Yes review – prog-rock giants take virtuosic tour through golden oldies
‘And on drums … Jay Leno!” yells Yes guitarist Steve Howe, wrongly introducing his band’s drummer (former Asia stickman Jay Schellen) by the name of a very famous TV host. The Spinal Tap-type howler is understandable given that the 1970s and 80s prog-rock giants have been through 19 members and have ended up as two touring incarnations.
There’s Yes featuring (original singer) Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman. Then there’s this one, kept going (after founding bassist Chris Squire’s death in 2015), by guitarist Howe and drummer Alan White, whose back surgery has left him unable to perform for long. The rival band have branded them a tribute act, although flowing-haired singer Jon Davison (who once was in a Yes tribute act called Roundabout) doesn’t need his tight trousers to help tackle his predecessor’s angelic upper ranges.
The younger vocalist explains that they are celebrating “50 years of Yes”, but with no song under 40, they are in fact honouring Yes circa 1971-78, when the band’s revolutionary mix of psychedelia, pop and classical (and Roger Dean album sleeves) bestrode the 70s like a prog colossus. Although two sides of 1973’s ornate, time signature-shifting double album Tales from Topographic Oceans starts to suggest why punk had to happen, the place erupts as White clambers on the drum stool for the final sequence and the encores.
Arguments still rage about which band is really Yes, but with 70-year-old guitarist Howe’s virtuosity undimmed and the ailing, trilbied drummer beaming at the ovations for Roundabout and Starship Trooper, these time-served warriors are surely entitled to a few more moments in the sun.
• At Sage One, Gateshead, 18 March. Then touring until 25 March.