some of the incredible School Of Rock All Stars, about 20 music students from the well known rock school, and yes, there is hope for the future. These truly gifted talented, rock-in-your-soul kids nailed song after song out there, interchanging band members flawlessly and mixing it up perfectly. There were cheers for Zep’s Since I’ve Been Loving You, Zappa’s Joe’s Garage, Edie’s What I Am, The Who’s Long Live Rock & more...and yes, (pun also intended), a true to the record version of what else, Yes’ Long Distance Runaround. It really reinforced that there are young vibrant kids out there living to play rock and roll, they only need the chance to get up there and do it. And hey, these kids just may have a festival named after them some day, like those grey haired marvels on the main stage.

It was one for the ages, the rock of ages. Time to go throw on Going For The One and grab the ol’ headphones. For ol’ times sake. Or new. Your move.

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4 Responses to “AND YES AND I”

  1. Oh man, I need to go listen to my copy of Renaissance’s Prologue now…Fabulous gig Steve…Lucky for you Yes had three hours to dedicate to you…Wow…

    • midliferocker Says:

      You bet Johnny. Just incredible. You woulda loved it. Next time, and don’t be shy on the Anderson absence, you’ll be blown away regardless.

  2. Well said, my friend. Glad you added the School of Rock moments at the end. Watching teenagers (surprisingly comprised of an equal number of girls) play Long Distance Runaround and The Fish with 3 bass players (two of them girls) was my tearful moment. The surest sign that all is not lost with today’s youth.
    I echo your sentiments, and I’ll add only one more thing: “When do tickets go on sale for next year’s Yestival?” Peace, brother.

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