Tag Archives: concerts

The Heart Spoken Khatru

[Warning: set list spoilers ahead for the Yes “Album Tour”]

I had admittedly mild expectations for the Yes show in Atlantic City last night, between the revised band lineup retaining only Steve Howe as an original “core member” and the emphasis on playing two albums providing something of a rigid format. After taking in a run of Phish shows, I was looking forward to being in the younger part of the audience for once (including the option to sit through most of the show), but that’s hardly a good motivator for taking in a good show.

I was really, really wrong, and never have I been so glad to be so wrong.

If you are anything of a Yes fan, and spun your copy of “Yessongs” until the dynamic range on the grooves wore down, then go see one of these shows. Geoff Downes brings energy and some practicality to the keys (he’s not Wakeman, nobody is, so instead of muddling through he attacks the pieces where he can add his own unique color); Billy Sherwood has a big, swirly tone that will make you think Squire but again, he doesn’t try to fill in for the much-missed bassist. Jon Davison sounds scarily like Anderson, enough that your heart also skips that missing eighth note in the 15/8 sections. While I had feared I’d see Steve Howe fronting a tribute band that was trying hard to recreate Yes of the 1970s, what I got was a genuine Yes experience of the mid-2010s. And it was awesome.

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And speaking of Steve Howe: He had more fun on stage than in the twenty years I’ve been seeing Yes. Modulo the requisite peccadilloes that seem to annoy him during every show (a spotlight that missed the beginning of his solo, causing him to wave frantically, a mic that cut out during his introduction to a song, his guitar cable that seemed to keep catching on his shirt), he was jumping around, unleashing solo after solo that were true explorations of the pieces, and he even smiled. I was rapt and in awe and happier than I’ve been since pulling the plastic off of the copy of “Yessongs” I bought at Two Guys in Manalapan (for $11).

For the first time in a long time, I didn’t check out the setlist before hand; I wanted to be surprised by the “and other songs”. I’ve loved Drama for 35 years, and Tales grew on me as I listened to it in pieces (turning point: putting on the “Keys to Ascension” CD in the W hotel, in San Francisco, during one of the first JavaOne conferences; it seemed pretentious to have a CD player in my hotel room, so I put on something worthy of the artifact and really heard the intricate parts). Deep down, though, I have a few favorites, staples of my Yes experience and my gold standards for judging any audio system.

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Once again, the band didn’t disappoint. After a solid “Your Move/All Good People” (first time I’ve seen that one live!) Steve Howe strapped on a gorgeous walnut ES-335 and ripped into the opening chords of “Siberian Khatru”. Dean Budnick, editor of “Relix” magazine, posed the question in a recent masthead editorial asking “What was the album that did it for you?” For me, it was listening to WYSP, one summer night on Long Beach Island, as they tracked all of “Close to the Edge.” I’d only heard the live version on Yessongs, and hearing the perfectly executed studio version, concluding the best prog album of all time, send chills up my spine that obviated the need for air conditioning. Howe’s solo at the end of “Khatru” is one of the few places he can really interpret the song, take some liberties, mix chords with dazzling runs. A favorite music teacher once described a woodwind passage as “angels singing over the top of the orchestra” (in a pandering attempt to get us to stop butchering that passage), and in the pseudo-religious paen of “Khatru” (seriously: khatru is a made up word, and the song is full of oblique Christ imagery) Howe’s solo just sails over the top of a rather intense closing section. It is, was and always will be my most favorite song, and hearing it — in the moment, never to be played just like that again — was its own religious experience.

My comment to Bubba: This is as good as Rosh Hashanah for renewal and refresh.

In between tracks of “Tales” once again Steve Howe came out with a bench, an acoustic, and a smile. I was thinking “Mood for a Day” or perhaps “Clap” but what we got was the moving guitar solo from “The Ancient”, arranged the same way it’s on “Not Necessarily Acoustic”. Another experience thought I’d never hear live, and alone worth the price of admission. Despite Howe’s admonitions that he doesn’t see the point of playing “Roundabout” every show, it’s a moving encore and brought the crowd to its feet. Had the show ended then and there, I would have been sated, elated and (per Khatru-ism) expiated.

Until the swirling, head-rushing, all hands on all keyboards and frets and sticks opening of “Starship Trooper.” Not only is it the other bookend to “Yessongs” and concludes with another guitar solo with headroom to explore, it has some bass pedal work that is the standard for judging subwoofers. It’s the perfect vehicle for a band that’s been nearly perfect in its performance, its musicianship, and it’s ability to breathe life into their canon for nearly half a century. The vocal chord that concludes “Starship Trooper” was perfectly reflective: new voices, old voices, one band that continues to reveal the heart spoken khatru, not just for me but for another generation of fans.

Summer Tour 2014: A Night Of Firsts

Rabbit rabbit, as the saying goes, to commemorate the first of the month. Or perhaps the schehechayanu is more in order, the first time something is done or celebrated in the year, a marking of the seasons of man and time.

Personally, there were a lot of firsts last night: July 1st. First night of the tour. First show for my friend Sachin. First time this century I’ve been to Mansfield/Tweeter/Great Woods for a show (last: 1992 for some combinations of Steve Winwood, Joe Cocker, Huey Lewis and Elton John, and no, I don’t remember which).
Mansfield Dusk

Bouncing
As the show progressed though, more firsts emerged: First show (for me) without any covers (“Back on the Train” is a Phish original, despite the bluesy riff). First time I’ve heard “Weekapaug Groove” separated from “Mike’s Song” by not one, not two, but four songs, ending with the insanely slick “Ghost” -> “Groove.” And surprisingly, the first time I’ve seen empty seats (groups, not just the side effect of a little too much lot food resulting in solitons) at a show.
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There were some real highlights: Mike’s use of a bell (yeah, a real push-button bell, properly miked up) and the bass pedals; if you are of the “Louder Mike” persuasion then last night was a revival meeting of the first order. The bottom had a lot of punch and grit when needed. “Hood” was spiritual; “Ghost” rocked, spaced, rocked and re-opened the door “Mike’s Song” left mildly ajar to open the second set. Being there with the Bubba, we loved “Wedge” because it simultaneously and happily reminded us of Jones Beach last summer, rocking out while the Atlantic Ocean poured over the gunwales of the stage and out of the sky.

As for the new material, it fit in nicely. Five songs (including the title track) off of “Fuego”, with four in the first set, neatly set the stage for what I hope is a trend this summer. The band had said they would play fewer covers and opening night had exactly zero. The new album got its due, and I’m looking forward to seeing how those songs expand and contract in real time with each show’s mood and pacing. “Fuego” is no doubt different from earlier work; I’ll stand by my Halloween assertion that it’s “Darkness” deep. Maybe it’s just too real-life; the songs aren’t all happy or goofy or rambling tales of chemically infused escapades. They are about mistakes, poor perception, and maybe freedom. Again, think “Darkness” but also think maturity and having a slightly better sense of where you go when the lights go out. And it is, as it has been, a place of wonderful music refuge for three hours.